Archives for April 2017

The Girl From the Other Side: : Siúil, A Rún Vol. 1

The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún Volume 1 by Nagabe

This title from Seven Seas is totally the opposite of what I tend to expect from the publisher. The Girl From the Other Side is a fascinating dark fairy tale that has overtones of a philosophical thought experiment, while still presenting the reader with compelling art and characters.

Shiva lives with her teacher, a man with an affliction who appears to be half-man, half beast. They live in a house and venture out to an abandoned village to forage for food and household items. Shiva thinks that her aunt is going to appear soon to pick her up, but she’s actually been abandoned and her teacher can’t bring himself to tell her. There’s a divide between the remains of humanity, who seem to have retreated behind walls, and the land overtaken by “The Others”, people who have been cursed or perhaps contracted some sort of disease that robs them of their humanity.

Shiva’s teacher attempts to keep some sort of regular routine, and while Shiva runs around like the extremely resilient little girl that she is, the reader is filled with a growing sense of unease as more and more of her world is filled in. Is food going to run out at some time? Why are The Others, or anyone suspected of being in contact with them hunted down and killed? Is Shiva’s teacher different from the rest of The Others, and how did that manage to happen? How has Shiva even managed to survive up until this point? I haven’t read a manga before that manages to blend heartwarming slice of life moments with supernatural horror, but The Girl From the Other Side pulls it off masterfully. I’m not actually sure yet if The Others should be dreaded quite as much as the humans who are attempting to defend their society from them though.

The art in The Girl From the Other Side fits the themes of the story perfectly. Instead of a more generic or commercial style, Nagabe’s illustrations are filled with dark cross-hatching and tones that give the panels a feeling of an antique woodcut. Shiva is rendered almost entirely in white, providing a visual counterweight to the dark backgrounds. Shiva’s teacher is rendered in darkness, with the details of his face difficult to discern, making the condition of “The Others” seem more mysterious and frightening.

There’s an all ages rating on this manga, which I find odd. While there might be no sexual content and not much overt violence, the themes of the manga are both grim and emotionally challenging, and it isn’t a manga I would recommend for all audiences. That being said, this is one of the most unique and well-executed manga that I’ve read in quite some time, and I highly recommend it.

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Vol 8.

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Volume 8 by Aya Shouoto

This volume of The Demon Prince of Momochi House opens with a crisis, as Aoi hasn’t been able to reverse his usual transformation into the Nue, and he might be lost forever as his ayakashi form completely takes over. Himari has to go on a quest to try to find Aoi’s lost memories, which are her only hope of getting him back.

Himari first tries to locate Aoi’s family to see if there are any clues there that she can use to restore him, but her encounter with them takes an unexpected turn to the unsettling. There are always a few moments that stand out in each volume of this series when the combination of the otherworldly setting and lush detail of the art make the reader feel transported. In this one, as Himari travels into the ayakashi realm with her way lit by Nekobaba’s hairpin, she manages to find her way past a guardian who makes some references to her true name and her long-lost parents. Himari ends up at an archive for memories, which I found quite interesting as a librarian. She sees “drawers of thought” stretching into the distance and is faced with yet another choice – recovering some of her own lost memories about her past, or forgoing that choice to save Aoi. Of course, Himari doesn’t hesitate in trying to save her beloved friend.

Aoi’s memories show him close to the spirit world as a young child, even before his existence was bound to Momochi House. As Himari travels back, liberating her friend might prove more complicated, as the Nue embarks on a seduction campaign in order to preserve his existence. Demon Prince of Momochi House blends unsettling movements of supernatural mystery with some short sketches of character development and found family antics with Himari and the Momochi House spirits. Things seem to be turning in a darker direction now, but I’m confident Himari will find a way to persevere somehow.

