Takane & Hana, Vol 1

Takane & Hana Volume 1 by Yuki Shiwasu

This month has been crazy busy for me, so I haven’t had as much time to read manga as I would like. But there’s nothing like the first volume of a new shoujo series to break me out of a reading slump! Originally I was a tiny bit skeptical about the couple featured in this manga, because it features a high school girl and a businessman. But if Dengeki Daisy can easily convince me that the best companion for a young orphan is an older emotionally damaged janitor/hacker, Takane & Hana can certainly do the same for its unconventional couple.

As I started reading the first few pages of this manga, I was impressed at how many awesome facial expressions and comedic situations Shiwasu was able to pack into the first few pages. Hana is being dragged to a marriage meeting with the heir of a business empire because the chairman happened to catch a glimpse of her older sister while he was visiting her father’s struggling subsidiary company. Hana and her dad look incredibly stressed, and they have an amusing exchange where she wonders “What’s the plan for if he falls in love with me?” and he reassures her, “You don’t really have the looks to make that happen.”

Takane Saibara shows up and turns out to be incredibly good-looking, but not so wonderful with social skills, commenting that he doesn’t like all the makeup Hana is wearing to disguise her age. She jumps up, throws her wig in his face, and stalks off yelling that she isn’t interested in him. Takane ends up deciding to spend more time with Hana, showing up at her house with an oversized bouquet of roses and pointing at her while declaring “I’ve taken an interest in you!” Takane attempts to sweep Hana off her feet by bullying her into wearing a designer dress and taking her out to an expensive restaurant, expecting her to be impressed by his display of wealth. There’s a great one-panel sequence where Hana calmly tears Takane to shreds by psychoanalyzing him, saying that he isn’t charming enough to attract anyone but gold-diggers who dump him quickly, but he doesn’t want to face reality so he just goes around saying that he hates women all the time. Takane actually manages to apologize to Hana for his remarks, but it seems like it is the first time he’s actually said “I’m sorry.” to a girl.

The dynamic between Takane and Hana is what I absolutely loved, as he’s emotionally stunted, and she’s incredibly insightful and self-assured. He doesn’t pursue anything physical with Hana, seeming content to show up with ever more elaborate bouquets and gifts, while she manages to get him to agree to a date where he cosplays as a commoner. Their odd encounters actually force them to get to know each other as people, and Hana finds herself unexpectedly jealous when she contemplates the idea of Takane dating another woman. The first volume of Takane & Hana packed in a surprising amount of emotional development and funny moments in just a few chapters. It might not be as overly sweet and over the top as My Love Story!!, but if you’re looking for a funny new shoujo series to add to your manga collection, Takane & Hana definitely delivers.

The Manga Guide to Microprocessors

The Manga Guide to Microprocessors by Michio Shibuya,‎ Takashi Tonagi, and Office Sawa

I’ve always been interested in didactic manga, back to the time when Japan Inc (remember that?) was one of the few manga volumes available back in the late 80s. I’ve seen the No Starch Press booth from a distance at library conferences, but I haven’t tried out one of their manga guides before.

The Manga Guide to Microprocessors starts out with a framing story to ease the reader into an introduction to foundational computer science concepts. Ayumi is a champion shogi player who agrees to take on a computerized version of the game programmed by Yuu. She’s beaten by the machine and is determined to learn everything she can about computers so she can redeem herself. Crazy computer genius Yuu then starts taking Ayumi through everything she (and the reader) need to know about the guts and internal logic of computers.

One thing I appreciated about this book was the varied visual layouts for each chapter. There are several pages of story/manga as some foundational concepts are introduced, a few pages of text, broken up by small graphics and illustrations, and occasionally pages of text dialog between both characters as they explore different concepts together. There’s always something visually interesting to look at, which is important if you don’t naturally find discussions of floating point arithmetic super compelling. The illustrations are serviceable, without a whole lot of style, but fabulous art isn’t really the reason why anyone would read a book like this. Throughout the book Ayumi and Yuu gradually become more friendly, although their tendency to fight livens up the explanations.

Overall, I thought this was a good introduction to the subject, and I plan on checking out the Manga Guide to Statistics next, because I feel like I could use some basic knowledge of that topic.

SP Baby Vol. 2

SP Baby, Volume 2 by Maki Enjoji

I hadn’t realized before that this was only a two volume series! The second volume of SP Baby does exhibit some typical final second manga volume characteristics of plotlines going kablooie, but overall I enjoyed it as a peak into the possibilities of a slightly more lighthearted Maki Enjoji series.

