Shortcake Cake, Vol 8

Shortcake Cake, Volume 8 By suu Morishita

Some shoujo series have fast-paced drama, and others have stories that unfold much more slowly like Shortcake Cake, which finally gets around to hinting at more details between the oddly hostile relationship between Riku and Rei. Morishita’s is so great at presenting her story with a slow, slice of life feel that I don’t feel annoyed at all that I was waiting until volume 8 to get a few more clues about Riku’s past.

Shortcake Cake 8

This volume is set during Christmas and New Year’s and Ten decides to take Riku on a date to her hometown, where she gives him a tour of all the places that were meaningful to her during her childhood, and they drop in on her parents and her older brother. It might be way too early for Riku to meet her parents, but he carries off the surprise visit with his characteristic aplomb. Ten and Riku enjoy actually being able to spend time together since they have to keep apart and pretend to not be dating at the boarding house. Ten wants to continue to support Riku and get to know him better, but she senses some inner pain that she’s not able to interpret or help with. Ten and Chiaki decided to team up to learn more about Riku because they both want to support him. Ten ends up reaching out to Shiraoka, who has a bit of a messy approach for telling them what he knows about Riku’s past, setting up a situation where they end up witnessing a painful family confrontation.

I always enjoy the way the story in Shortcake Cake is tied so closely with the seasons, as Ten and Riku share some cozy winter bonding time, the image of red lights on the snow suggests both festivities and danger, and the rain during a memorial services highlights the emotional state of the characters. Even when the characters are dealing with some heavy emotional burdens, the pacing and execution of Shortcake Cake makes it feel like a brief escape from the real world while reading it.

Love Me, Love Me Not, Vol. 2

Love Me, Love Me Not, Volume 2 by Io Sakisaka

At two volumes in, I’m not feeling quite as connected to the characters in Love Me, Love Me Not as compared to Strobe Edge, but Sakisaka is still doing a great job setting up a complicated and thoughtful teen romance drama. Yuna is still processing her feelings about the complex relationship between step-siblings Akari and Rio as she also deals with her own attraction to Rio. Yuna’s hesitation and introspection is prompted by the fact that she’s never experienced love outside of books. Rio also seems more attuned to Yuna than he is for girls who he has a more superficial relationship. He notices her being less shy around him, and figures out a way to set up their study group so she doesn’t feel hesitation about asking him questions. All along, Rio has encouraged Yuna to pursue a relationship with the boy she has a crush on, not knowing that she’s talking about him. Yuna’s love confession is unconventional, as she tells Rio about her feelings and says “Now, reject me.”

Rio reacts with a lot more compassion than he usually does with the girls who are attracted to him only for his looks, and Yuna deals with the aftermath. Both Akari and Kazu are impressed with Yuna’s emotional growth and general levelheadedness. While it is fairly easy for the reader to understand Rio, Akari, and Yuna, Kazu remains a perpetually cool enigma. Akari is fascinated by him, but he’s still a bit of a blank slate, defined only by his occasional blunt and insightful statements. I’m hoping that in the next few volumes his character becomes as well defined as the other series leads. This was a strong second volume, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series develops. Sakisaka is great at capturing all the subtleties of emotion in her drawings, and even though much of this manga is people simply talking to each other in a variety of settings, her paneling and the emotional stakes involve keeps everything dynamic.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol 6

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 6 by Mika Yamamori

As this series continues, I grow more and more conflicted because heroine Suzume is such a sweet girl, I want her to get everything she wants. Unfortunately the main thing she wants is her teacher Shishio, and as he progresses in dropping some boundaries he was not even all that great at maintaining before, I find him more and more unappealing as a romantic prospect for Suzume. As I tend to do in k-dramas, I’m now firmly rooting for the second lead guy, Suzume’s classmate Mamura. I’m still drawn in by Daytime Shooting Star’s combination of stylish art and teen soap opera plot. As a bonus, Mamura is on the cover of this volume.

