Black Clover, Vol. 1

Black Clover Volume 1 by Yuki Tabata

Black Clover is an engaging action fantasy Shonen Jump manga, with plenty of comedy thrown in to liven things up. Like most shonen manga, it features a scrappy underdog hero. Orphan boy Asta dreams of becoming the Wizard King, the ultimate protector of his country. His enthusiasm isn’t hampered by reality, as he passionately proposes marriage to a nun in his home village, only to be refused for entirely sensible reasons. Asta’s boyhood companion is fellow orphan Yuno. Yuno is tall while Asta is short, and skilled in magic while Asta seems to have no abilities whatsoever. When children turn 15 they attend a ceremony where they are granted a magical grimoire that enhances their magical abilities. Yuno gets a lucky grimoire with a four leaf clover. Asta gets a beat up grimoire with a hidden five leaf clover.

I enjoyed the art in Black Clover, especially the level of detail in the supporting characters and in the backgrounds. The scene of grimoire distribution looked appropriately fantastic, with an almost infinite library of magical books stretching up to the ceiling, with books floating out to their new person. An early scene in the book provides some backstory to the manga, showing people laboring near a giant animal skull with three eye sockets.

It turns out that Asta has the power of anti-magic, and when this combines with his formidable physical training, he actually has a fighting chance when he has to face more skilled magical foes. Asta and Yuno return to see if they are going to be chosen to join a company of magical knights. Asta distinguishes himself with ease, and ends up getting chosen by the most desirable company, the Golden Dawn. Asta ends up in the company of misfits, the Black Bulls. This is where most of the character based comedy in the series gets set up, as Asta’s new companions include a perpetually drunken witch in a bikini, a odd man with a sister complex, a wizard who seems like a wanna-be biker, and a few more misfits. A probable new love interest is also included in the group, a noble girl named Noelle Silva who has fallen in with ignoble company because she can’t control her extremely powerful magic.

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This was a extremely effective first volume, setting up the cast of characters and future conflict well, without ever weighing the reader down with too much exposition. There was a good mix of action scenes and comedy. Some of the characters and situations seem like pretty typical Shonen Jump people and plots, but I was entertained even though I tend to be unreasonably picky about shonen manga.

Shojo Beat Quick Takes – My Love Story!! 9 and Honey So Sweet 3

My Love Story!! and Honey So Sweet both feature heroines in love with unconventional boyfriends who are viewed by society based on harsh exteriors when they are incredibly nice on the inside. While both series have a similar vibe, My Love Story!! is a bit more broadly comedic, and as fitting with the title, Honey So Sweet is a bit more sweet and simple. Both of these series are dealing with a similar plot point in these volumes, the random dude with a crush on the girl in an established relationship, so I thought it would be fun to look at both series.

Honey So Sweet Volume 3 by Amu Meguro

There were hints of things getting derailed a bit in the last volume when mysterious new boy Futami shows up and rapidly befriends Onise, but he turns into a full-blown frenemy in this volume. Futami starts inserting himself in Taiga and Nao’s relationship, flirting with Nao, and just generally being just on the edge of skeevy, always with an excuse or a habit of brushing off his comments as jokes. The school is also distracted with an upcoming sports festival.

One of the productive ways that Onise deals with the situation is sitting down and talking with Sou about his feelings. Sou tells Onise that he needs to work on his self confidence, and he can’t ignore Nao’s feelings in the situation either. Nao seems to like Futami but is also uncomfortable around him. She’s also wanting to get along with Onise’s new friend.

Onise ends up sending Futami a formal invitation to duel, but the duel ends up with Onise just talking with Futami very frankly. Futami ends up revealing some of the insecurity he’s been dealing with too, and he actually ends up being somewhat sympathetic. While there are some continued live triangle complications ahead, I would be very surprised if Onise and Nao get separated. The core of this manga is exploring how a relationship can turn a couple with some emotional issues into better human beings. Even though there are some typical plot elements like a school festival and love triangle, Honey So Sweet portrays all these events with some emotional depth and delicacy, making it a refreshing read.

