Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 22

Yona of the Dawn Volume 22 by Mizuho Kusanagi

Volume 22 of Yona of the Dawn follows the tried and true formula of contrasting a hilarious chapter with a deep dive into introspection. The volume opens as Riri is recovering from her and Yona’s latest adventure. Su-Won goes to visit her and it is clear that some of the people that surround them are interested in pushing them together for various geopolitical reasons. However, Riri’s a bit dispassionate at being told to act dignified in front of the king, and Su-Won continues to find her frank mannerisms amusing. I hope for better for Riri than Su-Won though! In a hilarious scene Riri reveals the depth of her crush as General Geum-Tae enters her room. She immediately starts blushing and acting like a shy maiden. In the aftermath, plenty of people inform Riri that Geum-Tae is happily marries, and she’s very well aware, she’s just happy to enjoy her crush. Seeing Riri freak out about how cool Geum-Tae is in front of Su-Won was hilarious.

Yona of the Dawn

The reader gets a rare look into Hak’s mind as he struggles with the idea of returning Yona’s misplaced belongings to her, including the hairpin that Su-Won gave her right before he murdered her father. Hak reflects on their past friendship, and Su-Won’s betrayal. He thinks about his own emotions and how Su-Won didn’t seem to care about the pain he was inflicting on other people. The bulk of this volume deals with an adventure to a new land, as people from Xing pop up to ask if Yona and her companions are the “monsters from Kokha.” Yona meets another new female friend when she spends time with Tao, the younger princess of Xing, but she also learns about the extent of political destabilization that is following from Su-Won’s wars, as Xing might be split between two factions. Tao asks Yona’s advice about what to do with Su-Won, and Yona remains awkwardly silent, realizing that bringing her own feelings and opinions into someone else’s political calculations might not be in the best interest of Xing. This volume bridges two story arcs very effectively, with a little bit of comic relief, a glimpse of the emotional toll the journey has taken on Hak, and the introduction of a new land that hopefully Yona will be able to help.

Given, Vol. 1

Given Volume 1 by Natsuki Kizu

Even before I read this manga, I remember scrolling past something on twitter and seeing the cover. Who is the mildly cranky guitarist? What’s up with the diffident dude with the red guitar? Has there been yaoi manga translated here featuring a rock band since Gravitation? I have no idea, but I was more than ready to check out this series.

Uneoyama is a cranky high school student and guitar player who is quite irked to see another boy passed out holding a guitar in his favorite sleeping spot. Uneoyama is perturbed that the guy is clutching a Gibson with rusted out strings, but the mysterious boy says “Can this be fixed?” with a look of desperation on his face. Uneoyama quickly tunes the guitar, strums a cord, and is promptly asked for guitar lessons. Uneoyama isn’t sure how to teach an absolute novice the guitar, but his newfound companion tags along to band practice and introduces himself as Mafuyu Sato. Mafuyu meets bassist Haruki and drummer Kaji, and continues to be relentless about asking Uneoyama for guitar lessons.

Given

Throughout most of this first volume, Mafuyu is presented as an innocent enigma, but as Uneo gets to know him he begins to discover that Mafuyu’s emotional attachment to the Gibson he can’t play is rooted in a tragic event from his past. Uneoyama’s jaded attitude towards music is gradually changed by Mafuyu’s enthusiasm and he begins to think about his mysterious new friend more and more. Given perfectly executes the “I’m mad at you because you are so pretty” trope that is so enjoyable when done well. The scenes of the band playing music are dynamic, and Uneoyama’s growing feelings are built up in a subtle way even though he’s not yet ready to be honest with himself. Haruki and Kaji also have some cute scenes together, and as older band members spend a bit of time being amused at Uneoyama actually feeling off-kilter due to the fact that he is finally emotionally invested in something. Kizu’s character designs are all distinct and stylish, and I enjoyed the bonus illustrations of all the major characters that showed sketches of facial expressions as well as vital statistics. This was an extremely promising first volume, and I’m expecting this series will continue to entertain with a winning combination of slow burn romance and music.

Ao Haru Ride, Vol. 8

Ao Haru Ride, Volume 8 by Ao Sakisaka

Ao Haru Ride continues to provide a unique shoujo story by combining teen romance against a backdrop of grief. Kou continues to think he can fix the world by taking on the responsibility of being sole friend/psychotherapist/boyfriend to his old classmate Yui, but Futuba may finally be ready to move on.

Ao Haru Ride 8

As the volume opens Futuba tells Kou that she likes him, in full expectation that she’s going to be rejected. She wants to get everything out in the open so she can attempt to move on. Kou’s words are carefully chosen, he says “I can’t go out with you” and Futuba smiles and says “That feels like closure.” Her smiling face interrupts a sequence of panels where Kou’s expressionless face is shadowed, pointing to the facade he’s wearing to hide his feelings. Futuba walks away and when Kou’s phone rings (presumably a call from Yui), he smashes it. While Futuba has vowed to move on, she can’t resist trying to make Kou feel a bit of regret, and she decides that she’ll act more feminine and further distance herself from the tomboy persona that she used to assume. She wonders “Is everyone else pretending to be the person they want to be?” Toma seizes his chance and tells Futuba that he likes her just as she is. She isn’t quite sure how to respond, but Toma tells her that he’ll wait and see what she thinks after she gets a chance to know him.

