Archives for September 2017

Beasts of Abigaile, Vol. 1

Beasts of Abigaile Volume 1

I make no secret of the fact that I’m generally a shoujo enthusiast, and I also enjoy reverse harem manga. Though the plots may be thin, and the characters may never vary from their highly specific and formalized roles, I still find manga of the genre trashy fun to read, even if there might not be much depth to the stories. As I started reading Beasts of Abigaile I was struck with a strong sense of deja vu, because something about the aesthetics reminded me of some of the older series that were published by Go! Comi. Sure enough this is an Akita Shoten title, so maybe that’s why I felt a bit of pleasant nostalgia as I was reading Beasts of Abigaile.

The set up for the story in this volume is so fast-paced, I got the sense that the author wanted to rush through any logical explanations and world building, and just get to the gorgeous wolf boys. Nina is the predictably outspoken but likeable heroine of the story, and she finds herself on the mysterious country of Ruberia, which is famous for its beautiful roses. There is also a mysterious prison school where it turns out adolescent werewolves live! Nina is bitten and starts exhibiting some werewolf traits, and she’s promptly sent to Abigaile to live among her own kind, except she has to keep her human origins secret.

Nina has a headstrong tendency to stick up for the little guy with little regard for her own self-preservation and this causes her to have multiple run-ins with fellow students and school administrators. She falls in with a pack (literally, ha ha) of art kid werewolves instead of joining in with the popular kids or school rebels. As far as handsome werewolf boys, there’s Roy, the surly leader whose bite originally turned Nina wolfish, Giles the nice guy who appears to be under the thrall of the mean female student council president, and the list goes on and on. I suspect that Roy, Giles, and Nina will be the main triangle explored in the rest of the manga.

With lackluster art, this series would be much less enjoyable, but Aoki’s illustrations are expressive, and there’s a dark gothic vibe about the art that also make the title stand out a bit from the other shoujo series coming out currently. Nina’s continued refusal to allow herself to be intimidated by hulking wolf boys is entertaining. If you enjoy paranormal romance shoujo that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, Beasts of Abigaile seems like a promising series.

Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 3

The Water Dragon’s Bride, Volume 3 by Rei Toma

The story in The Water Dragon’s Bride has been unfolding at a measured pace, in the third volume Asahi and Subaru are almost all grown up. As they become more adults, this results in some increased tension with Asahi’s eventual destiny as the bride of the Water Dragon as well as her role as priestess for Subaru’s village.

The volume opens with a little bit of backstory showing Asahi filing her role of priestess as she moves through adolescence. Every year, there’s a ritual designed to gain the favor of the water god, and Asahi disappears under the waves for three days. Her encounters with the water god are first limited to staring, glaring, and finally smiling. The elemental gods still are fundamentally alien when compared with humans. The Water Dragon at least has figured out that he needs to feed his young human bride, so he calls over the Tree God to give her some supplies. I enjoyed seeing these visits from the perspective of both the Water Dragon and Asahi.

I think a lot about clarity of art when I read a Rei Toma series, but I’m always struck by how much she is able to do with simple character designs and sparse backgrounds. It is expected that expressive eyes count for a great deal in shoujo manga, but she’s able to convey so much in just a couple pages. Subaru, aware that both his mother and his sister are prejudiced against Asahi, turns away from his family thinking “…don’t disappoint me more any than this.” His face is half in shadow, and blank in a way that shows he’s hiding the tension and disgust he feels inside. As he walks away he smiles and waves. All of this is accomplished with just one line of dialogue and some great sequencing and paneling from Toma in a two page spread.

For a series with such lovely illustrations and a seemingly fantastic premise, one of the reasons why I enjoy The Water Dragon’s Bride is that it explores some dark territory, particularly focusing on the way humans are capable of great cruelty. While the first volume also lingered on Asahi’s inhumane treatment by the Water Dragon who was absolutely ignorant and uncaring of the ways humans can suffer, humans seem like the real source of evil in the world. In addition to the leering gazes and jealously in Subaru’s village that Asahi has to isolate herself from, her capabilities as a priestess attract the attention of a neighboring village and a war is launched. Watching these events with Asahi, the Water Dragon thinks all the humans are fools.

While for most of this volume Asahi seems to be placed in a Persephone role, going back and forth between water and the human world, there’s a narrative turn as Water Dragon decides to dwell with humans for a time. Toma is able to pack an incredible amount of story in a single volume of manga, making this a shoujo fantasy series that is extremely rewarding to the reader.

