Complex Age, Vol. 1

Complex Age Volume 1 by Yui Sakuma

I enjoy being able to break free from my typical shoujo reading fare now and then, so I was curious to check out Complex Age, a seinen manga about an office lady who is starting to age out of her cosplay habit. Nagisa Katura is a temp worker with a rich inner life. After work, she retreats into her room where she spends all her spare time working on her cosplay outfits in honor of a popular magical girl anime. Nagisa is a perfectionist, not only staying up late to get the details of her costumes correct, she’s also an expert on the body language of all the characters in the Magical Riding Hood Ururu show.

I enjoyed this manga, because it focused so much on personality-based growth and conflict. Nagisa’s age and height make her stand out among other cosplayers, and it was sad to see how her joy in her hobby was shaken a bit when some snarky photographers made comments about her age. Another reminder of Nagisa’s growing older comes when a young cosplayer with the perfect looks to portray Ururu shows up and joins her cosplay group. Looks aren’t really a match for experience and knowledge of a character though, and Nagisa approaches her portrayals with the same type of preparation a serious actress would take on when preparing for a role.

I have to admit, cosplay hasn’t really held much appeal for me personally, but I appreciated the detail and realism Sakuma brought to this story. The fictional anime series that Nagisa and her friends follow is fully realized with distinct characters who all have battle cries that incorporate different types of tea, which I thought was hilarious. Sakuma’s art switches between the more realistic real world and the idealized characters of the anime the characters try to emulate with ease. It is clear that Nagisa isn’t fully satisfied with her current life, and she’s going to change or go through some sort of evolution, and I’m interested in seeing what happens along the way in her journey. This volume also features a one-shot story that touches on similar themes but is very different from the main series. It was interesting to see how the characters and concepts in Complex Age evolved to accommodate the longer series.

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Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1

Yona of the Dawn Volume 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is no surprise that I was eagerly anticipating Yona of the Dawn. I feel like there’s been a little bit of a gap in currently translated shoujo fantasy, so I was very much looking forward to this manga. I have a feeling that Yona of the Dawn is one of those manga that will be easier to evaluate once the second volume comes out, because the first volume was mostly set-up. I did enjoy the worldbuilding and some of the plot twists that I wasn’t expecting.

Yona is a sheltered princess whose main issues involve fretting over her red hair. She’s watched over by her guard Hak, and she nurses an intense crush on her cousin Su-won. As she’s getting older the question of her marriage is starting to come up, and her father the king seems to be determined to get her married to anyone but Su-won. Yona is a bit headstrong and pampered, but she still comes across as a sympathetic heroine in the early pages of the manga.

One thing I was dreading a bit is the development of a fairly typical love triangle, because it seemed like that’s the way things might be headed for Yona, Hak, and Su-won at the start of the manga. I was extremely happy when my expectations were foiled within the first couple chapters, and the story took an abrupt turn as Yona has to flee the palace with only Hak by her side. I’ve heard that this series features awesome archery, which is nowhere in evidence yet. I’m much more intrigued by the potential storyline of Yona having to toughen up and learn how better to fend for herself, so I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume.

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Haikyu!! Vol. 2

Haikyu!! Volume 2 by Haruichi Furudate

I thought that the first volume of this volleyball manga series was unusually strong, and it set up some interesting dynamics between Hinata, the enthusiastic volleyball player with untapped athletic abilities and absolutely no experience, and Kageyama, the star player who is incapable of being a team player.

The second volume opens with the team getting a chance to play a practice match against a rival school where some of Kageyama’s former teammates ended up. This provides an opportunity for the Karasuno High volleyball team to test out their newest players. As with the best sports manga, this volume does a great job maintaining the tension and action of competition, sprinkled with a bit of exposition of volleyball rules, with a great deal of character development packed into a single game.

Hinata’s overwhelming enthusiasm about the simplest things like getting a team jacket also has some ill effects, as he is so nervous about playing his first game he keeps visiting the bathroom every five minutes leading up to the match. Kageyama finds himself in the position of being an unlikely sports psychologist, which serves to contrast the personalities of the two protagonists of the series even more.
Hinata ends up awakening Kageyama’s full potential as a volleyball setter, as Kageyama finally realizes that he needs to consider the player he’s feeding the ball to. Hinata’s jumping abilities also inspire a degree of trust in a teammate that Kageyama that he never had before. He gets the timing down so exactly that Hinata just has to jump and expect that the ball will be there when he arrives for that brief moment at the top of the net.

The ending of this volume showcases the potential of the scrappy Karasuno High team. They might not be functioning as a full team yet, but they have a lot of potential and a real future, if only they get some help working on some fundamentals and even more practice time. The volleyball action scenes were as dynamic and gripping as the first volume. I’m happy that this series is on an accelerated release schedule, so I don’t have to wait too long before the next volume!

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Black Clover, Vol. 1

Black Clover Volume 1 by Yuki Tabata

Black Clover is an engaging action fantasy Shonen Jump manga, with plenty of comedy thrown in to liven things up. Like most shonen manga, it features a scrappy underdog hero. Orphan boy Asta dreams of becoming the Wizard King, the ultimate protector of his country. His enthusiasm isn’t hampered by reality, as he passionately proposes marriage to a nun in his home village, only to be refused for entirely sensible reasons. Asta’s boyhood companion is fellow orphan Yuno. Yuno is tall while Asta is short, and skilled in magic while Asta seems to have no abilities whatsoever. When children turn 15 they attend a ceremony where they are granted a magical grimoire that enhances their magical abilities. Yuno gets a lucky grimoire with a four leaf clover. Asta gets a beat up grimoire with a hidden five leaf clover.

