Idol Dreams Vol. 6

Idol Dreams Volume 6 by Arina Tanemura

Idol Dreams! The manga that I read compulsively but also dread a little bit every time I pick it up because I wonder in the back of my mind if something truly problematic is going to happen in this story of an emotionally stunted office lady who returns to her youth in the form of an idol singer with the aid of magic pills who then becomes romantically entangled with some of her teen contemporaries from the music world.

Idol Dreams 6

One of the reasons why I enjoy Tanemura so much is that she brings the melodrama in a way that few other manga creators can aspire to. In this volume alone, there’s a death, a pregnancy, and a wedding crisis. Few other series can hit these heights of melodrama in just six chapters. All of these things happen to friends of Chikage’s and it is interesting to see how she reacts as the people she is closest to suffer through some severe emotional trauma. The volume kicks off with an illness followed by a death in Hibiki’s family. Chikage in her Akari persona tries to support him as best she can, but the pressures of Hibiki’s idol career cause him to not take time off work because he doesn’t want to disappoint the fans who support him. He doesn’t have the luxury of taking time to grieve, and I wonder in some ways if his professionalism is a way for him to escape confronting tragedy.

In the adult side of her life, Chikage is way too invested in the success of Tokita and Hanami’s wedding. As I read this volume I was reflecting on the ways that Chikage has changed as a character, from having almost no emotional connection with other people, to now having far too much invested in seeing a particular relationship succeed. Part of this is due to the fact that she’s still repressing her own deeper emotions. There is a moment where she runs into Haru when she is actually able to relate to him as a potential friend without becoming flustered, which made me think that while she’s come pretty far in terms of becoming more self-possessed since her teen adventures. I left this volume wondering how Chikage is going to come out on the other side of these tragedies, but she’s shown enough personal growth that I’m hoping she continues to become stronger. Tanemura’s art is always best when she has an opportunity to be unabashedly girly, and the illustrations of many wedding dresses in this volume are a real treat, in addition to the dramatics of all the tear-stained faces.

Shortcake Cake Vol. 5

Shortcake Cake Volume 5 by suu Morishita

I feel the need to preface this review by noting that there is absolutely no Rei content in this volume, for those readers who might have been hoping for that. What this volume does feature is plenty of internal anguish and teenagers just being weird in endearing ways. There’s something about the way that Morishita is skillfully navigating some familiar shoujo tropes that has me full of suspense about what happens next instead of rolling my eyes at the potential love quadrangle that is slowly being explored.

The volume opens with Ten still trying to sort out her feelings, as her feelings for Riku have grown only after she turned him down. Meanwhile, Chiaki lurks in the background, doing his best impersonation of a second lead guy from a Korean drama, as he makes veiled references about a girl he likes to Ten, with her not realizing he is actually talking about her. There’s some great paneling in the opening pages of the manga, when Ten is thinking about her and Riku living in the same house, the illustrations of them silently looking at each other interspersed with the everyday interiors of the boarding house underscore her quiet contemplation and awkward feelings about the whole situation. Ten continues to just be adorable all around, as she starts acting incredibly awkward around Riku and boisterously slaps Chiaki on the back and tells him not to give up on his mysterious crush.

shortcake cake 5

The part of this volume that I absolutely loved was when Chiaki comes up with a bizarre excuse to go on an outing with Riku, in an attempt to smooth over any issues with them both liking the same girl. They go on a random shopping trip, followed by some bookstore browsing and debating about UFO machine strategy. It really underscored how socially awkward Chiaki is, and if if I wasn’t rooting for him do to my general tendency to fall for second lead guys, the fact that he quotes from Anne of Green Gables in this volume was extra adorable. I’m enjoying the slow pacing of this series, and definitely recommend it if you are looking for a high school romance with more depth than the typical shoujo series.

Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, Vols. 4 and 5

Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits Volumes 4 and 5 by Waco Ioka, Midori Yuma and Laruha

I feel like now Kakuriyo has settled into a reliable rhythm for the reader, with each volume blending elements of food preparation and consumption and showcasing supernatural entities with some hints at the ongoing mystery surrounding Aoi’s grandfather and his relationship with the spirit world.

One of the reasons why I enjoy this manga is because it blends in very mundane concerns with a supernatural setting. This was particularly on display in volume 4 when Aoi needs to take into consideration vital aspects of business administration in her attempt to launch a cafe in a slightly inconvenient corner of the Tenjin-ya Inn. Aoi treats everyone who has been helping her get the cafe ready for opening to rice balls with individualized flavors that appeal to their unique personalities. When Aoi ventures out with Odanna to the local markets and gets a clue about a mask she remembers an ayakashi wearing who helped her a long time ago. Aoi is still running into resistance from other members of the Tenjin-ya staff, but she finds some ways of winning over new customers by creating special bento boxes for a sequestered writer. I do still sometimes wish the art for Kakuriyo was a little more elaborately detailed or creative, but I’m happy to see some unsettling ayakashi character designs such as a three-eyed woman with a snarky three-eyed baby, or the no-face handmaidens who always show up to give Aoi a makeover.

