The Clockwork Sky, Vols 1 and 2

The Clockwork Sky Volumes 1 and 2 by Madeline Rosca

I haven’t read Rosca’s series for Seven Seas, The Hollow Fields, but I remember being aware of it as one of the more positively reviewed English language manga series. So I was curious to check out Rosca’s recent series The Clockwork Sky.

The first volume establishes the world of Ember, along with a plucky heroine who has a habit of getting in trouble for being improper due to her need for speed. Sally has been sent to live with her Uncle Croach, who is a evil steampunk industrialist. His line of household robots is transforming the city, but where is he getting all the parts for his creatures from? Sally is basically locked up in her room and told to concentrate on being a proper lady, but she’s got plenty of ingenuity and manages to sneak out of her uncle’s house and comes across a race, which she promptly enters.

The other young protagonist of the story is Sky, a young mechanical police aide who resembles an adolescent Atro Boy a bit in his character design and powers. He’s assigned to track Sally down, but soon finds himself a bit sympathetic towards her. This conflicts with his orders. As Sally and Sky soon begin to discover, her Uncle’s scrapyard contains secrets and unexpected dangers.

While the first volume introduces the characters and world of The Clockwork Sky, the second volume is almost non-stop action as Sally and Sky learn that the missing children of the city are being recycled in unexpected ways. Croach makes an unconventional presentation to some powerful people in a desperate attempt at getting the raw materials needed to keep his factory going, while Sky begins to chafe at his programming and manifests even more self-awareness and independent thought. There are plenty of dynamic action sequences in Croach’s factory, and when Sky is able to bring in the authorities, Sally is able to build a new life for herself.

I appreciated the varied character designs and the clarity of Rosca’s art. In the second volume I sometimes wished for a bit more detail, as so many of the characters were yelling while being drawn in a slightly super deformed mode. Rosca touches on class issues with the clockwork underclass but there’s plenty of adventure and world building to keep a reader engaged. The story and art were well in synch, which made The Clockwork Sky easy to read. This would be a great comic for the upper range of elementary school, and a two volume series isn’t too much of a space commitment for most libraries. I’d definitely recommend this series for younger readers.

Spell of Desire, Vol. 2

Spell of Desire Volume 2 by Tomu Ohmi

This series is rapidly becoming my favorite josei masked as shoujo series released on the Shojo Beat imprint. When I picked up the second volume, I was expecting a bit of filler with a few more episodes of Kaoruko’s runaway witch powers manifesting, with the obligatory makeout sessions with Kaname in order to keep her powers under control. While this certainly happened, Ohmi also went full speed ahead with plot development, introducing us to more backstory, evil covens, and Kaname actually admitting he has feelings for the young witch he has sworn to protect.

The sensual nature of Kaoruko’s magic ensures that she’s going to be an object of attraction to men, and Kaname is struggling with this himself. She wants to be able to control her magical abilities, but the fact is that having her mother’s power sealed inside her, in addition to her own magic has made her a bit of a danger to herself. Kaname returns to the coven, leaving one of his mystical animal sidekicks behind for Karuoku’s protection. In his dealings with the coven we see how Kaname is struggling with wanting what is best for his charge as person, in contrast to the way the coven views her as a valuable pawn. He wants to protect her freedom as much as possible, but the powerful witches he reports to might make this difficult.

Kaoruko’s neighbor Yu finds himself irresistibly attracted to her when her magic spirals out of control, but fortunately Unicorn delays things a bit. When some additional witches show up at Kaoruko’s house, she’s almost attacked again, but Kaname returns just in time to save her. Towards the end of the volume, Kaoruko makes a fateful decision to protect Kaname herself. While she’s been a bit passive so far due to reacting to her out of control powers, Kaoruko shows that she has plenty of willpower when someone she cares about is threatened.