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My Love Story!! Volume 9 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

In contrast, My Love Story!! is equally sweet, but it explores love triangle plot points with broad comedy. Yamato gets a job working at a pastry shop, and chef Ichinose decides that she’s his muse. Yamato keeps enjoying sweet treats, but she likes bringing them to Takeo even more. Takeo is in the grips of an insecurity attack, spending time staring out at the beach with his feelings in turmoil. While Suna encourages Takeo to not worry, his observational powers see Ichinose staring when Takeo visits Yamato at work. When Yamato cheerfully tells Ichinose that Takeo is her boyfriend, he runs out of the bakery to tell Takeo to break up with her, yelling that she’d be way better off with him. Ichinose suggests that Takeo date a bear instead, because they’d have more in common, but Takeo calmly says that he’s not going to break up with his girlfriend. Ichinose vows to not let Takeo win and stalks off.

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One of the things I like about this series is that everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves. There’s never any doubt about what someone might be feeling at any particular time, even if this results in some ridiculous confrontations between nebbishy pastry chefs and giant high school boys. Ichinose clearly has placed Yamato on an unrealistic pedestal, assuming that she’ll be able to help him win a competitive baking contest, even though her skills aren’t up to a professional standard yet. Yamato is a bit oblivious, enjoying her new job and still clearly only in love with Takeo. The contrast between Ichinose’s thoughts and Yamato’s straightforward comments about her boyfriend and her love of sweets is hilarious. As Takeo works through his episode of insecurity, he becomes more resolute than ever about the future of his relationship.

It was fun to contrast the way both of these volumes tackled similar plot points. Honey So Sweet was more subtle and emotional, while the comedy of My Love Story!! allowed it to explore similar issues of insecurity and relationship testing with more over the top emotional reactions. Both of these series are thoroughly enjoyable, in part because even though the main couples in them might be tested from time to time, the strength of the relationships make the reader secure about a good outcome even if an ending isn’t yet in sight.

Haikyu!!

Haikyu!! Volume 1 by Haruichi Furudate

I’m always curious to check out new sports manga, mostly because we tend to get so few licensed over here. Haikyu!! is a shonen volleyball title. I still have fond memories of the shoujo series Crimson Hero, so I was curious to see the world of volleyball manga yet again.

Shoyo Hinata saw a volleyball tournament when he was younger, where a shorter than average player made up for his height with some wonderful athleticism. Shoyo is determined to become an elite volleyball player, and he’s not going to let the fact that he’s the only member of his volleyball club in middle school stop his dreams. Eventually by his third year, Shoyo manages to put together a small team and play in a tournament, where he faces down Tobio Kageyama. Tobio is a star player, and he knows it, yelling at his teammates constantly and trying to win on his own. Shoyo loses, but displays a ton of heart in the process and manages to score some great points.

Fast forward to the following year, and it is no surprise that Shoyo and Tobio are starting on the same volleyball team in high school. The captain Daichi Sawamura immediately sees a problem with the two new rookies and tells them that they can’t even practice until they can work as a team. While undisciplined enthusiasm and athletic snobbery might not be the best thing for the disgraced former champion team of Karasuno High, Daichi thinks that they could be an unstoppable team if they are able to work together. Shoyo and Tobio have to earn their way back to the team by facing off against the other first-years.

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The art in Haikyu!! uses plenty of action and unconventional angles to display the tension of the volleyball game. Shoyo leaps all over the place for the ball, and Tobio tends to lurk around in a gloomy manner, then suddenly strike like a snake. The character designs are well-executed, with a large supporting cast all given distinct looks and personalities, making it easy to navigate the mass introductions that come with reading the first book of every series. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the upperclassmen on the team, who range from being able to give wise volleyball philosophical advice, to being knuckleheads. The dynamic between Shoyo and Tobio is interesting, because it is so antagonistic but it is clear that there’s a lot they can learn from each other. This first volume mainly served to set up the characters and their long road to a possible championship, but it was definitely entertaining.

