The Ice Guy and the Cool Girl, Vol 1

The Ice Guy and the Cool Girl, Volume 1 by Miyuki Tonogaya

I was curious about this manga, because I’ve heard good things about the anime, which I have not watched yet. The premise of a man descended from snow spirits and his evolving relationship with his work colleague sounded amusing. This series started off being serialized online, and that definitely shows in the episodic nature of the early chapters and the same humorous situation being repeated multiple times. Fortunately, I enjoy scenes of people being overcome with emotions over and over again. I think pacing out reading the first volume over a period of a few days would make for a less repetitive reading experience, and it certainly was pleasant to dip in and out of this manga.

Ice Guy and the Cool Girl

Himuro is the decedent of a snow spirit, and his heritage causes him to have incidents where he inadvertently chills or freezes things in his environment. Fuyutsuki is pretty self-contained, but she does notice Himuro’s challenges and tries to come up with ways to make his life easier. She brings in straw that he can use to insulate the flowers he likes so they won’t freeze over, and brings him cat whiskers as a good luck charm when she realizes that he can’t pet a real cat. Fuyutsuki’s deadpan expression and lack of awareness about her emerging crush provide a contrast to Himuro’s over the top realizations of his feelings for her, which usually involve being overcome with emotion and causing a blizzard in his immediate vicinity. Tonogaya’s art is expressive and the contrast between Himuro’s over the top reactions and Fuyutsuki’s self-contained demeanor is funny. I really liked the bonus story at the end, because it gave a bit more insight into Fuyutsuki’s internal thoughts. Overall, this is a pleasant manga to keep on the reading pile, flipping through a few pages now and then for a bit of cute romantic comedy whenever it is needed.

Honey Lemon Soda, Vol 2

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 2 by Mayu Murata

Shy girl in love with popular boy is a fairly common subgenre of shoujo manga, but with the second volume, I do think that Honey Lemon Soda is pulling it off better than most manga. Uka is still adjusting to her new school, and fighting through her instinctual reactions to situations and other kids that she developed when she was horribly bullied during middle school. Fortunately in her new environment she keeps being pleasantly surprised by her classmates, who are generally very kind. When she shows up in full hiking gear to a trip that everyone else knew was a low key walk in the woods, her classmates are perplexed, but not cruel. Kai, the object of her affections, finds her gaffe sort of adorable because Uka is showing up for events with everything she’s got.

Honey Lemon Soda 2

Uka ends up being a defacto leader of the group when they accidentally go off trail, and her giant hiking backpack has enough snacks to take care of everyone. She slowly starts trusting her classmates more, but she also starts getting a sense of Kai’s popularity. Murata’s art continues to be stylish and a little quirky. I especially liked the way she portrayed Uka and Kai’s smiles and attitudes towards each other as documented in other students’ photos of the hiking trip, it gave a little preview to how their relationship might eventually develop.

March Comes in Like a Lion, Vol 1

March Comes in Like a Lion Volume 1 by Chica Umino

March Comes in Like a Lion was one of the releases I was most anticipating this year, and it was so worth the wait. The opening panels show Rei Kiriyama waking up, getting ready, going to a shogi hall, playing a game against a man he knows. Throughout this introduction Rei says nothing, and the panels of the shogi game are intercut with scenes from Rei’s childhood. When Rei wins the game and his opponent gets up and mentions that he and his family members are worried for him, Rei waits until he’s alone to say “Liar.” Rei then heads home, just as isolated, but he’s interrupted by a flurry of texts and goes over to the Kawamoto sisters’ house, where he’s immediately enveloped in a warm family gathering.

March Comes in like a Lion

Umino balances portraying isolation, trauma, and depression with great skillfulness and moments of humor. She packs in so many slice of life character development vignettes into just a few panels. I appreciated the shonen battle stylings of Nikaido, who proclaims himself Rei’s rival and soon-to-become best friend. Rei goes to the hostess bar where Akari Kawamoto works with some other shogi players, and she cheerfully manipulates his companions into promising to look after Rei. Rei’s background is shown through a series of non-linear flashbacks, and while by the end of the first volume the reader has a sense of what has caused Rei to be so isolated, it is certain that there will be plenty more revelations ahead. One thing I really enjoyed is that the relationship between Rei and the Kawamoto sisters isn’t one sided – Rei also supports the sisters in his own quiet way.

