Archives for July 2017

Behind the Scenes, Vol. 4

Behind the Scenes Volume 4 by Bisco Hatori

I thought the first few volumes of Behind the Scenes were ok but a little rough just due to the somewhat frantic pacing of character introductions and the episodic nature of the plot. I enjoyed the forth volume very much, because it gave me more insight into the background of many of the characters.

The volume opens with difficulties as everywhere Ranmaru goes he seems to be trailed by an eccentric group of people. It ends up being his family in town for a surprise visit. After seeing his lolita sister, his mother the former spy, and his father who is obsessed with social networking and western culture, it is easy to see why Ranmaru fits in so well with the extreme personalities in the art club at school. Ranmaru still has a tendency to look on the dark side of things, and isn’t fully able to interpret his family’s devotion as affection.

This shorter story is followed by a longer episode that showcases the art squad’s ability to get a job done at any cost, as Goda has to work with a director he’s clashed with in the past. The tension is made even worse when it turns out that the perfect location for the shoot is Goda’s childhood home, where his father is still in residence and passing judgement on his son’s chosen path. Becoming an art director is not very similar to Goda’s family tradition of the priesthood! Goda’s approach to finishing up the photo shoot demonstrated both compassion and sacrifice, so perhaps the two careers aren’t as misaligned as someone would think.

I’ve been wondering about Izumi’s breezy personality, and he finally gets some of his history filled in with this volume. The backdrop for this is the manga plot staple of a school festival, but Hatori’s spin on it is to show the art squad continuing to work behind the scenes to ensure that everyone else is a success. I found this volume so much more satisfying with the stories that focused a little bit more on character development than wacky antics. Hatori’s art is polished, and I’m enjoying the slight hints of steampunk illustration that she tucks in to the opening pages of each chapter.

Honey So Sweet Volume 7

Honey So Sweet Volume 7 by Amu Meguro

Between My Love Story!! and Honey So Sweet, English manga readers certainly have some stellar current shoujo series that are standouts for being adorable and benign. I was struck by just how Nice with a capital N Honey So Sweet is with the seventh volume’s take on a typical shoujo plot of the girl who gets a crush on main girls boyfriend and attempts to drive a wedge between them.

Miyabe has a crush on Taiga, and she proceeds to pursue him in the relentless and clueless way that only someone in the grips of first love is capable of. She shows up when Nao and Taiga are about to share some precious time alone, and she even starts trying to copy Nao’s hairstyle and outfits in an attempt to get Taiga’s attention. Nao at first doesn’t bring up her own feelings of jealousy, because she’s afraid of being viewed as petty and selfish. But she eventually realizes that it is much better to be honest. Taiga is fairly clueless about what Miyabe is up to for far too long and things start getting out of hand. It is heartwarming to see Futami trying to intervene to distract Miyabe from her poorly executed boyfriend stealing plan.

As the ineffective boyfriend stealer, Miyabe ends up getting treated with a great amount of compassion when all her strategies don’t end up working out. A marginal character in a situation who would serve as a distraction or be quickly forgotten in a less benign manga ends up having her feelings and friendship acknowledged. There’s something so human and hopeful about Honey So Sweet, it is the perfect manga to read if you need something to offset any cynicism you may be feeling.

Anonymous Noise Vol. 3

Anonymous Noise Volume 3 by Ryoko Fukuyama

I’ve found Anonymous Noise both intriguing and frustrating due to some of the overly contrived coincidences (even for shoujo manga). However with the third volume either the storytelling has settled down a bit or it just took a couple volumes for my suspension of disbelief to kick in, because I found myself smiling more while I was reading this manga instead of feeling snarky.

One of the things that I found a bit frustrating in the earlier volumes is that there were some characters functioning in silos to a degree that seemed somewhat ridiculous. The love triangle in the manga is clear, but if the three sides of the triangle haven’t each had a conversation with each other, it seems like the reader is just waiting around for the plot to progress. In this volume people actually talked to each other! They might have been lying dramatically the whole time, but a conversation happened. First, Nino and Miou hash it out a bit, as Nino has taken on Miou’s previous role as singer in Yuzu’s band while Miou moves on to work at a more professional level with Momo. Nino starts learning the guitar after Momo’s (female) manager gives her an old guitar of his. Nino continues to be incredibly inarticulate about her own feelings, and Miou helps her out by pointing out that she’s jealous of any woman who is close to Momo.

