Black Rose Alice Vol 2

Black Rose Alice Volume 2 by Setona Mizushiro

If you had asked me where Black Rose Alice was headed after reading the first volume, I would not have replied “slice of life reverse harem story about vampires running a cafe” and yet that was what ended up happening in the second volume. I thought that after establishing Dimitri’s past and the troubled present lives of the teacher Azusa and her doomed relationship with her student Koya, I was expecting a bit more fallout after Azusa agreed to trade her soul to Dimitri in exchange for Koya’s life. There are a few hints of Azusa’s past feelings in the second volume, but the bulk of the story is spent establishing her new existence inhabiting Agnieszka’s body and what exactly happens when she wakes up as the object of affection for four vampires that all want to continue their species. Azusa takes on the name Alice in her new incarnation.

Dimitri has surrounded himself with vampire companions. There’s the twins Reiji and Kai, who are a bit young (for vampires) and naive. Leo, who is more sophisticated dedicates himself to waging a calculated campaign for Alice’s affections. In an interesting twist on the reverse harem scenario, Alice is going to be the only way for the young vampires to extend the life of their line, but it is up to her to make a choice about who she wants to end up with. Dimitri is determined to hold himself aloof from the new soul inhabiting Agnieeszka’s body, but he finds himself drawn to Alice despite himself.

While the first volume had more of a tumult of emotions, this second volume was much more even in tone and had some vampire-centric slice of life moments as Alice slowly gets used to her new identity. Alice has an imperious streak that comes out from her former habits of managing a classroom. There are still a few moments of the surreal body horror that made the first volume more distinctive, but not nearly as many random tarantulas spewing from a given vampire’s mouth. It isn’t often that I put down the second volume of manga feeling genuinely surprised about the direction and tone, but I finished up this volume feeling more intrigued than I did after reading the first. This series seems to be shaping up to be quite quirky and unique, which is just the type of thing that I’m currently most interested in reading.

Kiss of the Rose Princess, Vol. 1

Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 1 by Aya Shouoto

I’m always happy to check out a new reverse harem manga. Kiss of the Rose Princess seems a little bit on the wacky and comedic side like Ouran High School Host Club, except it has random paranormal elements, is less ridiculous, and does not feature twins. So actually, not very like Ouran at all. The heroine of the story is Anise Yamamoto, a girl who is cursed with wearing the same rose necklace to school every day in flagrant violation of the dress code, because her father told her that she would be cursed if she ever took the necklace off.

Of course, only a few pages into the manga, Anise’s necklace falls off and she soon finds herself assigned mystical knights who she can summon to do her bidding by kissing cards imprinted with different colored roses. By day they are Kaede the slightly cranky yet typically handsome shoujo hero, Tenjo the secretly freaky student council president, the gothically morose Mutsuki, and the tiny but cute Asagi. Random events at school cause Anise to need help, and as she mystically summons her knights to her side she begins to learn a bit more about their personalities. There are plenty of amusing scenes in Kiss of the Rose Princess, even though it doesn’t approach the manic humor of a series like Ouran High School Host Club or Oresama Teacher.

The art is attractive, but fairly conventional. It doesn’t have much of a distinct style to it, and I tend to enjoy reading manga a bit more if the artist has some recognizable unique takes on character design, backgrounds, or paneling. I found myself picking up and putting down this volume a bit, which might have been a function of me being crazy busy recently, but the story didn’t really capture all of my attention. That being said, Kiss of the Rose Princess was enjoyable to read, as a good example of super light and fluffy manga. I’m hoping that the humor and the relationships between the characters develops a bit more in the second volume.

The Clockwork Sky, Vols 1 and 2

The Clockwork Sky Volumes 1 and 2 by Madeline Rosca

I haven’t read Rosca’s series for Seven Seas, The Hollow Fields, but I remember being aware of it as one of the more positively reviewed English language manga series. So I was curious to check out Rosca’s recent series The Clockwork Sky.

The first volume establishes the world of Ember, along with a plucky heroine who has a habit of getting in trouble for being improper due to her need for speed. Sally has been sent to live with her Uncle Croach, who is a evil steampunk industrialist. His line of household robots is transforming the city, but where is he getting all the parts for his creatures from? Sally is basically locked up in her room and told to concentrate on being a proper lady, but she’s got plenty of ingenuity and manages to sneak out of her uncle’s house and comes across a race, which she promptly enters.

The other young protagonist of the story is Sky, a young mechanical police aide who resembles an adolescent Atro Boy a bit in his character design and powers. He’s assigned to track Sally down, but soon finds himself a bit sympathetic towards her. This conflicts with his orders. As Sally and Sky soon begin to discover, her Uncle’s scrapyard contains secrets and unexpected dangers.

While the first volume introduces the characters and world of The Clockwork Sky, the second volume is almost non-stop action as Sally and Sky learn that the missing children of the city are being recycled in unexpected ways. Croach makes an unconventional presentation to some powerful people in a desperate attempt at getting the raw materials needed to keep his factory going, while Sky begins to chafe at his programming and manifests even more self-awareness and independent thought. There are plenty of dynamic action sequences in Croach’s factory, and when Sky is able to bring in the authorities, Sally is able to build a new life for herself.