I enjoyed the art in Black Clover, especially the level of detail in the supporting characters and in the backgrounds. The scene of grimoire distribution looked appropriately fantastic, with an almost infinite library of magical books stretching up to the ceiling, with books floating out to their new person. An early scene in the book provides some backstory to the manga, showing people laboring near a giant animal skull with three eye sockets.

It turns out that Asta has the power of anti-magic, and when this combines with his formidable physical training, he actually has a fighting chance when he has to face more skilled magical foes. Asta and Yuno return to see if they are going to be chosen to join a company of magical knights. Asta distinguishes himself with ease, and ends up getting chosen by the most desirable company, the Golden Dawn. Asta ends up in the company of misfits, the Black Bulls. This is where most of the character based comedy in the series gets set up, as Asta’s new companions include a perpetually drunken witch in a bikini, a odd man with a sister complex, a wizard who seems like a wanna-be biker, and a few more misfits. A probable new love interest is also included in the group, a noble girl named Noelle Silva who has fallen in with ignoble company because she can’t control her extremely powerful magic.

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This was a extremely effective first volume, setting up the cast of characters and future conflict well, without ever weighing the reader down with too much exposition. There was a good mix of action scenes and comedy. Some of the characters and situations seem like pretty typical Shonen Jump people and plots, but I was entertained even though I tend to be unreasonably picky about shonen manga.

Shojo Beat Quick Takes – My Love Story!! 9 and Honey So Sweet 3

My Love Story!! and Honey So Sweet both feature heroines in love with unconventional boyfriends who are viewed by society based on harsh exteriors when they are incredibly nice on the inside. While both series have a similar vibe, My Love Story!! is a bit more broadly comedic, and as fitting with the title, Honey So Sweet is a bit more sweet and simple. Both of these series are dealing with a similar plot point in these volumes, the random dude with a crush on the girl in an established relationship, so I thought it would be fun to look at both series.

Honey So Sweet Volume 3 by Amu Meguro

There were hints of things getting derailed a bit in the last volume when mysterious new boy Futami shows up and rapidly befriends Onise, but he turns into a full-blown frenemy in this volume. Futami starts inserting himself in Taiga and Nao’s relationship, flirting with Nao, and just generally being just on the edge of skeevy, always with an excuse or a habit of brushing off his comments as jokes. The school is also distracted with an upcoming sports festival.

One of the productive ways that Onise deals with the situation is sitting down and talking with Sou about his feelings. Sou tells Onise that he needs to work on his self confidence, and he can’t ignore Nao’s feelings in the situation either. Nao seems to like Futami but is also uncomfortable around him. She’s also wanting to get along with Onise’s new friend.

Onise ends up sending Futami a formal invitation to duel, but the duel ends up with Onise just talking with Futami very frankly. Futami ends up revealing some of the insecurity he’s been dealing with too, and he actually ends up being somewhat sympathetic. While there are some continued live triangle complications ahead, I would be very surprised if Onise and Nao get separated. The core of this manga is exploring how a relationship can turn a couple with some emotional issues into better human beings. Even though there are some typical plot elements like a school festival and love triangle, Honey So Sweet portrays all these events with some emotional depth and delicacy, making it a refreshing read.

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My Love Story!! Volume 9 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

In contrast, My Love Story!! is equally sweet, but it explores love triangle plot points with broad comedy. Yamato gets a job working at a pastry shop, and chef Ichinose decides that she’s his muse. Yamato keeps enjoying sweet treats, but she likes bringing them to Takeo even more. Takeo is in the grips of an insecurity attack, spending time staring out at the beach with his feelings in turmoil. While Suna encourages Takeo to not worry, his observational powers see Ichinose staring when Takeo visits Yamato at work. When Yamato cheerfully tells Ichinose that Takeo is her boyfriend, he runs out of the bakery to tell Takeo to break up with her, yelling that she’d be way better off with him. Ichinose suggests that Takeo date a bear instead, because they’d have more in common, but Takeo calmly says that he’s not going to break up with his girlfriend. Ichinose vows to not let Takeo win and stalks off.

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One of the things I like about this series is that everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves. There’s never any doubt about what someone might be feeling at any particular time, even if this results in some ridiculous confrontations between nebbishy pastry chefs and giant high school boys. Ichinose clearly has placed Yamato on an unrealistic pedestal, assuming that she’ll be able to help him win a competitive baking contest, even though her skills aren’t up to a professional standard yet. Yamato is a bit oblivious, enjoying her new job and still clearly only in love with Takeo. The contrast between Ichinose’s thoughts and Yamato’s straightforward comments about her boyfriend and her love of sweets is hilarious. As Takeo works through his episode of insecurity, he becomes more resolute than ever about the future of his relationship.

It was fun to contrast the way both of these volumes tackled similar plot points. Honey So Sweet was more subtle and emotional, while the comedy of My Love Story!! allowed it to explore similar issues of insecurity and relationship testing with more over the top emotional reactions. Both of these series are thoroughly enjoyable, in part because even though the main couples in them might be tested from time to time, the strength of the relationships make the reader secure about a good outcome even if an ending isn’t yet in sight.