My Love Story!! Vol. 13

My Love Story!! Volume 13 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

I had postponed reading the final volume of this series because I didn’t want it to end, but my curiosity about the conclusion helped me deal with my final volume procrastination syndrome. The final story arc was set up previously, with impending separation between Takeo and Yamato. I’ve probably been watching too many k-dramas where a couple gets separated and then they meet again 3 years later, but one of the refreshing things about this manga is that it actually deals with the problems of long-distance relationships instead of just conveniently fading to black and glossing over the separation period.

One of the hallmarks of this series is that in addition to the interest created by having a hulking giant of a boy as the main character in a shoujo series, My Love Story!! is able to step through some conventions shoujo plot elements and make them seem fresh due to the way the manga is infused with so much enthusiasm and heart. When Yamato goes to Spain Takeo is determined to bring his grades up so they can eventually go to the same college. He throws himself into studying with Suna constantly at his side. The unique circumstances surrounding Takeo and Yamato’s provide an opportunity to visit again with characters from throughout the series, as it seems everywhere Takeo goes someone feels the need to encourage him in his epic romance.

There are some hilarious scenes as Takeo goes to Spain in order to visit Yamato, and while a manga series set in high school ending at the point when the characters are about to head off to college is extremely typical, My Love Story!!, as always, ends on a note of such infectious optimism that I put the book down with a smile. This is going to be one of those series I keep around and read whenever I need to cheer myself up.

Art of Pokemon Adventures

The Art of Pokemon Adventures by Satoshi Yamato

The young children in my house have firmly moved on to Yu-Gi-Oh from Pokemon, so this book did not immediately get stolen which is sometimes what happens with the manga that arrives in my house like Haikyu! or Kuroko’s Basketball.

However, as an art book I do think this would appeal to Pokemon Adventure fans. It is a solid book with full-color illustrations printed on glossy paper, with plenty of fold-out posters. Along with the finished art, plenty of sketches are included so the reader can get a sense of how the drawings evolved from idea to finished illustration. Line art is also included, as well as a couple sample panel layouts and some color guides for the characters. The librarian in me appreciated that an index was included in the back of the book, so all the illustrations can be matched up with the manga that they originally appeared in. A bonus short manga chapter concludes the volume. I thought the production quality of this volume was solid, it made me think I should check out other Viz art books.

Queen’s Quality, Vol. 1

Queen’s Quality Volume 1 by Kyousuke Motomi

I was very happy when I saw that Queen’s Quality was licensed shortly after the earlier series QQ Sweeper. Motomi has a quirky and slightly warped sense of humor that makes her shoujo series stand out. Queen’s Quality starts out at what felt like a faster pace than QQ Sweeper, as many of the plot points that were only dangling or hinted at in the earlier series get pushed forward dramatically in the first few chapters of this volume.

Fumi continues her life as an apprentice sweeper, learning the tricks of the paranormal trade from her friend Kyutaro and his family. While they practice cleaning everyday rooms and objects, they are also training for dealing with exorcising the demons that can get inside human hosts, causing them to act cruel. There’s a focus on personality and inner character in this series, as people who might be mentally weak or who have a tendency to be cruel end up leaving a door open for evil to get in, and their worst personality traits are magnified.

Another sweeper named Takaya Kitahara shows up to visit the Horikita family, and he provokes Fumi’s hidden Queen power as part of a test. Kyutaro is able to bring her back to herself, but seeing her power manifest is frightening. Kyutaro resolves to stay by Fumi to support her, but he’s told that he can’t ever remind her of the past that she’s forgotten, when they used to be childhood friends. Kyutaro’s response to this is to emotionally withdraw even more than usual, causing Fumi a great deal of distress as she doesn’t understand why he’s acting deliberately cold towards her. Fortunately his family has their best interests at heart, and they send the young couple on a mandatory and hilariously awkward shopping trip/date as an assignment, and their friendship is salvaged.

One thing I like about Motomi’s series is that there’s always a psychological element to be found in the stories, and they don’t rely quite as much on external situations or antagonists. While there are certainly forces at work trying to turn Fumi into an evil queen, the bad guys aren’t really as interesting as the fact that Fumi is going to have to draw on her emotional reserves and face the darkness that’s inside her, the same as any human. Fumi and Kyutaro talk at the end of the volume, and she asks if he’s afraid of her. He replies “Everyone has dark thoughts…or parts of themselves that they can’t control.” He vows that if she has to head into the darkness, he’s going too. This relationship dynamic is so interesting to see in a shoujo series, and it is why I’m so impressed with Queen’s Quality.