I appreciated the varied character designs and the clarity of Rosca’s art. In the second volume I sometimes wished for a bit more detail, as so many of the characters were yelling while being drawn in a slightly super deformed mode. Rosca touches on class issues with the clockwork underclass but there’s plenty of adventure and world building to keep a reader engaged. The story and art were well in synch, which made The Clockwork Sky easy to read. This would be a great comic for the upper range of elementary school, and a two volume series isn’t too much of a space commitment for most libraries. I’d definitely recommend this series for younger readers.

Spell of Desire, Vol. 2

Spell of Desire Volume 2 by Tomu Ohmi

This series is rapidly becoming my favorite josei masked as shoujo series released on the Shojo Beat imprint. When I picked up the second volume, I was expecting a bit of filler with a few more episodes of Kaoruko’s runaway witch powers manifesting, with the obligatory makeout sessions with Kaname in order to keep her powers under control. While this certainly happened, Ohmi also went full speed ahead with plot development, introducing us to more backstory, evil covens, and Kaname actually admitting he has feelings for the young witch he has sworn to protect.

The sensual nature of Kaoruko’s magic ensures that she’s going to be an object of attraction to men, and Kaname is struggling with this himself. She wants to be able to control her magical abilities, but the fact is that having her mother’s power sealed inside her, in addition to her own magic has made her a bit of a danger to herself. Kaname returns to the coven, leaving one of his mystical animal sidekicks behind for Karuoku’s protection. In his dealings with the coven we see how Kaname is struggling with wanting what is best for his charge as person, in contrast to the way the coven views her as a valuable pawn. He wants to protect her freedom as much as possible, but the powerful witches he reports to might make this difficult.

Kaoruko’s neighbor Yu finds himself irresistibly attracted to her when her magic spirals out of control, but fortunately Unicorn delays things a bit. When some additional witches show up at Kaoruko’s house, she’s almost attacked again, but Kaname returns just in time to save her. Towards the end of the volume, Kaoruko makes a fateful decision to protect Kaname herself. While she’s been a bit passive so far due to reacting to her out of control powers, Kaoruko shows that she has plenty of willpower when someone she cares about is threatened.

I still really enjoy the way Ohmi portrays Kaoruko’s powers as black vines becoming entwined around the panels of the manga, it’s a visual device that is both pretty and ominous at the same time. I was happy that by the second volume, both Kaoruko and Kaname are clear that they love each other, even if they aren’t clear yet that their feelings are reciprocated. I think there will be interesting times ahead if Kaoruko is able to control her own powers and doesn’t need Kaname’s protection as much. I highly recommend this series if you enjoy paranormal romance manga.

World Trigger, Vols 1 and 2

World Trigger Volumes 1 and 2 by Daisuke Ashihara

World Trigger starts out with a very Attack on Titanesque set-up, expressed simply in one page. Monsters from another dimension are invading the earth. A paramilitary force shows up to fight the monsters. Daily life for the rest of humanity is often interrupted by these “Neighbors” who look a bit like giant eels and the humans who fight back against the invasion.

Osamu is a bit of an unassuming student, but he finds his life complicated when a mysterious new transfer student named Yuma shows up. Yuma seems to not know very much about basic human behavior. When a Neighbor attacks outside of the usual boundaries, Osamu reveals that he’s actually a trainee for the Border Defense Agency, with a small amount of power that he’s determined to use to protect everyone in his city. Yuma turns out to have some extraordinary powers himself. He claims to also be a Neighbor, from the dimension where the monsters come from. He also has the ability to use a trigger, the weapon/body exchange protocol that allows users to fight off the monsters.

In the ensuing battle, Yuma fends off a powerful monster after Osamu proves not to have the level that he needs in order to destroy his enemy. Osamu turns to helping out however he can, by evacuating residents and helping everyone stay safe. Members of the Border Protection Agency turn up, suspicious of the recent events and determined to follow correct bureaucratic procedure. The cast of the book gradually expands beyond Osamu and Yuma to include many of the typical foils for a shonen protagonist. There’s a cool older male mentor, a type A overachiever warrior girl, and a host of bureaucrats in the Border Protection Agency that will surely make life difficult for Osamu.

The Border Protection Agency seems more chaotic than a force for either good or evil, as a squad starts to hunt down Yuma. Osamu tries to intercede, but Yuma’s level of power is such that he’s able to evade attack from multiple agents at once with only some slight injuries. One interesting aspect of the story is that Osamu keeps getting promoted within the Border Protection Agency simply because he is often in the right place at the right time and occasionally forced to take credit for some of Yuma’s actions in order to maintain his new friend’s cover. Osamu’s leveling up though being an unassuming nice guy who is incredibly lucky is a bit unexpected for a reader expecting a more typical brash shonen hero, and this was one aspect of the book that I found intriguing.

There’s a fair amount of world building as the characters go into details about the alien tech infused battle system, but I didn’t find this very interesting. The art is workmanlike and easy to follow, but it doesn’t have that extra bit of style or distinct quality that would make me want to pick up the manga just to see some fabulously paneled battle scenes. The story is solid, but there isn’t much that’s surprising about it so far. The anime for this series is starting to air, so I imagine that will fuel interest for this title. I didn’t find myself inspired to keep reading the series, simply because there are other titles out there that are much more entertaining. I can read One Punch Man if I want something funny, Attack on Titan if I want to read about a dystopian future where humanity is fighting off giant invaders, or Seraph of the End for more attractive art and interesting world building. Overall, this is a solid if not super compelling shonen title, and I imagine that someone less picky about shonen manga than me will enjoy it.