Yuzu’s angst is dialed up to 11 as usual as he struggles with his hopeless infatuation for Nino, and when he and Momo meet they finally figure out that they’ve been obsessed with the same girl/muse all along. Nino and Momo finally have a conversation where they confess that they USED to have crushes on each other. I enjoy the way Yuzu is in tune with his feelings far too much and while Momo might be experiencing a torrent of emotions, she’s much less self aware. So much angst!!! While the pacing of all these plot points still doesn’t feel as measured and natural as most of the other shoujo manga I read, the scenes of the characters performing have a tremendous energy that makes up for a lot. Really, one of the main things that won me over was the name and the costuming of Yuzu’s new band, which is hilarious. I’m looking forward to a band showdown coming soon.

Full-Time Wife Escapist Vols 1 and 2

Full-Time Wife Escapist Volume 1 and 2 by Tsunami Umino

Kodansha seems to be putting out so many digital titles, I’m having a hard time keeping track of them all. I’m always curious to check out josei titles and Full-Time Wife Escapist is a unique title, as it isn’t as overtly focused on romance as some of the other josei titles that have been translated over here.

Mikuri is in a bind after attending graduate school in psychology. She’s having difficulty finding a full-time job, and makes ends meet as a temp. When her temp job ends, she’s caught in a difficult situation because her parents are moving to the country, where there will be even less work for her. She picks up some shifts here and there doing housework and meets a man named Tsuzaki, and she becomes his regular part-time housekeeper. They become closer when she takes care of him during an illness. Mikuri and Tsuzaki come up with the solution where Mikuri will move in as his platonic paid wife, taking over housekeeping duties, making him lunch and dinner, and generally making his bachelor apartment more comfortable.

Tsuzaki is a bit of a loner at work, and somewhat emotionally stunted and has a way of relating to other people that make them assume that he’s cranky, but it seems more like he just hasn’t developed his social skills very well. The transnational nature of the relationship is one of the aspects of this manga that makes it both interesting and refreshing. When Mikuri and Tsuzaki go to visit his parents, they set the terms of Mikuri’s overtime by negotiating back and forth. It is interesting to see tasks that would be unacknowledged emotional labor in a real relationship being assigned a dollar value in this one.

Mikuri’s background in psychology shows her observing other people as opposed to getting real insight on herself. She does have some amusing daydream sequences when her mind wanders and she projects herself into some dream tv interviews that offer some commentary on her life choices. Her aunt Yuri, an unmarried career woman, serves as a counterpoint to Mikuri’s more aimless lifestyle. I enjoy manga when it gets a little didatic, and there are some great asides in Full-Time Wife Escapist where the characters start discussing the economic conditions facing younger adults in Japan, providing some real world background and context to Mikuri’s unconventional lifestyle choice.

The first volume sets up the unique relationship situation in The Full-Time Wife Escapist fairly quickly, and the second volume shows some of the issues that happen when the couple continues to try to portray their relationship as real to friends and colleagues, who sense that something is a bit off in the way the couple relate to each other. At the same time, the close proximity of the fake couple is showing some awareness developing between them. This series has a nice slice-of life pace to the storytelling, as everyday activities like preparing dinner have a new slant due to the unique relationship. At the same time, there are some moments of pathos, as Tsuzaki reflects that if Mikuri ever decides to get married for real, he’s going to be alone for the rest of his life.

Tsuzaki’s friend Kazami starts appearing a bit more and more, and he and Mikuri have a few easy friendly conversations. Kazami starts envying the married lifestyle, but he’s not interested in settling down at all. Intriguing changes are signaled for the next few volumes. I enjoy a good josei romance series, but one of the things I appreciate about The Full-Time Wife Escapist is that it is focused more on transactions and slowly developing friendships than overt romance. It’ll also be interesting to see if Mikuri’s unconventional wife for hire lifestyle is sustainable over the long term.