Futuba accidentally runs into Kou at school and he’s back to his usual harsh comments telling her that her attempts to be more feminine totally don’t work for her. Futuba’s introspection makes her both relatable and endearing, as she comments to her friends, “Spending time thinking about a boy who didn’t pick me…is a waste of my youth!” Kou and Futuba are generally so much better together than they are apart, and the attempts to put distance between them simply don’t work. This is a solid middle volume in this series, and there’s a nice one-shot included as a bonus. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Kou decides that he’s no longer responsible for fixing the universe.

Sublime Quick Takes: Liquor and Cigarettes and Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato

I’ve decided in the interest of clearing away some of my to-read manga stacks, I’m going to dedicate the month of February to BL and yaoi manga and do at least one extra post of mini reviews a week. I’m going to do a big giveaway at the end of the month with a selection of what I’ve read (however many manga I can fit into a flat rate priority box). So let’s take a look at some manga from SubLime.

Liquor and Cigarettes by Ranmaru Zariya

Camilo and Theo are childhood best friends who run family businesses across the street from each other in a quasi European setting. Theo sells liquor and Camilo sells cigarettes. Theo’s deep dark secret is that he’s secretly a lightweight who can’t tolerate alcohol. Camillo’s favorite hobby is propping his head in his hands and staring soulfully at Theo. When Camilo asks his lifelong friend to consider dating him, Theo isn’t sure, but he decides to throw himself into a quasi trial relationship while at the same time building up his alcohol tolerance so he can take part in a town wine festival. What follows is a series of booze and angst-filled nights as Theo struggles with his sexuality and Camilo attempts to win him over. The art is well-done and fluid, with distinct character designs. Liquor and Cigarettes is complete in one volume, and would be a good choice for yaoi fans who are wanting something short but explicit to read that also features a decent amount of character development, as both Theo and Camilo puzzle out how to take their relationship forward without the booze.

liquor and cigarettes

Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato By Scarlet Beriko

The cover for Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato shows a shocking lack of concern for basic gun safety. I can say that the cover certainly signals the content of the manga. Tatsuyuki Oyamato is an heir to a powerful yakuza family. He’s not that invested in his duties in organized crime, as he’s struggling to get over being dumped by a masseur. He ends up wandering around a city half-drunk and gets picked up by Koga Nozomi, a kindergarten teacher who recognizes Tatsuyuki from an incident in their past that Tatsuyuki has no memory of. A local mafia boss named Rogi is determined to make both Tasuyuki and Nozomi miserable, and his daughter attends the kindergarten where Nozomi works. One of the reasons why I tend to be only an occasional yaoi reader is that I don’t care for reading much about non-consensual sex. Rogi decides to hatch an elaborate blackmail scheme that involves sexual torture, and that wasn’t appealing to me as a reader. Trauma in general gets a pass in this manga, and Nozomi’s semi obsessive tendencies towards Tatsuyuki get mention and then glossed over. Beriko’s art is great, and Nozomi is appropriately adorable, but in the end, this was not a manga that inspired enthusiasm for me as a reader. While there is a happy ending of sorts, I do hope that the yakuza have a good mental health provider.

Fourth Generation Head

Shortcake Cake, Vol 7

Shortcake Cake Volume 7 by suu Morishita

As I was picking up this volume of Shortcake Cake, I started thinking about how genuinely fond of many of the current Shojo Beat titles. It is quite an accomplishment to develop a line of manga that inspires the feeling that you are seeing a friend again when you get a new volume of a series in your hands, but so many of the current Shojo Beat lineup invoke that feeling for me. Shortcake Cake continues to explore the classic romantic tradition of a love triangle (or possibly quadrangle) as Ten now realizes that she has feelings for Riku after she originally rejected him. In a great scene that takes full advantage of the iconic setting of stairs leading up to a shrine, Riku asks Ten if she likes him, and after a few beats of silence and slightly shifting facial expressions, Ten breaks the tension by balling up her fists and punching herself on either side of her face. Riku grabs her wrists to ask what she’s doing, and she blurts out “I like you.” Morishita’s cinematic approach to paneling switches from character to character, incorporating silent reaction shots coupled with blushes and awkward glances that makes this love confession iconic.

shortcake cake 7

One of the things I like about this series is the way it switches easily between emotional scenes and more comedic aspects of teenage life. Ten continues her confession by saying that she hopes she can make Riku like her back, and asks him to give her some time to win his affection. He says he’ll wait, and Ten thinks that she needs to make up for how she made Riku feel in the past. Ten decides that she’s going to actually attempt to be feminine, and what follows is a crash course in skin care and makeup application from Ageha. Ten also attempts to mirror Riku’s body language to deepen their connection in a hilarious scene. While Ten flits around trying out random advice from friends, Riku seems fairly patient and low key, except when he has to deal with an attempt to clear the air from Chiaki. In settings that recall the places where they’ve spoken in the past, Ten and Riku are open with their feelings and embark on an actual relationship.

With the way this series is developing, I’m not expecting the love confessions in this volume to be the last ones, which is a good thing because Morishita executes them so well. It is pretty adorable seeing Ten and Riku together and on the same page, but I’m very curious to see what happens when Rei figures out what is going on. Rei is largely absent from this volume, except for a single vignette after the main story, so I’m expecting him to show up soon. Shortcake Cake presents teen romance with a depth and emotional resonance that sets it apart from many other series. I’m still unsure who Ten is going to end up with, and that continues to keep me intrigued as a reader.