In this volume, Suzume and Shishio continue to capture some stolen moments here and there, but she’s often frustrated that she can’t deepen her relationship with him, and she’s continually reminded of the need for distance. She gives him a birthday present that she earned the money for with her part-time job. She attempts to make him a lunch, but sees him turning down food from another student. Throughout all of these interactions Mamura hovers in the background either quietly observing or forcing himself to eat some of Suzume’s first attempts at rice balls. Mamura continues to be a good friend, even when Suzume finds herself stood up by Shishio when he’s tied up with work on Christmas. A little bit of awareness seems to be settling in with Suzume as she realizes that she can be herself around Mamura after spending more time with him. Shishio seems to be losing his grip on his professional ethics, so I’m growing concerned about that, and the fact that Suzume’s uncle is extremely clueless about this developing situation between one of his best friends and his niece.

I have to admit I’m impatient to see how all the slowly building romance in Daytime Shooting Star will pan out. There’s a bit of a train wreck quality to this manga, seeing a young girl invest in the possibility of a romantic relationship that doesn’t seem like it will work, but I’m hoping that Mamura’s flashes of insight and his evolution from a boy who could barely talk to a girl to a young man who will gallantly bestow a scarf on a girl when she’s cold will pan out somehow. Go Mamura!

Prince Freya, Vol 1

Prince Freya, Volume 1 by Keiko Ishihara

I really liked Ishihara’s other series The Heiress and the Chauffeur, which was only two volumes but left me wishing I could read a longer series by the author. I’m always up for shoujo fantasy, and “girl who must disguise herself as a boy” is one of my favorite plot elements so I have been eagerly waiting to read Prince Freya.

prince freya

Freya lives in the quasi-medieval setting that is very familiar to fantasy fans. She likes to casually jump off cliffs and is a well-beloved figure in her village, as she heads to town to fetch items for her ailing mother. Her adopted older brothers Aaron and Aleksi return home for a visit. Aaron is the famous Black Knight who guards the Prince and Aleksi seems mostly content to remain in his older brother’s shadow. There’s a bit of a budding romance between Aaron and Freya, but Freya quickly gets caught up in court intrigue though. Due to her habit of hanging out in high trees she overhears a plot to attack Aaron and the palace. She sneaks in and discovers that the prince ailing, and Freya is his exact duplicate. Far too quickly, she assumes his identity and manages to pull off a stupendous impersonation as the prince. This comes out of nowhere, I would have appreciated a brief 2 page prince training montage to at least address how on earth this happens. Freya’s Prince Edvard is both arrogant and charming, which contrasts with her more naturally retiring personality, putting aside the cliff-jumping and tree climbing.

There’s a terrible tragedy, but Freya is drawn even more into her deception after the prince dies and she has to make sense of what the small circle of courtiers around her is telling her to do as she continues to play along with hiding the prince’s death so the enemies of her country don’t catch on. The art is clear and expressive, and Freya and her quasi-adopted siblings are sympathetic characters. I’m hoping that the second volume has some time to slow down a little bit and let the story unfold a little more gradually. I’m very much looking forward to the second volume.

Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru Vol 1

Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru Vol 1 by Masashi Kishimoto and Akira Okubo

Samurai 8 is a retro futuristic manga that mashes up The Last Starfighter with Samurai tropes, with very detailed art and maybe a little bit too much exposition in the first volume. The art is incredibly detailed, and I’m hoping a more coherent story emerges in the second volume since the exposition will be out of the way.

The volume opens with a futuristic battle between questing samurai, and some of the story elements resemble a video game… because it is. Hachimaru is a sickly child who is kept alive due to the inventions of his father, but takes refuge in gaming. He isn’t able to go outside at all, but this situation is quickly resolved when a Samurai in the shape of daruma appears and asks Hachimaru if he has heroism within him. Daruma announces that he’s seeded the video game throughout the galaxy in order to find young people with potential. In just a few panels, Hachimaru’s father is fending off a band of ronin, Hachimaru undergoes a bodily transformation and becomes a samurai, and Daruma takes him on as a new pupil.

Samurai 8 Volume 1

The art is incredibly detailed and many of the futuristic landscapes are stunning. There are so many floating armor plates hovering around the characters, it made the action scenes a bit difficult to follow for me, just because I wasn’t sure where my eyes should go. There’s a lot of potential with this series, but I think both the story and art needed a bit more room to breathe. My kids read this manga and liked it, but thought it was “too fast.” I’m hoping that things settle down a little bit in the next volume, because there is plenty of potential here.