I still really enjoy the way Ohmi portrays Kaoruko’s powers as black vines becoming entwined around the panels of the manga, it’s a visual device that is both pretty and ominous at the same time. I was happy that by the second volume, both Kaoruko and Kaname are clear that they love each other, even if they aren’t clear yet that their feelings are reciprocated. I think there will be interesting times ahead if Kaoruko is able to control her own powers and doesn’t need Kaname’s protection as much. I highly recommend this series if you enjoy paranormal romance manga.

World Trigger, Vols 1 and 2

World Trigger Volumes 1 and 2 by Daisuke Ashihara

World Trigger starts out with a very Attack on Titanesque set-up, expressed simply in one page. Monsters from another dimension are invading the earth. A paramilitary force shows up to fight the monsters. Daily life for the rest of humanity is often interrupted by these “Neighbors” who look a bit like giant eels and the humans who fight back against the invasion.

Osamu is a bit of an unassuming student, but he finds his life complicated when a mysterious new transfer student named Yuma shows up. Yuma seems to not know very much about basic human behavior. When a Neighbor attacks outside of the usual boundaries, Osamu reveals that he’s actually a trainee for the Border Defense Agency, with a small amount of power that he’s determined to use to protect everyone in his city. Yuma turns out to have some extraordinary powers himself. He claims to also be a Neighbor, from the dimension where the monsters come from. He also has the ability to use a trigger, the weapon/body exchange protocol that allows users to fight off the monsters.

In the ensuing battle, Yuma fends off a powerful monster after Osamu proves not to have the level that he needs in order to destroy his enemy. Osamu turns to helping out however he can, by evacuating residents and helping everyone stay safe. Members of the Border Protection Agency turn up, suspicious of the recent events and determined to follow correct bureaucratic procedure. The cast of the book gradually expands beyond Osamu and Yuma to include many of the typical foils for a shonen protagonist. There’s a cool older male mentor, a type A overachiever warrior girl, and a host of bureaucrats in the Border Protection Agency that will surely make life difficult for Osamu.

The Border Protection Agency seems more chaotic than a force for either good or evil, as a squad starts to hunt down Yuma. Osamu tries to intercede, but Yuma’s level of power is such that he’s able to evade attack from multiple agents at once with only some slight injuries. One interesting aspect of the story is that Osamu keeps getting promoted within the Border Protection Agency simply because he is often in the right place at the right time and occasionally forced to take credit for some of Yuma’s actions in order to maintain his new friend’s cover. Osamu’s leveling up though being an unassuming nice guy who is incredibly lucky is a bit unexpected for a reader expecting a more typical brash shonen hero, and this was one aspect of the book that I found intriguing.

There’s a fair amount of world building as the characters go into details about the alien tech infused battle system, but I didn’t find this very interesting. The art is workmanlike and easy to follow, but it doesn’t have that extra bit of style or distinct quality that would make me want to pick up the manga just to see some fabulously paneled battle scenes. The story is solid, but there isn’t much that’s surprising about it so far. The anime for this series is starting to air, so I imagine that will fuel interest for this title. I didn’t find myself inspired to keep reading the series, simply because there are other titles out there that are much more entertaining. I can read One Punch Man if I want something funny, Attack on Titan if I want to read about a dystopian future where humanity is fighting off giant invaders, or Seraph of the End for more attractive art and interesting world building. Overall, this is a solid if not super compelling shonen title, and I imagine that someone less picky about shonen manga than me will enjoy it.

My Love Story! Vol 2

My Love Story! Volume 2 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

I thought the first volume of this series managed to be both hilarious and refreshing with its unconventional for shoujo manga premise of focusing on the foibles of a unconventional male hero. The second volume took first place on my to-read pile as soon as I got it, and it was just as delightful as the first volume. There are a few episodic chapters here that all manage to focus on something a bit different, while still providing some continuity in exploring the developing romance between the giant Takeo and his cute girlfriend Yamato, with conventionally attractive Sunakawa acting as a willing and supportive third wheel.