Skip Beat!, Vol. 38

Skip Beat! Volume 38 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat! is always emotionally harrowing, but after 38 volumes, there are plenty of different character relationships and plot points that can be explored for maximum drama. This volume finally confronts Kyoko’s relationship with her mother. After seeing the ways Kyoko has been damaged by her abandonment as a child throughout Skip Beat! up until this point, this confrontation is a long time coming, and Kyoko’s reactions and resilience show just how far she’s come.

This volume of Skip Beat! starts out with Sho being an idiot, because a little bit of comic relief is useful before delving into childhood trauma. Kyoko and Ren are also firmly locked into the misunderstandings and delicate emotional balance that causes any interaction between them to be weighted down with layers of unspoken feelings, elements of comfort, and pure anxiety. Kyoko’s encounter with Ren is helping build up her up psychologically, and she comments “I’ll prepare myself body and spirit, since I’ll be fighting a psywar in a blizzard”.

As Kyoko heads towards meeting her mother, she’s keeps her “Love Me” stamp with an infinite number of points that she received from Ren close by, like a token to take into battle. Kyoko first has a conversation with one of her mother’s co-workers in leading up to the main event. Kyoko begins to wonder about her father, and if her mother Saena experienced something similar to the rejection that she experienced from Sho, that kicked off her desire for vengeance. Saena is caught up in biases and assumptions, thinking that Kyoko dropped out of school and that she had a physical relationship with Sho. Saena’s stubbornness and strong facade makes it difficult to communicate with her.

As Kyoko and Saena face off, Nakamura’s portrayal of demons lurking in the background of the conversation and dramatic micro-expressions shows the charged nature of the confrontation. Their conversation is interrupted by flashbacks of a younger Saena struggling to make her way as a lawyer, and seemingly torn between her job and the idea of love. While Saena’s backstory might place her actions in context, it doesn’t really the cruel way she abandoned her daughter. This storyline is obviously going to be stretched out over several volumes, and I have to admit I’m feeling more anxious about Kyoko than I have in awhile! I’m hoping that the maturity that she’s built up over time helps her deal with whatever emotional bombshell her mother is about to drop. Skip Beat! continues to be extremely rewarding for readers, and I’m happy it is still going so strong after 38 volumes.

Yona of the Dawn Vol. 5

Yona of the Dawn Volume 5 by Mizuho Kusanagi

Yona of the Dawn continues to be an absolutely delightful manga. Every time I finish a volume I feel extremely satisfied as a reader, having gotten just the right amount of plot, character development, humor, and action. The fourth volume was much more somber in tone as the intrepid adventurers led by Yona find the Blue Dragon in his mountain village. Entirely isolated due to his special abilities from a young age, the Blue Dragon seems a bit intrigued by the visitors, but still lost and on his own. A cave-in prompts some dramatic action, and when Yona invites him to join her again, he agrees. The first chapter ends on a wistful note as the Blue Dragon’s internal thoughts turn to the previous Dragon who trained him, reflecting that he doesn’t remember the face of the man who used to be his only family.

Yona of the Dawn doesn’t stay moody for long, as Gija attempts to sense the location of the next dragon, only to collapse. This gives Hak an excuse to intone “Rest in Peace”, but Gija is temporarily indisposed. The group heads to a seaside village next, where the Green Dragon is a sardonic pirate, determined to maintain his independence despite his destiny. Hak and the Green Dragon keep running into each other randomly as they save villagers from being oppressed.

This volume had some of my favorite character-driven moments so far, as Yona permits all of her entourage to call her by her fist name except for Hak. He’s horrified that she’s allowing herself to be addressed so casually, and when they are talking together separately, she asks him to always be sure to call her “your highness”, because she can’t forget where she came from, to preserve the memory of her former family. The scene shows Hak’s unwavering devotion, the closeness between Hak and Yona, and at the same time the distance that rank puts between them. Yona has come a long way from the frightened princess n the first volume, and she’s still determined to keep improving herself. I’m enjoying the pace of this manga as well. With three of the dragon guardians identified, I’m looking forward to seeing the fourth one tracked down and then seeing how the story unfolds once Yona has her mini army all gathered together.