QQ Sweeper, Vol 3

QQ Sweeper, Volume 3 by Kyousuke Motomi

I hadn’t realized that this series was so short, followed by a rebooted sequel series. So this concluding volume isn’t so much of an ending as it is wrapping up one stage of the series and signaling a new one. Still, with Motomi behind things, QQ Sweeper still manages to be a pretty satisfying non-concluding three volume series, and I hope Queen’s Quality also gets licensed.

As the volume opens, Kyutaro knows that Fumi is his long-lost childhood friend, but her peculiar amnesia prevents her from remembering any elements of her previous life. He’s content to be near her, even if she doesn’t regain her memories. While there is a little bit of school drama, most of the conflict in this volume comes from Fumi being signaled out by a new enemy, Ataru, pretending to be a boy with fortunetelling skills. Ataru shows up for group karaoke dates but then manipulates everyone around him by intoning dark prophecies. One of Fumi’s friends is particularly susceptible to this type of plotting, and Fumi soon finds herself gossiped about as being cursed yet again. Fortunately some of her closest friends don’t fall into this trap, and QQ Sweeper shows that there’s plenty of possibility for redemption in humanity after all.

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All along in Fumi’s efforts to become a sweeper and clean up bad supernatural messes, there have been hints of a larger destiny for her. As Fumi and Kyutaro confront Ataru, he references Fumi’s potential to become a Queen, and she exhibits a greater degree of confidence and control in bring back her friend’s lost soul. Motomi series always have an endearing quirkiness about them, that when combined with the themes of friendship and found family result in manga with a unique feel. QQ Sweeper‘s juxtaposition of random domestic cleaning with violent supernatural confrontation with some humor here and there made me wish that this wasn’t the last volume. I hope to see these characters again in Queen’s Quality if Viz decides to bring out that series too!

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 1

Everyone’s Getting Married Volume 1 by Izumi Miyazono

As far as I’m concerned, Shojo Beat’s recent practice of releasing the occasional josei title is one of the best things ever. Manga featuring non-highschoolers is still not so easy to find, so I was looking forward to Everyone’s Getting Married. At the same time, just based on the title I was a bit concerned that this would be a josei version of The Rules or something that would involve trapping a man into marriage. I was really happy to discover that I enjoyed the personalities and relationship dynamic between the main couple in this manga.

Asuka Takahashi is a successful real estate agent, but her main ambition in life is to get married and become a homemaker. Asuka takes the idea of being a housewife very seriously, mainly due to the fact that she has strong childhood memories of the type of home her mother provided for her as a child. She’s thwarted in her goal in the first chapter when her long term boyfriend breaks up with her. Asuka has a brief encounter with Ryu Nanami when she’s attending a wedding. He’s a newscaster who is determined to never settle down. Asuka and Ryu have an unusually frank exchange about their incompatible goals in life and then part, fully expecting to never see each other again. He tells her “You seem like a great woman, but it would never work out between us,” and she thinks “This man…is not at all what I am looking for.”

Of course, they get thrown together over and over again, because Ryu is the roommate of Asuka’s co-worker Ono. Ryu and Asuka start getting to know each other better, unconstrained by the possibility of a romantic relationship since they’ve mutually ruled each other out. Asuka sees that Ryu is much more of an ordinary person than he appears to be based on his TV persona. He sees that she’s genuinely kind, and he respects the work that goes into keeping a household running even though he has no desire for a wife. They both begin to fall a little in love with each other, but their goals in life for a family and future remain absolutely different. Miyazono’s art is pretty to look at and easy to follow, even though her style isn’t particularly unique.

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Asuka and Ryu end up both being sympathetic and quirky enough to make me wonder which way this story is going to go, even though I’m totally expecting a happy ending. They’re also balanced out a bit by secondary couple Ono and Rio, who have the opposite relationship dynamic where Ono wants to settle down and Rio is determined to keep dating. Overall, this first volume seems like a great addition to the under the radar josei titles coming out under the Shojo Beat line.