Ten Count, Vols. 1 and 2

Ten Count Volumes 1 and 2 by Rihito Takarai

Ten Count is a yaoi series that caused me to wonder greatly about psychiatric ethics. Shirotani is an executive assistant who functions well in his job despite having an almost debilitating case of obsessive compulsive disorder. He has to wear gloves to hide his injuries from frequent hand washing and he has elaborate systems and rituals in place in order to make him feel safe. His condition also affects his relationships with other people, as he has an aversion to being touched.

One day Shirotani’s boss gets saved from an accident by a random bystander, who turns out to be Kurose, a therapist. Kurose recognizes Shirotani’s symptoms and goes out of his way to cultivate his acquaintance. Kurose’s mannerisms are brusque and not very emotional, but Shirotani seems to be drawn to him anyway. Kurose proposes that Shirotani gradually build up a tolerance to the situations that trigger his OCD by making a list of ten things he finds difficult or impossible to do, ranging from things like touching a door handle bare handed to eating with another person. Kurose says that this isn’t therapy, just two friends trading tips.

The relationship begins to grow, and Shirotani becomes increasingly dependant on Kurose, but Kurose abruptly cuts things off, only to leave Shirotani confused and upset. For someone who is supposed to be an expert in human behavior, Kurose seems a bit odd himself in how he conducts himself with this new friendship.

The first volume doesn’t need the explicit content warning on the front, but the second definitely does! I’m not terribly fond of relationships in yaoi manga where one person is entirely dominant and the other is set up in a more submissive role. In this case Kurose seemed to keep pushing Shirotani out of his comfort zone, and while it might end up that Shirotani becomes a more functional human being as a result of this, there were some dynamics to the relationship that I didn’t really enjoy reading. I think though that this is likely to be an enjoyable manga for most yaoi fans.

Platinum End Vol. 1

Platinum End Volume 1 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

I approached reading Platinum End with mixed feelings, I was interested because this series is another work from the team that brought the world Death Note, and I greatly enjoyed Death Note. On the other hand, I wasn’t looking forward Death Note 2: Electric Boogaloo. I ended up putting down the first volume feeling like I was cautiously interested in seeing where Platinum End was going.

The volume opens with Mirai Kagehashi, a high school student who has decided to kill himself. He’s foiled in his attempt by the sudden appearance of an angel who rescues him. Mirai is stuck in despair because he was orphaned when he was young, and taken in by relatives who abused him. His new angel announces that she’s going to make him happy and gives him some new abilities – he can choose between having wings to fly anywhere or mystical red arrows that will cause anyone to fall in love with him. Mirai responds that he’ll ponder what he wants if he’s given both gifts and the angel agrees.

Mirai’s angel Nasse functions more like the devil on his shoulder than a good conscience, as she encourages him to use his powers for the most selfish of reasons. Mirai gets a sense of how deadly the ability to make anyone fall in love with him can be, when he returns to his aunt and uncle and learns the truth behind the death of his parents. In true shonen fashion it turns out that Mirai is caught up in a cosmic game, where God has decided that he’s going to elevate a human to become the next God. 13 angels have been assigned to 13 chosen humans, and the last one left gets to be in charge of the universe.

Mirai says that he would be just content with normal happiness, but Nasse keeps pushing him to use his angel-given superpowers to manipulate and murder his way to having money and happiness. In a way, Platinum End seems more like a horror title than anything else, as Mirai wakes up from nightmares with horrific visions. The other contestants for godhood aren’t using their powers for good either, as one of them decides to disguise himself as a superhero and pick off his opponents one by one, killing a comedian who decides to use the love arrows to assault a group of women.

Platinum End is rated mature and aside from that, one could develop a drinking game centered on the number of panels where Nasse’s disembodied butt is hanging in the air randomly in many panels. The art from Obata is good as always. Overall, this was an interesting manga to read, but not very pleasant. It seems like Platinum End is going to be even darker in tone than Death Note, and that series was pretty dark. At the same time, seeing if Mirai’s inherent sense of morality is going to hold up to the temptation of godlike power is an interesting story to explore, even though it is thematically a bit too close to Death Note. I put this volume down feeling a bit cautious about this series. I’ll be curious to see if in the next couple volumes Platinum End develops into a manga that I’m looking forward to reading. If not, there’s always Death Note!

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Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 3

Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 3 by Izumi Miyazono

Is everyone getting married? I see no evidence of it yet in this series where aspiring housewife Asuka and committed bachelor Ryu continue to fall in love with each other despite their utterly incompatible life goals. This manga manages to balance the twists and turns of a soap opera with some very touching moments as Ryu and Asuka continue to struggle with their feelings for each other, balance their demanding work schedules, and navigate their possibly doomed relationship.

One of the things I like about this series is how little it relies on conflict due to people not talking to each other. Sure it happens sometimes, but not talking about a problem isn’t stretched over multiple volumes as sometimes happens in romance manga. Even when some standard plot elements pop up in the form of Ryu’s Complicated Ex-Girlfriend and Asuka’s Flirty Co-Worker, this continues to lead the couple to reflect on their relationship.