Story wise, the pacing in this volume is a bit on the frantic side, as each chapter races through events that might have taken an entire volume to play out in a series with a bit more space. Tamaki deals with her infatuation for the florist next door, there’s an incident where she’s suddenly a maid for a short period of time, she continues to demonstrate her unerring bodyguarding instincts, the reader gets a little bit of information about Kagetora’s mysterious past connection to her, and a mysterious random fiancee is quickly disposed of. That’s a crazy amount of stuff to happen in one volume! Still, I liked the more comedic touch Enjoji brought to this series. Everyone’s Getting Married has me much more anxious about what will happen to the characters, but SP Baby was much lighter in tone, so I wasn’t reading every volume with a slight feeling of dread.

I enjoyed Tamaki’s frequent aggressive kicking and Kagetora’s intrinsic endearing weirdness and disconnection from reality. Enjoji’s art is always solid, easily portraying Tamaki’s swings of emotion from unchecked aggression to more tender feelings towards Kagetora. I really think that with 3 or 4 volumes and more time for the pacing to be more deliberate, SP Baby would have been so much better. As it is, it is a nice brief read that doesn’t quite come together in the end. Still recommended for fans of light and fluffy josei.

Queen’s Quality Vol 2

Queen’s Quality Volume 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

Kyousuke Motomi shoujo series are entertaining and refreshing for me to read, because while romance certainly is a feature, it often takes a backseat to subversive humor and action oriented plots involving hackers or the demons that lurk inside the souls of humans. This volume of Queen’s Quality continues the exploration into the twisted soul of a teacher who was bullying students, and Fumi and Kyutaro have to combine their abilities yet again in order to root out the bugs that cause a sort of soul malaise to spread to people like an infectious disease.

Motomi’s humor is on full display in a scene where Fumi is going to pick her sacred psychic weapon and instead of summoning a spear of light or magic sword she conjures a long-handled scrub brush. Kyutaro suggests that she try for another weapon but Fumi is delighted with her weapon because it is perfectly balanced and the best possible implement for cleaning toilets. Fumi’s cartoonish enthusiasm as she waves her brush around in the air is one of the few light-hearted moments in this volume, because once the Sweepers head into the brain of Ms Hayashi, things get both scary and surreal.

Kyutaro’s role as a steady emotional support to Fumi becomes even more important as she reveals another aspect to her hidden power as they battle their most challenging bugs yet. The layers of protection that exist in Fumi’s mind that hide her memories as well as her ability to consciously manifest her role as a “Queen” make Queen’s Quality an intriguing character study. The violent psychic landscape that the couple has to navigate contrasts with the more mundane chores of cleaning and making rice porridge back in the real world. Motomi is great at portraying slightly broken characters with great nuance, and it’ll be interesting to see if Fumi and Kyutaro manage to heal each other and achieve some sort of peace by the end of the series.

Water Dragon’s Bride Vol. 4

Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 4 by Rei Toma

One of the reasons why this manga is so fun to read is that each volume starts out with a slight change in circumstances for the characters. In volume 4 the Water Dragon is now undercover as a human, and Asahi is looking at him as a odd experimental subject, as she teases him into eating human food, even though it isn’t going to have an effect on him. Subaru is a bit creeped out by this new arrangement, but still determined to serve as Asahi’s human protector.

As Asahi completes her yearly ritual, she requests that the Water Dragon God take her and Subaru on a trip during her usual three days of disappearance after the ritual is completed. One of the areas on narrative tension in this series is contrasting the Water Dragon God’s basic inhumanity with the inhumane behavior of humans to each other. When the trio travel to a distant country that happens to be under threat from a natural disaster, the villages there try to offer up a girl as a sacrifice. Asahi can’t get the Water Dragon God to intervene, so she offers herself up as a substitute. She relies on her power to make it rain when she cries to fend off the threatening fire.

Asahi’s powers end up placing her in a priestess role again, and she has to intervene in an outbreak of illness and contend with the local boy emperor. Toma’s illustrations, which often contain little to no backgrounds when the characters are experiencing emotional turmoil, help the reader appreciate the symbolic and otherworldly nature of the situations Asahi finds herself in. Asahi attempts to shield Subaru from her intense sadness, but he understands what she’s trying to hide from him. The Water Dragon God gradually seems to be taking on more human emotions, so it will be interesting to see how his personality continues to evolve, and if Asahi will ever be able to find her way home.