Shortcake Cake, Vol. 1

Shortcake Cake, Volume 1 by suu Morishita

I’m always up for more shoujo series, and Shortcake Cake starts off with a very promising first volume. The story begins with Ten Serizawa dealing with her daily 2 hour commute to school. She gets up early and naps on the bus. But as she hangs out with her school friends, she begins to realize that her commitment to the commute means that she can’t take part in after school gatherings with her new classmates, as she has to keep checking the time to be sure she’s able to catch the last bus back to her more rural home. Ten’s friend Ageha points out how much easier it would be if Ten moved in to her boardinghouse. Ageha sneaks Ten in one day after school (the residents aren’t supposed to have outside guests), and Ten experiences the hazards of boardinghouse crashing, like avoiding the house mom, tiptoeing past the boys’ floor. In the process she has a brief encounter with the handsome bookworm Chiaki, who dazzles her with his good looks and quotes Turgenev at her.

Ten sees that the boardinghouse is much more spacious and nice than she was imagining and decides to move in. She meets another resident, the overly flirtatious Riku. As Ten gets settled in, she starts getting entwined in the lives of the residents. She sees Riku gently turning a girl down who asks him out and points out to him that if he would stop flirting with everyone, random girls wouldn’t get the wrong idea. Riku’s ingratiating manners are looked on as odd by most of the boardinghouse. Riku starts falling for Ten, and can’t act like his normal self around her anymore. The new friends go out on an outing, and Ten learns more about Chiaki’s bookish ways and his reactions to his looks-driven popularity. Finally, a third boy is introduced, Rei, who wears traditional clothing and is drawn to resemble a blond L from Death Note. He’s given to odd insulting outbursts.

So a romance being set up where many people slowly fall in love with a relatively ordinary girl is familiar shoujo manga territory, but the situation in Shortcake Cake doesn’t feel artificial or unearned, because Ten is objectively pretty adorable with her Sailor Moon style pigtails and her quirky hobby of following along with radio exercise programs. Morishita does a great job with character development in this volume, leaving just enough mystery for the reader to become invested in finding out why Chiaki is so withdrawn and wonder why Riku is overcompensating by acting superficially pleasant to most of the girls he meets. The volume ends on a cliffhanger which shows Ten forcing a confrontation about something that most shoujo heroines would leave unsaid for 5-6 volumes, which instantly got me onboard for the rest of the series!

Morishita’s art features a liberal amount of screen tone, and her characters quickly switch back and forth between regular and exaggerated facial expressions. Ten frequently shifts into cat face mode whenever she’s being mischievous or startled. The production for Shortcake Cake sets it apart from other Shojo Beat volumes, with matte covers and a cute strawberry on the spine. There are some additional black and white illustrations for chapter covers included as a bonus in the back of the book. I can see why this shoujo series was so highly anticipated, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Amigurumi: San-X Crochet Patterns

Amigurumi: San-X Crochet Patterns

I was excited when I saw that Viz was getting into the crafting book business, since there are so many great Japanese pattern books out there. Amigurumi: San-X Crochet Patterns is an English translation of a super cute guide to San-X Crochet. The first half of the book has over 30 color pages showing multiple poses of the amigurumi you can make with the book, including extensive accessories and costumes. I enjoyed the amigurumi sitting in tiny eggshells or lounging around the most.

Japanese knitting and crochet books almost universally rely on charts for pattern information, and this book has charts and construction schematics, followed by a basic stitch guide so someone new to charted knitting can figure out the directions. So, this book might seem a bit unfamiliar to people who are mostly used to written directions, but it shouldn’t be a problem. There are plenty of beginner books out there and I think that there space in the crafting marketplace for a book like this, which is a straight translation of a Japanese book, without any extras added in for an English language audience. There are so many youtube tutorials and other crafting guides like this on the web, I feel like most people can figure out what they need to know in order to follow a chart. I’d be excited to see more Japanese craft books translated like this! I tend to buy single patterns on ravelry instead of books, but this book is the type of thing I’d like to collect in print form for all the great photo illustrations.

I have a gazillion knitting projects going on right now that I want to finish up, but I’ll update this review later with a crochet creation. I think I’m going to start with either the teeny tiny toast and eggs, or Sumikkogurashi.

Young Master’s Revenge, Vol. 2

Young Master’s Revenge Volume 2 by Meca Tanaka

This manga continues to be perhaps the most adorable revenge story ever illustrated. Leo, bent on revenge and managing his crippling fear of turtles, continues to pursue his horrific yet benign agenda against fallen heiress Tenma with an unwavering devotion that could only be love. As the volume begins Tenma decides that she has to transfer to Suzaku High which is the public high school down the road from Genbu. Cue massive jokes about references to the Four Gods!

