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.

Kamisama Kiss, Vol 20

Kamisama Kiss Volume 20 by Julietta Suzuki

This volume starts dealing more with the issues that inevitably arise when a human and an immortal start developing romantic feelings for each other. It starts out with a conclusion of the class trip storyline, as Tomoe is able to observe what Nanami is like when hanging out with other human girls. When he goes on an errand to an island where he met a human kami many years before, he gets a vivid reminder of how short Nanami’s lifespan is.

Tomoe decides that he has to become human, and he wants that transformation to happen immediately. Nanami thinks that it is good that Tomoe is trying to get closer to humanity through some excessive studying, but she thinks that it won’t happen for several more years. When Tomoe gets his hands on some medicine that might have the power to transform him, she’s worried that he’ll die in a normal human lifespan, but he doesn’t want to remain immortal and watch her age and die. They fight a bit about this, and Tomoe goes off with his usual impulsive nature and takes the medicine, only to turn into a fox instead of a human.

This funny and sad situation brought on by mystical forces is the type of plot that Kamisama Kiss excels at, because it is hilarious to see Tomoe’s body language and cranky attitude manifest while in the form of an adorable fox, but it is also quite distressing that Nanami and Tomoe are being kept apart again. The appearance of Kirihito towards the end of the volume points out that there are going to be even more struggles ahead for the couple.

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One of the things I like most about this series are the quiet moments of character interactions, when Tomoe contrasts his memories the human kami he met as a little girl with the old woman she’s become, she mentions that the day she spent with him was one of her fondest memories. Nanami can’t help herself from hugging Tomoe when he’s in fox form, but she’s struck by his body language showing that he’s incredibly unhappy with his unexpected transformation. These types of moments give Kamisama Kiss more depth than the typical shoujo series, and have me happily reading every volume.

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 4

Requiem of the Rose King Volume 4 by Aya Kanno

This series continues to impress me, as with each volume Kanno capably delivers a larger cast of characters and more intricate plots centered around the succession to the English throne. While many of the earlier volumes served to establish the motivations of many of the characters, this volume moved into more political plotting, especially as the Earl of Warwick decides to play kingmaker.

I found myself struck by all the ways that Kanno’s art signals character in elegant ways. Richard has a vision of his father as an avenging angel with dark wings, and the swooping black feathers bordering the panels serve to show how isolated Richard is in his inner world. Warwick is often drawn with areas of his face shown in stark shadow, which suits his manipulative personality.

This volume focuses on the fall of Edward, his manipulative wife, and the possible rise of middle brother George. Richard is still an object of desire to Edward, who willingly travels to meet Anne to explore a possible engagement once he knows that Richard is also visiting. For a brief time Richard is able to deepen his friendship with Anne, and he finds some solace in a new friend who lets him be completely himself. This being a tragedy, Richard’s brief period of peace is quickly destroyed, and he has to head back into battle again where he thinks he’s going to find a different kind of escape.

As Warwick’s plots fall into place, Buckingham is determined to provide a different king for the nation and goes off in search of Richard. There are too many kings and would-be kings wandering around England! But it is clear that while they all may be trying to gain the throne, so much of the real power is in the hands of the nobles trying to manipulate all the political uncertainty.

Requiem of the Rose King continues to be a favorite series. The art is absolutely top notch, and the combination of Richard’s surreal visions and complicated inner life against the backdrop of the political struggles for the English crown makes it incredibly compelling.

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