The fifth volume opens with Aoi sharing a quiet moment with Odanna, as she follows him out to his mountain retreat and learns about a new delicacy – fire chicken eggs cooked in a hot spring. Aoi also gets a new clue about the white-masked ayakashi from her past and an impactful endorsement from the badger demon novelist. Business starts to look up a little bit after Aoi also gets a visit from a fortune spirit who loves red bean paste desserts. I found myself really enjoying the way this manga is paced, with Aoi slowly finding out more about the strange world she’s been transported to, and her low key ways of getting to know ayakashi through preparing simple dishes with their unique needs in mind. Five volumes into the series, it is much more satisfying as a food manga, with the food preparation showcased in at least a page or two instead of being skipped over.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 19

Yona of the Dawn Volume 19 by Mizuho Kusanagi

An evaluation of any volume of Yona of the Dawn boils down to the sentiment “if you are not reading this series, there might be something wrong with you.” This particular volume functioned well as bridge between story arcs, as well as including some bonding humor amidst a story of spiritual possession. As the reader can guess from seeing an unmasked Sinha on the cover, the first part of the volume delves more into the history of the Blue Dragon through his encounter with one of his predecessors. There’s plenty of group bonding time along the way as Yona and her companions tease Yun for taking on an inadvertent role as the group’s “mother,” but despite all the teasing he prepares snacks and worries with great maternal instincts.

Yona of the Dawn 19

Sinha’s spiritual possession causes a number of issues, as he returns to the group with another Blue Dragon in control over his body. Everyone but Yun ends up in a super creepy tomb filled with spirits, as they attempt to deal with Sinha’s vengeful spirit. As always, Yona manages to overcome difficulties by simply being true to herself and overcoming obstacles through her humanity and compassion. What initially seems like a story about a vengeful spirit ends up highlighting the strength inherent in forgiveness.

The broader story arc that begins to be set up is a return to the Water Tribe. When Yona and her companions left previously it was clear that they’d affected a small part of a systemic drug trade. While Su-Won strategizes with his generals and tribal leaders in his palace, Yona reunites with Riri and joins up with her again to help with her mission to help the Water Tribe people. As always Kusanagi does an excellent job juggling character development and storylines with such an expansive cast. While Yona is shoujo, the romance elements are fairly sparing, but fortunately there’s a wonderful scene between Yona and Hak as they have trouble sleeping that shows romance progressing slowly. I always put each volume of Yona of the Dawn down feeling immensely satisfied at the amount of story Kusanagi is able to express in just five or six chapters.

Ao Haru Ride, Vol 6

Ao Haru Ride Volume 6 by Io Sakisaka

I’m enjoying the way this series presents young romance with a sense of nostalgia mixed with compassion. Futuba’s heightened awareness of memory and lost time as she attempts to get to know Kou after not being in contact with him for years has her approaching school milestones with great introspection as she attempts to find just the right moment to confess her renewed feelings.

Ao Haru Ride 6

Complications loomed at the start of this volume, as it is clear that Kou has gotten himself a bit enmeshed with a former classmate named Narumi, who is leaning on him as her main source of emotional support. Narumi shows up at the school festival, and Futuba tries to figure out what sort of relationship she and Kou have. Futuba’s friends see through this situation and warn her of being too trusting. Kou continues to be motivated by jealousy, when he sees Futuba make a point of attending a performance from Kikuchi’s band, he also attends and they accidentally kiss. The fallout of this event dominates the rest of the volume as Futuba tries to figure out what it all means, if anything.

As far as enigmatic yet troubled dark-haired shoujo male protagonists go, Kou is rapidly moving up my unofficial rankings. He has not yet reached the heights of Izumi Sano from Hana-Kimi, but who knows how I’ll feel by the end of this series. While his tendency to go hot and cold and engage in impulsive actions that cause Futuba to experience the torments of teenage angst, his background and his own emotional turmoil still make him sympathetic. There’s a hilarious sequence where Futuba keeps running away because she doesn’t want Kou to be able to see her face and he keeps running after her, eventually cornering her in a classroom where she proceeds to hurl maid costumes at him. Futuba again gets some key advice from her friends as she struggles to deal with her emotions. Kou disregards the advice of his friends who tell him, quite reasonably, that “You can’t save everyone!”

This volume of Ao Haru Ride concludes by pulling off an impressive narrative maneuver of making mostly everybody miserable, but all for very good reasons. Surely this will sustain the shoujo drama for several more volumes and I have to say I am willing to endure plenty of tears to eventually get some sort of happy ending, or somewhat wistful conclusion.