Knight of the Ice, Vol 7

Knight of the Ice Volume 7 by Yayoi Ogawa

We don’t get a ton of josei series translated, so I do cherish the ones that come out in print like Knight of the Ice which has a winning combination of figure skating drama combined with Ogawa’s quirky sense of humor. While many of the plot points of the series center around Kokoro’s difficulties training and winning competitions, this volume opens with Chitose dealing with her heart condition. Kokoro’s hard-nosed manager Moriyama visits Chitose in the hospital, and it is great to see how much she cares even though she goes to great lengths to hide her emotions. Chitose doesn’t want to derail Kokoro’s concentration by having him worry about her, so she decides to both postpone having surgery and wants to keep her condition a secret.

Knight of the Ice 7

For the rest of the volume, Kokoro is vaguely uneasy as he trains for his latest competitions, as he can tell that Chitose is hiding something but he isn’t sure what it is. He’s dealing with his ongoing issues of pushing his technical abilities but sometimes struggling to be artistic and expressive enough in his skating. “Yayoi Ogawa” shows up to dash off a sketch for an inspiring new costume. Ogawa’s dynamic and expressive art makes the skating competitions compelling, as all the skaters are dealing with their own struggles. Kokoro has some triumphs and setbacks, and has still not yet reached his full potential. I’m enjoying seeing the story in Knight of the Ice unfold.

My Love Mix-Up! Vol 1

My Love Mix-Up Volume 1 by Wataru Hinekure and Aruko

I was curious about My Love Mix-Up since I’m always up for a new shoujo series and Aruko illustrated the astoundingly good My Love Story!!. While this new series doesn’t have the innate hilarity of My Love Story!!, it is a light, warm-hearted unconventional love triangle with protagonists who are all kind to each other.

Aoki has a long-term crush on Hashimoto, the girl who sits next to him in class. On a fateful day he borrows her eraser and sees the name of another boy, Ida, with a heart symbol next to it. When Aoki drops the eraser and Ida picks it up, Ida assumes that Aoki has a crush on him. Aoki plays along with this assumption because he doesn’t want to reveal Hashimoto’s secret. Ida’s reaction to all of this is thoughtful consideration. Ida’s never dated anyone before, so he doesn’t immediately reject Aoki, even though Aoki is encouraging him to! As Aoki gets to know Ida better he starts realizing what a cool guy Ida is. While there is less opportunity for Aruko to engage in the more broad caricature work of My Love Story!!, there are a few great scenes where Aoki looks like a haunted zombie due to the depths of his teenage embarrassment about the confounding situation that he finds himself in.

There’s a similar sort of love triangle in Blue Flag, and My Love-Mix! up looks like it is going to cover the same territory but without the emotional depth. I don’t think that every series needs to have that degree of pathos, sometimes a relatively angst free love triangle is the perfect diversion. There’s a cliffhanger at the end that promises plenty of more romantic mix-ups ahead.

Fist of the North Star, Vol. 1

Fist of the North Star, Volume 1 by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara

Here’s a flashback for you and a demonstration of my advanced age, Fist of the North Star as it was produced back in 1989 as a flipped monthly comic and the new hardcover edition. I was curious what it would be like to read a whole volume of Fist of the North Star, after all the idea of a delayed attack (“You’re already dead!”) that results in blood explosions is pretty much a shonen cliche at this point, but what’s the source material like? While I did read the first chapter way back in the day I’d never read more of the story although I’ve read plenty of references and jokes about Fist of the North Star since then.

Fist of the North Star

Fist of the North Star takes place in the future after a cataclysmic event in the late 1990s has produced a world where water is scarce and people attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape of city-states. The enigmatic Ken travels from town to town, demonstrating is extreme stoicism and manliness as a practitioner of the martial art Hokuto Shinken. I was immediately struck by how much Fist of the North Star reminded me of the Mad Max series due to the roaming bands of motorcycle gangs. As the story opens a motorcycle gang called the Zeed discovers that their scouts have been killed with some sort of localized explosions coming from inside their bodies, and a parched Ken gets caught in a trap as he approaches a town. A young girl approaches his cage to give him water, and when another prisoner grabs her Ken fends him off easily in his weakened condition. Ken soon finds himself battling the Zeed for the town that captured him. The action scenes are dynamic and gory, with the lack of expression on Ken’s face contrasting with the horror and surprise of his enemies as they find vital parts of their bodies exploding. I enjoy all of Ken’s calm proclamations as he informs his enemies of his impending demise by naming martial arts techniques and flatly declaring “Scum like you cannot possibly kill me.” The art often plays with perspective, with Ken fighting enemies that appear to be two or three times his size, which creates a little bit of dramatic tension in the battles even though Ken’s victory is always assured.