Two events happen in fairly short succession that cause some strain. Yuko, a married actress who Ryu had a long-term affair with years ago is back in town. She’s touched by scandal due to her philandering husband, and Ryu is maneuvered by combative questions from the press into joking on tv that he’d dump his girlfriend for a chance to date her. In addition, Asuka gets news of a upcoming work transfer and is spending time with Kamiya, a colleague. They’re walking down the street together and they agree to do a “couple interview” as a joke, only Asuka is shocked when she sees that Ryu is interviewing her.

These additional people popping up near Asuka and Ryu cause them to confront some of the issues in their relationship. Asuka wonders if Yuko is the reason why Ryu is so set against marriage. Ryu is jealous of Kamiya, even though his relationship with Asuka is professional. But while the only person Asuka wants to marry is Ryu, she wonders what might happen if she takes Kamiya’s overtures seriously since it seems he does really want to get married.

As always the art is attractive and easy to follow, easily handling cute scenes of Ryu and Asuka supporting each other in addition to some tumultuous relationship drama. I wish Shojo Beat could bring out more series like this all at the same time, but I’ll be happy with what I can get.

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Haikyu!! Vols 3 and 4

Haikyu!! Volumes 3 and 4 by Haruichi Furudate

I have great difficulty reading Haikyu!! because my kids keep stealing my volumes and rereading them before I have a chance to get to them, but I recently managed to find volumes 3 and 4 and stash them away so I finally got a chance get caught up. I’m very much enjoying the pacing of the story in Haikyu!! and also the accelerated release schedule that Viz has been setting for these volumes, so I don’t have to wait too long for the next one. The first couple volumes firmly established the new rookies on the volleyball team, Kageyama the perfectionist and Hinata the enthusiastic but short volleyball savant, but two rookies can’t make up a whole team. There are still some essential players missing, and these two volumes did a good job at filling in the gaps of the Karasuno High Volleyball team.

The third volume introduces Karusuno’s libero, a player who specializes in defence. Yu Nishinoya is even shorter than Hinata, and he’s fiercely dedicated to his specialist position. When he shows up to practice, he’s disappointed that Karasuno’s ace Asahi isn’t participating. He refuses to play without Asahi, but is won over by Hinata’s enthusiasm and desire to learn. The spector of the missing Asahi hovers over practice, and when the reader is introduced to him, he looks at first like a mild giant, his fighting spirit knocked out of him by a horrible volleyball loss the last time he played.

Another missing piece is a coach, Keishin Ukai, the grandson of the legendary coach who was responsible for Karasuno’s winning era. Ukai promptly sets up a new challenge for the high school kids – they have to play the local municipal team of adults. Along the way, Yu actually mangest to get Asahi involved in the game again. Bolstered by additional players and a coach, the team is starting to pull together.

The fourth volume shows the team take on a new challenge – a practice game with their traditional rivals, Nekoma High. One of the things I enjoyed most about this volume was seeing the personalities and playing habits of Karasuno pitted against another high school team. Karasuno still has a long way to go, but they have flashes of brilliance here and there which hint at success in future volumes. Sometimes sheer determination and repetition forces Hinata to take his game to the next level. The trust developing between all the teammates is also key to their improved performance.

Haikyu!! is just delightful to read, and while I might be inadvertently learning more about volleyball strategy than I ever expected, seeing all the subplots develop as each member of the team has individual struggles to reach their full potential is what makes this series so entertaining. Widening the focus of the story to include other team members like Asahi and Nishinoya keeps everything fresh, as the rookies have to adjust to the changing team dynamics.

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Welcome to the Ballroom, Vol. 1

Welcome to the Ballroom Volume 1 by Tomo Takeuchi

The ballet manga Swan is one of my all-time favorites, and dance manga doesn’t get translated into english very often so I was very interested in checking out Welcome to the Ballroom, which has a shonen take on learning how to dance.

Like many shonen protagonists, Tatara Fujita is aimless and without purpose. When he’s saved from being bullied by Kaname Sengoku, Tatara is dragged along to a ballroom dance studio where he is part of a new student round-up campaign. Kaname yells at him, “Through dance, you can absolutely achieve your adolescent fantasies of touching someone’s body!” Conveniently Tatara discovers that Shizuku, a girl at his school has been taking dance classes at the same studio. Tatara is too self-conscious and poor to sign up for lessons, but later on at home he watches a dvd of ballroom dance performances and decides that he’s finally found something that he can care about.

When Tatara shows up at the studio again and announces to Kaname that he’s going to turn pro and wants to learn how to dance, he’s set up for some serious hazing. Kaname instructs his new student in the box step and tells him to practice until he is given permission to stop. Tatara practices all through the night and into the next morning. It turns out that while he isn’t great at following directions, if he sees a dance performed he can successfully mimic some advanced movements.

I enjoyed the art in this book, while the dancing doesn’t reach level of the ballet in Swan, the dance scenes are suitably dynamic. I was impressed at how Takeuchi handled the varying looks and somewhat split personality of Shizuku’s partner Hanaoka, who shifts from being a polished and commanding presence on the dance floor to a scruffy student with a cold. The contrast between the dancers in daily life and their costumes and bearing during competition showcases how ballroom dancing is an entirely new world.

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By the end of the volume, Tatara has found his purpose, started to practice with great devotion, and continued despite all of Kaname’s attempts to discourage him. It is possible to see the possibility that he might make it as a dancer, and I’m thoroughly enjoying seeing some of the shonen staple sports manga plot elements being applied to ballroom dance.