I got some great lists of love stories in the comments to the My Love Story! giveaway. The winner according to Random.org is commenter #8, Dawn whose favorite love story is Amelie.
Kaze Hikaru Volume 22 by Taeko Watanabe
So much of Kaze Hikaru deals with repressing emotions, since Sei has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the Shinsengumi and Soji has agreed to keep her secret. While Sei and Soji are clearly in love with each other, there’s a long way to go until any actual romance occurs. This volume revolved around so many feelings, as Sei has been newly assigned to Saito’s troop and Saito harbors some suspicions of Sei based on his past friendship with Sei’s brother. Saito has disturbing dreams and isn’t sure what is happening with his involuntary reactions to Sei. Saito finally figures out that Sei is a girl, and his reaction is that he’ll simply maker her quit the Shinsengumi and marry her. When Saito goes to Soji to discuss his plans, Soji encourages the marriage, telling Saito to “Make her happy.” It is interesting how effectively Watanabe explores the points of view of the characters, while Soji cares for Sei the idea of pursuing marriage with her isn’t in his worldview. He’s just going to support her while thinking of her as the man she pretends to be.
Saito’s plan begins to evolve as he sees Sei protect Soji in battle and he realizes that she’s more courageous than most of the men she knows. At the end of this volume, Sei is transferred back to Soji’s troop, where I’m sure Soji’s general feelings of uneasiness and his tendencies to lie to himself will grow even stronger. Kaze Hikaru’s detailed historical setting, clear and attractive art, and compelling story make it one of my favorite Shojo Beat titles. I wish the new volumes came out at a greater rate than once a year, because I think the deliberate pace of the story would reward readers who like to stockpile volumes and read a bunch at a time. I read every volume almost as soon as I get it though!
Happy Marriage?! By Maki Enjoiji
I enjoy reading Happy Marriage?! just because romances set in offices give me a break from all the romances set in high schools that I tend to read just because I am such a shojo manga aficionado. Chiwa continues to work in her new job, but has to deal with one of her former friends still having a crush on her. Hokuto continues to be both busy and remote, and his father is still in the hospital. Chiwa attempts to intervene to bring Hokuto closer to his family, without the results she was expecting. One sour note for me in this volume was Hokuto slapping Chiwa in the middle of an argument. While they fight and work through their issues as always, I’m starting to get a little weary of the relationship dynamic in the book. I’m also a bit more interested in some of the newer Shojo Beat series like Spell of Desire or Black Rose Alice. I’m hoping that the next volume of Happy Marriage is a bit better.
I have an extra copy of My Love Story, so I thought I would do a giveaway! Just leave a comment here telling me what your favorite love story is, and I’ll randomly pick a winner next Sunday. US residents only please.
Food Wars Volume 1 by Yuto Tsukudo and Shun Saeki
This is a potentially engaging battle style foodie manga that I found myself having a difficult time getting into due to the copious amounts of fan service. I do realize that in shonen manga, one has to expect some boobs and miniskirts, just as one might expect scenes of shirtless vampires chained to the wall in supernatural shoujo manga, but I thought the sexual elements in Food Wars didn’t really enhance what might otherwise be a fun food battle manga.
Soma has grown up cooking for his father’s neighborhood restaurant. He’s trying to battle his father for supremacy but still falling short of the mark. The third page of the manga contains a reference to tentacle rape, as Soma pops a bite of a squid food experiment into a girls mouth, only for her to feel horrifically molested by the terrible combination of flavors. The first chapter in the book is a prolog, as representatives of a hostile corporation try to move in on the restaurant, Soma’s father decides to take off and cook in America, and Soma is promptly sent to try out for an elite cooking school called the Totsuki Saryo Culinary Institute.
The female antagonist of Food Wars is Erina Nakiri, a student with an incredibly refined palette, and a gift for metaphor, as she likens an unsatisfactory dish to the sensation of visiting a hot springs only to find out that there is a gorilla staring at her. Full visuals for this scene are of course provided, and it is actually much more funny than some of the other fanservicey scenes that just seem to involve food blowing away peoples’ clothes. Erina judges Soma’s dish and finds it extraordinary despite the fact that he’s making everyday Japanese food instead of something more fancy. She fails him, but he’s let into the school after all when a school administrator tears up the test results after tasting the dish.
I do enjoy food manga, and ordinarily I’d be totally up for reading a few volumes of food battling set in an elite high school. I also liked the theme of contrasting Soma’s expertise in making everyday food with the snobby pretensions of his fellow students. The fan service elements were just a bit too much for me, and there are certainly other examples of food manga that manage to show the transformative experience of eating an excellent dish without resorting to upskirt shots. So for funny food manga, I’d probably recommend that someone with similar tastes as me go with Yakitate Japan or the ridiculous Toriko.
I do enjoy a Harlequin manga now and then! Here are a couple random titles I bought for my kindle recently.
The Venetian’s Midnight Mistress by Carole Mortimer and Yuko Ichiju
This was an enjoyable Harlequin manga, but I expected something a tiny bit more dramatic and angst-ridden from a story called “The Venetian’s Midnight Mistress.” Dani is a driven interior designer with the type of complicated family situation that seems to drive Harlequin heroines into the arms of a tall, dark, and handsome man. Dani’s grandfather is a jerk. He’s unhappy that his only heir is a woman, and he treats Dani’s father horribly for only producing a female grandchild. He’s arranged his will with a penalty – if Dani doesn’t produce a son the family will get nothing. Dani’s worried about her reproductive choices robbing her parents of the fortune that they’re entitled to, but she’s already had a disastrous first marriage and doesn’t want to enter into a relationship again. Dani’s best friend Eleni has a tall, dark, handsome, and arrogant older brother named Niccolo, who says seductive things to Dani like “When I think about kissing you, it makes me kinda sick.”
Sure enough, Eleni throws a masquerade ball and Dani and Niccolo are overwhelmingly attracted to each other when they are both wearing masks. They hook up, and Dani is horrified to realize that she’s slept with Niccolo. She escapes, but Niccolo soon figures out who his mystery woman was and heads after her. Dani soon finds out that she’s pregnant and Niccolo promptly proposes, but her psychological issues with commitment are going to prevent her from being happy with her new fiance.
The art for this title was fine – a bit middle of the road and generic, but that’s what I tend to expect from most Harlequin manga. I wish there had been some slightly more exciting plot elements like amnesia, a terminal illness, or a kidnapping, but for a nice predictable read featuring a masked ball, this volume delivers.
The Italian Prince’s Proposal by Susan Stephens and Kaishi Sakuya
This volume focuses on a marriage of convenience. Emily is substitute singing for her ill sister in a club where she’s spotted by Prince Alessandro. He decides that she’s the perfect fake bride for him. He arranges a meeting and feeds her chocolate from his home country. She slaps him. Clearly they are perfect for each other! Alessandro needs a bride so his father can abdicate the throne and officially retire. Emily needs money to help out her ailing sister. As in most Harlequin volumes focusing on a marriage of convenience, the couple soon develop feelings for each other, but a terrible misunderstanding threatens to tear them apart!!
The character designs for this volume were attractive, and the art was clear and easy to follow, if not very detailed. I appreciated that Emily enjoyed the chocolate festivals and wine making rituals of Alessandro’s home country. Really, with abundant chocolate and wine, I feel like most women wouldn’t mind the whole marriage of convenience thing. This wasn’t a standout title for me, but it was still fun for me to read. I think I need to be a bit more careful to pick titles that are a bit goofier, because I tend to enjoy Harlequins when there are more outlandish plot points than I found in these two volumes.