Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 1

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Vol. 1 by Izumi Tsubaki

This was by far one of my most anticipated new manga titles of the year. I generally don’t get into 4-koma manga all that much, but Oresama Teacher is one of my favorite shoujo comedy titles, so I was looking forward to reading this.

Poor Chiyo has a crush on the handsome yet mysterious Nozaki. When she confesses her affection to him, he assumes that she’s a rabid fan and hands her an autograph – as it turns out he’s secretly a successful shoujo manga-ka. Chiyo soon finds herself serving as his assistant, along with a quirky supporting cast. Nozaki is incredibily odd, as the main thing that he’s an expert in are shoujo manga tropes, which causes plenty of real-life confusion. He also finds inspiration from his classmates, turning one awkward boy nicknamed Mikorin into his shoujo heroine and making a tomboyish girl his inspiration for a new male character. Shoujo and manga conventions are constantly lampooned, for example Nozaki has a habit of always drawing his favorite face, making his characters indistinguishable from each other. Also, his relationship with his deadpan editor is hilarious, as Nozaki is always determined to believe the best of his editor, even when his drawings get a lukewarm or negative response.

One of the things I like about Tsubaki’s work is that she’s able to quickly assemble a large and exceedingly quirky supporting cast, providing plenty of fodder for humor. That she’s able to go from two characters to over half a dozen within the constraints of a 4-koma strip in one volume is impressive. This is a genuinely funny manga, and the perfect thing to get for a manga fan for the holidays if they haven’t snagged it already. I will never think about tanuki the same way again after reading this volume!


Rising of the Shield Hero Vol 1

Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 1 by Aneko Yusagi

It has been some time since I’ve read a light novel, and so when One Peace sent me Rising of the Shield Hero, I decided to give it a try. The plot centers around Naofumi Iwatani, a disaffected otaku who abruptly finds himself transported into an alternate universe where he suddenly has to take on the role of the Shield Hero, on a quest that closely resembles a Japanese RPG.

I found the first couple chapters of the book a bit difficult to get into, partially because Naofumi is such an unsympathetic character who narrates his daily existence with flat declarative sentences. He soon finds himself in possession of an odd book which promptly transports him to another world, along with 3 other young men. They are the heroes of the sword, spear, bow, and shield respectively. Naofumi gets the shield, and finds himself scorned and mistreated partially due to his attitude and partially due to his only having a defensive weapon. The heroes all are assigned companions, and have to go out and get more experience to improve their abilities, just like one would have to grind in a typical game. Naofumi gets a female sidekick named Myne, but she promptly betrays him and leaves him penniless and alone.

The events centering around Myne’s betrayal of Naofumi were my least favorite part of the book, because she claims that he attempted to rape her. A woman making a false rape claim is not a plot point I enjoy reading, and shortly after his betrayal, Naofumi gets yet another female sidekick in the form of a slave tanuki girl named Raphtalia. He decides that he might enjoy owning a female slave because he now hates all women. Naofumi and Raphtalia embark on leveling up in their world by killing a number of low level demons that resemble orange balloons. Each time Naofumi defeats a different monster, his shield gains additional abilities. This was the part of the book I enjoyed the most, because Naofumi can’t use weapons due to his status as a shield hero. So he has to have a companion around to actually stab at things in order to get points and loot, and he manages to be fairly clever about coming up with ways to make money to get better equipment. Since he’s the shield hero, Naofumi has a great deal of personal defense. He decides to carry around orange balloon monsters underneath his cloak, and if people give him a hard time, he sets them loose. Naofumi’s bartering and blackmailing of the townspeople in order to get better equipment were one of the more amusing aspects of the book

Naofumi has an incredibly selfish way of thinking about things, but his actions often turn out to be less self-serving than I was expecting. Despite his dark thoughts, he actually treats Raphtalia more like a younger sister or companion. However, as she levels up, she grows up, so there is undoubtedly a romance ahead between the two main characters, which seems skeevy to me, since Naofumi met her when she was 10 years old.

The book needed a good solid pass from a copy editor, there were quite a few punctuation and spelling errors. The illustration included in the book were quite nice. Overall, this was a mixed read for me. I enjoyed aspects of the world building and Naofumi’s ingenuity. His general crankiness is also a nice contrast from the type of character that gets caught up in an adventure in another world. The flat, non-descriptive writing style made The Rising of the Shield Hero a bit of a slog in the earlier chapters, and I find myself creeped out by the prospect of romance developing in the later volumes.


Yukarism, Vol 4

Yukarism Volume 4 by Chika Shiomi

I’ve always liked manga by Chika Shiomi, and even though my favorite of her works is the older title Night of the Beasts, her art and storytelling skills have progressed greatly over the years. Yukarism’s final volume is a great way to wrap up the series, coming to a conclusion with a few nice plot twists that make it not at all like a standard supernatural shoujo manga.