Ken sets out on further adventures, accompanied by the young former prisoner named Bat, who provides ongoing amazement and commentary on Ken’s martial arts feats. As he approaches the city of the Southern Cross, he has to deal with confronting his past and the reader learns more about the pain and trauma that lead Ken to be the master of martial arts who still stops to protect the weak throughout the dystopic remains of human civilization. This volume packs in so much origin story I’m curious to see if the rest of the series is more episodic, or if even more of Ken’s past is revealed in future volumes. This is a great hardcover edition that historic shonen collectors should appreciate that will look nice on a bookshelf with the other recent deluxe volumes Viz has been producing.

Yakuza Lover, Vol 1

Yakuza Lover Volume 1 by Nozomi Mino

I’m glad that Shojo Beat remains committed to bringing out one mature title at a time, so with An Incurable Case of Love ending, Yakuza Lover rotates in. Yuri is a 20 year old college student who capably fends off the overtures of sketchy men, loudly proclaiming “I want a guy who loves me for me!” Her desire for a boyfriend takes an unconventional turn when she ends up in the wrong party room and needs to defend herself from some criminals through the application of a handy side table and her previous experience as a high school athlete. Local yakuza boss Toshiomi Oya comes in to check up on her and gives her his coat as well as his business card, which he says can be used as a shield if she ever finds herself in a similar situation.

Yakuza Lover Volume 1

While Oya says farewell, Yuri can’t stop thinking about him and seeks him out to return his coat. Oya promptly confesses his feelings of affection for Yuri and she’s fascinated by him. They start dating, but each time Oya leaves he references his criminal lifestyle, saying “I’ll call you again if I’m still alive.” Like a Mayu Shinjo hero, Oya’s main personality trait is extreme possessiveness. However, he is happy to indulge Yuri’s whims, like dressing up in traditional clothing while playing tourist. Yuri is still trying to find a better part-time job and not all that invested in material things, although it remains to be seen if some of the complications of dating a crime lord are going to test the relationship.

This first volume was over the top and entertaining, and I enjoyed the elements of dark humor like Oya repeatedly referring to the potential of his impending death. As much as I enjoy a good shoujo trope, I do sometimes want to read a series that doesn’t feature school festivals and sports days all the time, and it seems like dodging bullets and dealing with rival crime lords will be plenty entertaining in Yakuza Lover.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vols 11 and 12

Daytime Shooting Star Volumes 11 and 12 by Mika Yamamori

There are so many Shojo Beat series wrapping up! I’m trying to catch up on my reading and get myself psyched for new series. Daytime Shooting Star is by far the most anxiety-provoking Shojo Beat series for me, just due to the situation where Suzume falls in love with her teacher Mr. Shishio. From the first volume, the thing I was most dreading was a “10 years later” epilogue ending where Suzume is out of college, meets Shishio again and they live happily ever after. In this case my worry was unfounded and my expectations built on years of shoujo plot tropes might have made me worry needlessly. It is a testament to Yamamori’s storytelling abilities that this series was regularly on the top of my to-read pile and I was so invested in the story that I kept reading despite my worries.

Daytime Shoting Star 11

I’ve been on team Mamura all along, and it was great seeing Suzume and Mamura actually start tentatively dating. Of course Shishio has an incredibly immature reaction to Suzume moving along is to reel her back in with a confession of his feelings. One of the reasons why I’m so invested in the Mamura/Suzume relationship is that Mamura is unusually insightful, and willing call out Suzume a bit when she’s pretending that everything is ok when something is clearly bothering her. Mamura is putting her peace of mind in getting some sort of resolution over his own desire to move ahead with their relationship. There’s a great and touching scene where Suzume just leans her head into Mamura’s chest to calm herself, thinking “I feel like he’s putting my heart back where it belongs”. What follows is a sports day full of emotional confrontation and drama, as Mamura and Shishio compete in a relay race, Suzume gets injured in her dogged pursuit of bread, and she and Shishio have another emotionally charged talk.

Daytime Shooting Star 12

As the final volume opens, Suzume and Mamura go on a trip to Okinawa with friends, but he pushes her to resolve her feelings for Mr. Shishio. Shishio’s evolution from charming but slightly sketchy to selfish and incredibly immature over the twelve volumes has been something fascinating to see. Yamamori manages to make all her characters charming no matter what emotional issues they’re dealing with, and by the time I finished this volume I was convinced that all the teenage characters were exhibiting a maturity of character and psychological insight that far outpaced any of their adult counterparts in this manga. Suzume has been a charming and irrepressible heroine who has been plagued by self-doubt as she struggled to make sense of her emotions. By the end of this volume, she has clarity and is truly happy, which was wonderful to see. Daytime Shooting Star featured some great humor, stylish character design, and characters who grew and changed, becoming more secure in themselves as the series concluded. Daytime Shooting Star was an extremely satisfying series to read.