Yona of the Dawn, Vol 24

Yona of the Dawn Volume 24 by Mizuho Kusanagi

This was yet another excellent volume of Yona of the Dawn, this time featuring high-stakes diplomacy, surprising smooches, feline nicknames, and strategic partying. One of the nice things about long-running series is when characters from the past suddenly pop up, prompting some moments of reflection about just how far everyone has come as the story has progressed. In this volume, in response to Yona’s political overtures Su-Won sends Min-Su, the young man who allowed Yona and Hak to escape from the castle right after Su-Won murdered King Il. Min-Su brings a letter that states that Su-Won will not delay going to war and Yona quickly develops an alternate strategy that involves delaying the involvement of the Wind Tribe and spreading rumors in an attempt to get Su-Won to divide his forces. She uses her treasured hairpin to bribe Su-Won’s old informer and sends Hak off to meet with the Wind Tribe.

While the stakes of averting war makes this volume fairly serious, the Wind Tribe can always be relied on for some humor, in particular the way all the young people glom on to Hak. This has a physical manifestation as his people literally drape themselves over him because they are so delighted that he’s returned. Hak tells them to get along with the people of Xing, and in true Wind Tribe fashion they decide to start throwing a party along the battle lines. Min-Su tags along as Yona goes to visit Kang Tae-June for another favor, and he reflects on Yona’s influence. Min-Su reflects that Yona’s attitude of doing her best to help others ends up being so influential to those around her that it inspires everyone to want to act like her, which is “…a terrifying ability.” Yona’s captured friends have to fend off Mizari who is both evil and insane, and his behavior begins to reflect badly on Xing in general, further destabilizing the region. Kusanagi continues to pack so much story and character development into each volume of Yona of the Dawn, I feel like she manages to accomplish in one volume what would take other authors a minimum of two to three volumes to accomplish. Yet another thoroughly satisfying volume and I’m already impatiently waiting to see if Yona actually does manage to avert war in volume 25.

Blue Flag, Vol 1

Blue Flag Volume 1 by KAITO

It is fair to say that I read plenty of manga, but now and then I read a series that is just so well executed that it feels incredibly refreshing. I knew Blue Flag had plenty of fans, and I was excited to read it when I heard that it was licensed, but my high expectations were surpassed by the first volume.

The volume opens with some character introductions that remind most readers of standard characters, but the insightful look into Taichi’s inner thoughts as he starts a new school year plays against readers expecting something more stereotypical. Taichi has a small friend group, who all look like they came out of a shonen playbook of nerd 101. He’s fairly content with remaining under the radar at school, but something quickly breaks him out of his usual routine. Taichi’s elementary school friend Toma is going to be in Taichi’s class for the first time in several years. Taichi and Toma are opposites in many ways. Taichi is short and has hair that seems to defy any grooming attempt. Toma is tall, athletic, and extremely popular, but his effortless way of making friends is the result of him being genuinely nice rather than anything overly calculated. Taichi’s friends consider Toma to be a different species than them, and are mystified that Toma keeps popping up to keep randomly talk to Taichi even though Taichi claims that they aren’t close anymore.

Taichi seems to have a special kind of antipathy to Futuba Kuze, a girl in his class who is painfully shy and clumsy. He starts to realize that he’s reminded of his own failings when he looks at her, because she’s similar to him. After an incredibly awkward chance encounter in the library, Futuba asks Taichi for advice because she has a crush on Toma. He thinks that any help he would provide would be useless, but she’s incredibly determined, following up with any random reference that Taichi tosses out. Eventually Taichi agrees to serve as Futuba’s spectacularly uninformed tutor in the ways of teen romance. Taichi is brutally realistic with Futuba about her chances of attracting Toma, but she’s not fazed by the idea that she isn’t his type. Eventually Taichi and Futuba strike up an odd friendship as he keeps trying to draw her in to his usual interactions with Toma. Blue Flag is invested with a ton of emotional resonance as the characters investigate childhood games, deal with homework, and share memories. Futuba explains to Taichi that one of the reasons she’s been nursing a crush towards Toma is that when he accidentally knocked down her plant in the school garden with a stray baseball, he returned every day until it was healthy again.

Towards the end of the volume, the reader gets a sense of what is actually happening in Toma’s head and the realization that the love story that’s unfolding is going to be much more complex and surprising than one would think. Blue Flag rewards the re-reader, who will be able to go back and detect hints in the body language and attitudes of the characters. This is by far one of the most promising shonen series I’ve read in a long time, and the focus on the emotional complexity of teenage live reminded me a bit of Cross Game. I highly recommend Blue Flag, and I’m impatiently waiting for the next volume.

Shortcake Cake, Vol 8

Shortcake Cake, Volume 8 By suu Morishita

Some shoujo series have fast-paced drama, and others have stories that unfold much more slowly like Shortcake Cake, which finally gets around to hinting at more details between the oddly hostile relationship between Riku and Rei. Morishita’s is so great at presenting her story with a slow, slice of life feel that I don’t feel annoyed at all that I was waiting until volume 8 to get a few more clues about Riku’s past.