The first chapter shows Takeo tasked with the job of rounding up some boys to go along on a group date with Yamato and her friends from school. BYamato has told all her friends how awesome her new boyfriend is, and when they are confronted with the somewhat ungainly Takeo and his band of misfits, they don’t react well. Takeo does excel at feats of strength, and when a fire breaks out he manages to rescue everyone from the burning building, winning the admiration of every new acquaintance. Yamato and Takeo’s relationship is tested further when he agrees to do the judo team the favor of temporarily joining them before a big match, which causes him to have to spend too much time training. Sunakawa acts as a somewhat enigmatic but still caring sounding board to the couple. As Takeo starts preparing the best birthday ever for Yamato, he notices that the usually reticent Sunakawa seems to be even more preoccupied, causing him to have to choose between his girlfriend and his best friend.

The type of comedy in My Love Story! is tricky to pull off. Even though Takeo is drawn to be exaggeratedly not the shoujo manga ideal and he gets into plenty of ridiculous situations, the steadfast affection of Yamato and Sunakawa ensures that he’s never an object of ridicule. The world might be against him, but he has the support of people who think he’s great the way he is. It’s a nice central message that’s absent from more cynical series. Aruko does a great job with drawing physical comedy of the series, with plenty of exaggerated expressions and action elements, but there are also plenty of more subtle moments as Sunakawa shields his emotions and Yamato reacts with joy to practically everything Takeo does. This is all a balancing act of plot and art, and My Love Story! pulls it off well.

Otome Game Review: Love! Sushi Rangers

I think I’ve figured out why I originally burnt out on Otome Games when I started playing them a year ago for just a few months. I generally tend towards games of the “freemium” variety, but they are so slow to progress that I end up playing a bunch of them at once, which then results in me deciding that I’ve been playing far too many otome games, so I just stop and go back to more productive pursuits like knitting, watching k-dramas, and not putting away the laundry. So this time around I’m going to give up on games I find a bit boring a bit earlier in the process, and just go ahead and write a review. I figure playing one storyline all the way to the end is enough, if the game isn’t that great, right?

All that being said, this game Love! Sushi Rangers is bonkers, because it features the typical reverse harem scenario of any otome game but with sushi ingredients. Sushi ingredients given human form and personalities. Japan, everybody!!!!!!

Love! Sushi Rangers is available on android and iPhone

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This game starts out with a premise familiar to any manga fan – someone’s parent is going crazy and abandoning them for no logical reason. It is almost as good as the plot device where a sudden marriage where the heroine gets an annoyingly attractive new sibling. In this particular case the heroine’s father, a world class sushi chef, announces that he is going to walk the earth to bring the gospel of sushi to foreign lands, leaving the family restaurant in the hands of his daughter, who is absolutely inept at making sushi. Yukari, who is a sensible girl except for her habit of falling in love with sushi ingredients, is angry and upset about this turn of events. She finds some unlikely helpers, as the sushi ingredients her father left behind turn into handsome young men, prepared to help her keep the restaurant running.

Other than the nutty aspect of dating sushi ingredients, this game is pretty boring. There isn’t really much of a plot to speak of in either of the routes I tried. Salmon and Tuna are engaged in a petulant rivalry with each other.

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This rivalry sometimes becomes violent. Sushi fight!!!!!

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While there is no plot to speak of, this game did at least have a sense of humor, as when the sushi ingredients ponder the morality of sushi ingredients eating sushi.

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I did appreciate the heroine’s tendencies to yell in all caps when she’s upset.

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As a free game, I think you can play up to three character’s story lines for free. I only played through all of Tuna and part of Salmon. It is very very unfortunate that Shrimp and Avocado don’t have routes. The power expended to get through the game for free is about the slowest to regenerate that I’ve ever encountered in a freemium otome game. You basically get only 2 chapters a day, which is a very slow pace. I didn’t think that the character designs were very attractive. Often the game presents you with empty rooms and subtitles, I’m assuming to save on the costs of doing additional illustrations. Lackluster art combined with almost no plot to speak of doesn’t really add up to a game that I’d be interested in playing much further, even though there are flashes of humor due to the wacky premise.