As this series unfolded, we’ve seen the present day characters grow more and more affected by the past. Yukari is starting to show symptoms of illness that mirror the sickness of the courtesan Yumurasaki, while Mahoro is taking on the supernatural powers of Takamura. Edo bodyguard’s protectiveness is manifested in Satomi in the modern day. Not only are personality traits crossing over to the present day, as the volume progresses the past is physically manifesting in the present. While it seems like the present day trio is doomed to repeat the tragedy from the past, Shiomi manages to wrap things up in a much more satisfying and hopeful way.

I don’t want to give too much away of the resolution of the manga, but I thought it was very nice that the inevitable love triangle in most shouojo manga was sidestepped. Most of the problems of the past centered around the trio not communicating clearly with each other and making assumptions, and in the present day the high school students manage to work things out both in their own lives and for the spirits that possess them briefly. Even situations that seem very threatening get resolved, but not without enough of a struggle that the happy ending feels unearned.

Shiomi’s art is always clear and easy to follow, but the level of detail in the flashbacks to the Edo period, combined with the way the past is portrayed as bleeding into the present in this volume makes the illustrations stand out. In the hands of a lessor artist, the events could easily be a muddled mess, but both spirit possession and the physical struggles are portrayed with clear techniques that never confuse the reader. I honestly would have been happy if this series were stretched out over another volume or two, but by the end there is resolution for each character, both past and present. There’s a depth of emotion in this concluding volume that shows how Shiomi is able to be so precise in planning out her story, it never feels unearned. Yukarism is a series that I’m going to keep on the shelves for a long time, and I’m going to look forward to reading it again.


Idol Dreams, Vol 1

Idol Dreams Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura

I was curious to check out this manga, mostly due to the fact that it is a slightly older skewing shoujo title. Also, the premise, about a 31 year-old office lady going back in time to relive her youth seemed interesting.

The hapless office lady in question is Chikage Deguchi, who is bullied at work. She’s let her 20s pass her by while she’s stuck in a style rut, repressed, and unable to find a boyfriend. Her humiliation is complete when she goes to a high school reunion. She’s humiliated even more at a high school reunion. She manages to make incidental conversation with a classmate named Tokita who happens to be a pharmaceutical rep, but her encounter with her high school crush doesn’t go well at all. Chikage is depressed and determined to end her life, when Tokita rescues her and tells her all about an experimental medication that will allow her to replay her wasted teenage years.

Chikage clearly operates under different human subjects rules than most people in the pharmaceutical industry, as he supplies Chikage with pills that transform her into a 15 year old and then sends her on her way, with instructions to check in often so he can gather data. Of course, as soon as teenage Chikage steps foot on the street, she’s recruited to be a stand-in model opposite the most popular member of a boy band, and thus her career as a budding teen idol begins!

Teen idol Hibiki looks a lot like Chikage’s old crush from her high school days, and she finds herself getting swept up in the life of a teen idol. She’s determined to master the social skills that she didn’t pay attention to as a young teen. The situation of a 31 year old woman in a 15 year old’s body and a 15 year old boy being paired up has the potential for a great deal of creepiness. I wasn’t taking this romance very seriously though, because it is clear that Tokita has an unexpressed crush on Chikage, and he seems to be one of the few men her own age that she can actually talk to without becoming self-conscious. So, even though there might be a bit of a wacky love triangle developing (like the original Amethyst Princess of Gemworld with reverse aging) I’m fairly confident that the romantic resolution to this manga will be non-squicky. We’ll see what happens in the next volume though.

Tanemura is always at her best when drawing super cute people, and the contrast between older Chikage and young idol version Akari is pronounced. I enjoyed seeing the friendship develop between Akari and the other boy band members, but I thought that Chikage’s occasional encounters with Tokita were much more promising in terms of any romance developing. Overall, I thought that this was a promising start to a new series, with the potential for the romance plots to derail and become off-putting. I generally enjoy Tanemura’s manga, and a series set in the world of teen idols is the perfect excuse for her to break out all the stops with the flourishes and detailed costumes that she does so well.


My Love Story!! Vol 6

My Love Story Volume 6 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

It is nice to have a go-to manga series to read when one feels stressed out, and My Love Story!! never fails to make me happy.

This volume focuses more on the arrival of Takeo’s new sibling, and the reader gets the treat of seeing a little bit of his parents’ courtship. Takeo’s mom is portrayed as unflappingly capable in her younger years, and his dad exhibits the same ridiculous amount of enthusiasm that Takeo often channels. When something goes a little wrong with the pregnancy, Takeo starts exclaiming “I’ve got to be reliable!” as he tries to take care of everything for his family. He’s supported all the way by Suna and Yamato.

The old valentine’s day storyline has got to be one of the most overused cliches in shoujo manga, but My Love Story!! pulls off one of the most adorable examples of this storyline, as Takeo is so excited to be receiving “true love’s chocolate from his girlfriend, he finds himself striking random celebratory poses as he walks along and discusses his relationship with Suna. I was glad to see that there are hints Suna might actually become involved with a girl at last. He’s deliberately aloof, and shuns any girl who speaks badly of Takeo, so he hasn’t experienced romance yet either. I’m really looking forward to the next volume now, where more of the focus will be on him.