As Tenma transfers Leo decides to accompany her mostly to protect her, but also because he finally realizes that his high school is named after a turtle god. The new students then engage in introductions for their new classmates, where Leo’s practiced charm wins everyone over and Tenma’s awkwardness makes everyone assume that she’s a horrible rich snob. When Tenma sees that the public school students have their resources even more limited because the rich Genbu high kids are allowed to take over their practice fields whenever they want she decides that she has to stand up for her new classmantes.

The Suzaku kids now have to fight for the sanctity of their school property. Leo’s manipulation skills are deployed to hilarious effect. One of the reasons why this manga is so amusing is that the revenge plot is such a great contrast to the real feelings of the characters. Tanaka has a way of drawing such endearing facial expressions, it is easy to be captivated by Tenma’s direct yet innocent nature and Leo’s unwavering lack of insight into his own emotions. Things seem to be coming to a turn though, as Leo is forced to confront the thin line between love and hate towards the end of this volume. It is impossible to put this manga down without feeling warm and fuzzy.

Kenka Bancho Otome, Vol. 2

Kenka Bancho Otome Volume 2 by Chie Shimada

Kenka Bancho Otome, with a storyline about a girl who is forced to dress up as a boy and attend a high school for juvenile delinquents, is an excessively silly manga, which one would expect from an otome game adaptation, but in just two volumes it manages to pull off being a fun summer read as long as the reader isn’t looking for deep thoughts.

In the concluding volume Hinako continues her misadventures at Shishiku Academy, where most of her new friends seem to be on the verge of falling in love with her in her top-secret disguise as her brother Hikaru. Yet another emotional minefield is introduced with the arrival of Houou Onigashima, an upperclassman with a tough-guy jacket that he constantly wears slung over his shoulders like a cape. Houou just happens to be Hikaru’s older brother and Hinako is overcome at the idea that she has yet another brother! But when she returns to tell Hikaru about her discovery he inexplicably becomes extremely upset. The rest of the volume consists of a summer vacation episode with plenty of shirtlessness, school sports day, where Hinako has to cross-dress as a cheerleader with provocative results and a bonus giant schoolyard fight where Hinako further strengthens her platonic friendships with Kira and Totomaru, much to their mystified chagrin. At two volumes long, this series wraps up more nicely than most two volume series, which sometimes suffer from the author being forced to resolve a bunch of plot points quickly in a final chapter. I would have been fine with 3 instead of 2 volumes, if there might have been a little more time to delve into the hints about Hinako’s unconventional family and have her embark on an actual romance. Overall, the art was attractive if a bit generic. I enjoyed the story enough that I would totally play the Otome game that the manga was based on if it came out on android!

kenka bancho otome 2

The Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 6

The Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 6 by Rei Toma

One would not normally expect a fantasy series about a girl from modern day Japan falling through worlds to end up in a quasi-medieval land where the lives of humans revolve around appeasing gods to contain a dense philosophical exploration of what it means to be human, with a side meditation on man’s inhumanity to man, but that’s exactly what the reader gets in The Water Dragon’s Bride. Toma’s masterful storytelling is on full display in the 6th volume, where there’s a dramatic emotional breakthrough with Asahi and her Water Dragon God.

All along the Water Dragon God has been transformed bit by bit due to his close exposure to humans. He doesn’t exactly understand humanity yet, but he’s a great deal more sensitive and caring than the person he was in the first volume who just sat back and let a young Asahi starve to death because the concept of providing food did not occur to him. When the Water Dragon God continues to see that the other humans are going to still persist in trying to control Asahi due to her standing as priestess, he decides that she can’t remain in the human world, and she needs to exist by his side with no more pain. The solution the Water Dragon God hits on is to trap Asagi in a bubble in his world, where she experiences a day of her being a normal high school girl with Subaru over and over again until she begins to sense that something is wrong with her fake new existence. I’m always in awe at what Toma can do with her minimalist yet highly effective approach to illustration. Seeing Asagi trapped in her bubble in the world of the Gods while they discuss her is visually arresting, as the formless world is intercut with scenes of the dream in modern Japan that Asagi slowly realizes is not real.

The power dynamic between Asagi and the Water Dragon God is so unequal, but she manages to break his spell, raising a question about how much power she actually has over him. So much of this volume is expressed through the internal thoughts of the characters, with brief dialog that evokes all of the unsaid emotions as seen Asagi and the Water Dragon God share a “Good Morning” greeting after she breaks out of her water bubble. He decides after his attempt to trap Asagi in a dream that he will set things back on their original path, but can Asagi really go home again after everything she’s experienced? I’m genuinely not sure what to expect from this series next, which makes it such a pleasure to read.