Denpa’s production quality is excellent, with extras like french flaps and a color fold-out poster included at the start of the volume, which makes the manga feel like a bit more of a special collector’s edition. I also appreciated the essays about shogi that accompanied the story. I’m all in for this manga and seeing how Rei’s journey unfolds.

Matcha Made in Heaven, Vols 1-4

Matcha Made in Heaven, Volumes 1-4 by Umebachi Yamanaka

I need to get over my tendencies of forgetting to keep up with digital only releases, I am bad enough about unread manga when I have piles of it to remind me of my backlog, but I’m even worse when it comes to digital releases. However, sometimes a series is so charming that it sizes my attention, I overcome my usual inertia, and I end up absolutely delighted. This was the case with Matcha Made in Heaven!

Chako is a fairly typical big-city dweller, making her way through life, engaged to be married until she starts having reactions to being surrounded by sexism. When she sees her future Mother-in-Law wiping off her fiance’s feet her immediate feelings of revulsion (and the fact that her fiance is seriously creepy) has her fleeing to the countryside to her family’s traditional tea farm. Chako has been out of touch with her family for some time, so she’s a bit startled when she runs across a little girl named Futaba and a giant stern man named Isshin who demands to know what she’s doing in the house. It turns out that Isshin has taken over the family tea business while Chako’s brother works as a writer on the side to earn extra income. Being a writer apparently means abandoning all household duties, as Isshin is basically acting as Futuba’s guardian as well as working in the fields. He makes a comment about how Chako’s not going to be suited to working on her family’s farm and her instinct to rage against sexism and prove him wrong is awakened

matcha made in heaven

Chako’s mysterious yet terrible ex-fiancee shows up at the farm, and in attempt to dodge him, she leaps onto Isshin as he drives a tractor in the fields with Futaba, claiming that he’s her husband. Futuba is absolutely delighted by this development and obviously not over the death of her mother and her absentee father, so Isshin and Chako agree to go through the motions of having a fake marriage. This also has the benefit of all of the neighbors backing off a little bit from trying to set Isshin up. A fake marriage of convenience isn’t a terribly surprising story to structure a multi-volume manga around, but Yamanaka’s execution is top notch. Futuba is an amusing combination of needy 4 year-old and an old soul who is filled with delight about Chako and Isshin’s slowly developing relationship. Isshin is passionate and expressive only about tea, but Chako finds herself more and more charmed by him as she gets to know him.

matcha made in heaven

A fake marriage is nothing without additional obstacles to overcome, and they appear in Chako’s old friend Jin and Isshin’s ex-girlfriend who happens to be the heir to a tea conglomerate. The art is expressive and delicate, with Isshin’s normally stoic expressions only shifting when he’s enraptured by tea or utterly perplexed at how to react to Chako’s presence in his life. I enjoyed the slice-of-life aspect to Match Made in Heaven combined with all the details of tea farming, blending tea, going to markets and trying to salvage a struggling family business. I recommended this series for those who like uncomplicated josei romance.

Harlequin Manga: Valentines, Revenge, and Secrets

Sometimes when reading one wants the equivalent of a decadent Sacher-Torte and other times one might want is a Ho Ho Snack Cake. Is Harlequin manga good? Could the question essentially be meaningless? Sometimes the combination of hackneyed plot tropes and rushed manga adaptations comes together to produce something extraordinary, although most of the time I tend to find it adequate and that’s ok! Sometimes you just want to eat a Ho Ho or read a Harlequin manga. There’s fortunately plenty of selection available on Kindle Unlimited and here are three that I’ve read recently in honor of Valentine’s Day:

Valentine Vendetta by Sharon Kendrick and Miho Tomoi

Valentine Vendetta is the story of a successful party planner named Fran Fisher. Her alcoholic friend Rosie claimed to have been callously used for sex by Sam Lockhart. Rosie wants to be smuggled into a party that Fran is planning so she can confront this terrible womanizer. When Fran shows up at Sam’s house she’s a bit surprised that he’s living in a mansion in the country as a literary agent. Even more mysterious is the fact that Sam is sporting some unconvincing stubble in the first few panels that introduce him, but then he leaves Fran to take a call and comes back clean-shaven. Was he really taking a phone call? What happened with his beard? I honestly spent most of this manga speculating about stubble and wondering when it was coming back only for that mystery to remain unresolved. Sam drives Fran to the train station, and she’s immediately attracted to the messy state of the backseat of his car, it doesn’t match up with the playboy image she has in her head.
Fran just learns how wrong her assumptions were when Rosie and a pack of other women show up and cause a scene at Sam’s Valentine’s Party, and it turns out that they are all upset because they were essentially stalking him! Fran’s put her party planning business on the line for some extremely questionable reasons! Sam however keeps popping up in Fran’s life, she learns more about him and his family and eventually falling in love with him! Miho Tomoi’s adaptation is clear and easy to follow, but I would have appreciated a bit more visual interest, just because the plotline of this title was fairly bland. I wanted more vendettas!

Valentine Vendetta

Alexei’s Passionate Revenge by Helen Bianchin and Yu Mahara

After being a bit let down by Valentine Vendetta, I was hoping for more dramatic plot twists in Alexi’s Passionate Revenge. Revenge doesn’t work when it is too dispassionate, does it? This volume kicks off with Natalya Montgomery being blackmailed into working for the CEO who bought out her father’s company who happens to be her ex-boyfriend Alexi. Now Natalia is stuck being Alexi’s personal assistant unless she wants the secret of her father’s affairs to be released to the media. The plot of this story proceeds in a lovely smorgasbord of tropes including parental alienation, a pregnancy scare, a private villa in New Zealand, a gay best friend, and even more complications that ensured just because Alexi and Natalia had actually managed to have a conversation about their feelings before engaging in blackmail-based business practices. The character designs and illustrations for Alexi’s Passionate Revenge were a bit blocky, and not as delicate as I would have liked, although it was all adept enough. One thing I’m not a fan of is that the revenge in this story was pretty one-sided. Where’s Natalya’s revenge? I hope that she’s planning on something in the future but I won’t count on it.

Alexi's Passionate Revenge

Her Secret Valentine by Helen Brooks and Akemi Maki

This manga has more of the old school quality to the art that I enjoy in Harlequin manga adaptations, although even that isn’t enough to save it from a rather lackluster story with little dramatic tension. Everyone’s eyelashes are three inches long and the heroine has starry eyes all the time. In my mind, this makes up for a certain lack of detail in the backgrounds. Ward Ryan is a widower with a young daughter. Jeanie is his colleague at a law firm who has been crushing on him for years. Ward discovers her crying with frustration about her crush at the office one day and invites him home for dinner. He’s assumes that she’s crying over a man, and says that Jeanie’s imaginary boyfriend is no good for her! Jeanie helps out at Ward’s daughter’s birthday party and they grow closer, while Ward becomes more and more upset that Jeanie’s man doesn’t appreciate her. It is fairly amusing to constantly hear Ward bashing himself to Jeanie. Eventually Jeanie decides that she can’t keep nurturing her crush and quits the law firm, and Ward decides to start pursuing her. Really, there wasn’t very much dramatic tension in this story, and the curly eyelashes didn’t make up for it.

Her Secret Valentine

I would say that out of the three of these volumes, Alexi’s Passionate Revenge was probably the best example of the genre, there were enough inexplicable and yet entirely predictable plot twists to satisfy most Harlequin manga connoisseurs. Now that I’ve revived my Harlequin manga habit, I will continue my quest to find the perfect example of insane plot points and rose-petal filled art.