Shortcake Cake 8

This volume is set during Christmas and New Year’s and Ten decides to take Riku on a date to her hometown, where she gives him a tour of all the places that were meaningful to her during her childhood, and they drop in on her parents and her older brother. It might be way too early for Riku to meet her parents, but he carries off the surprise visit with his characteristic aplomb. Ten and Riku enjoy actually being able to spend time together since they have to keep apart and pretend to not be dating at the boarding house. Ten wants to continue to support Riku and get to know him better, but she senses some inner pain that she’s not able to interpret or help with. Ten and Chiaki decided to team up to learn more about Riku because they both want to support him. Ten ends up reaching out to Shiraoka, who has a bit of a messy approach for telling them what he knows about Riku’s past, setting up a situation where they end up witnessing a painful family confrontation.

I always enjoy the way the story in Shortcake Cake is tied so closely with the seasons, as Ten and Riku share some cozy winter bonding time, the image of red lights on the snow suggests both festivities and danger, and the rain during a memorial services highlights the emotional state of the characters. Even when the characters are dealing with some heavy emotional burdens, the pacing and execution of Shortcake Cake makes it feel like a brief escape from the real world while reading it.

Love Me, Love Me Not, Vol. 2

Love Me, Love Me Not, Volume 2 by Io Sakisaka

At two volumes in, I’m not feeling quite as connected to the characters in Love Me, Love Me Not as compared to Strobe Edge, but Sakisaka is still doing a great job setting up a complicated and thoughtful teen romance drama. Yuna is still processing her feelings about the complex relationship between step-siblings Akari and Rio as she also deals with her own attraction to Rio. Yuna’s hesitation and introspection is prompted by the fact that she’s never experienced love outside of books. Rio also seems more attuned to Yuna than he is for girls who he has a more superficial relationship. He notices her being less shy around him, and figures out a way to set up their study group so she doesn’t feel hesitation about asking him questions. All along, Rio has encouraged Yuna to pursue a relationship with the boy she has a crush on, not knowing that she’s talking about him. Yuna’s love confession is unconventional, as she tells Rio about her feelings and says “Now, reject me.”

Rio reacts with a lot more compassion than he usually does with the girls who are attracted to him only for his looks, and Yuna deals with the aftermath. Both Akari and Kazu are impressed with Yuna’s emotional growth and general levelheadedness. While it is fairly easy for the reader to understand Rio, Akari, and Yuna, Kazu remains a perpetually cool enigma. Akari is fascinated by him, but he’s still a bit of a blank slate, defined only by his occasional blunt and insightful statements. I’m hoping that in the next few volumes his character becomes as well defined as the other series leads. This was a strong second volume, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series develops. Sakisaka is great at capturing all the subtleties of emotion in her drawings, and even though much of this manga is people simply talking to each other in a variety of settings, her paneling and the emotional stakes involve keeps everything dynamic.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol 6

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 6 by Mika Yamamori

As this series continues, I grow more and more conflicted because heroine Suzume is such a sweet girl, I want her to get everything she wants. Unfortunately the main thing she wants is her teacher Shishio, and as he progresses in dropping some boundaries he was not even all that great at maintaining before, I find him more and more unappealing as a romantic prospect for Suzume. As I tend to do in k-dramas, I’m now firmly rooting for the second lead guy, Suzume’s classmate Mamura. I’m still drawn in by Daytime Shooting Star’s combination of stylish art and teen soap opera plot. As a bonus, Mamura is on the cover of this volume.

In this volume, Suzume and Shishio continue to capture some stolen moments here and there, but she’s often frustrated that she can’t deepen her relationship with him, and she’s continually reminded of the need for distance. She gives him a birthday present that she earned the money for with her part-time job. She attempts to make him a lunch, but sees him turning down food from another student. Throughout all of these interactions Mamura hovers in the background either quietly observing or forcing himself to eat some of Suzume’s first attempts at rice balls. Mamura continues to be a good friend, even when Suzume finds herself stood up by Shishio when he’s tied up with work on Christmas. A little bit of awareness seems to be settling in with Suzume as she realizes that she can be herself around Mamura after spending more time with him. Shishio seems to be losing his grip on his professional ethics, so I’m growing concerned about that, and the fact that Suzume’s uncle is extremely clueless about this developing situation between one of his best friends and his niece.

I have to admit I’m impatient to see how all the slowly building romance in Daytime Shooting Star will pan out. There’s a bit of a train wreck quality to this manga, seeing a young girl invest in the possibility of a romantic relationship that doesn’t seem like it will work, but I’m hoping that Mamura’s flashes of insight and his evolution from a boy who could barely talk to a girl to a young man who will gallantly bestow a scarf on a girl when she’s cold will pan out somehow. Go Mamura!