Penguin Gentlemen

Penguin Gentlemen by Kishi Ueno

The premise of this manga – penguins who happen to run a cafe where they are all very buff men wearing tuxedos – seemed so ridiculous I couldn’t help wanting to check it out. This single volume manga certainly gets the deluxe treatment, with a hardcover edition and plenty of color pages. Now and then I really enjoy a didactic manga, and that’s what Ueno delivers. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a storyline focusing on penguin cafe work, because I enjoy a good food manga as well, but for readers who want to dramatically up their knowledge of penguin behavior, species variants, and random facts about penguin habitats this is the book for you!

Penguin Gentlemen

The character designs are one of the most amusing aspects of the book, as Ueno showcases differences in penguin markings and size into the hair styles and tuxedo uniforms of all the waiters. The main boss of the cafe is the King penguin, who is dwarfed in size by the stoic Emperor penguin who looms over everyone. The penguin gentlemen discuss their characteristics in the setting of the cafe, with plenty of comedic bits. The characters switch back and forth often between their anthropomorphic human forms and their natural states as penguins, but Ueno is great at rendering the heightened emotions of the characters even when they are in bird form. I read this book in several sittings, simply because I was not able to absorb all the information about penguin egg hatching, body language, and markings without a break here and there. The last section of the book that focuses on penguin courtship rituals is particularly hilarious. If someone wants to learn many scientific facts about penguins and be entertained along the way, Penguin Gentlemen certainly delivers.

Moriarty the Patriot Vols 1 and 2

Moriarty the Patriot Volume 1 by Ryosuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi

I was intrigued by the concept of Moriarty the Patriot, because I was curious how the manga would flip Moriarty from being the antagonist into being the protagonist of his own story. It turns out that Moriarty has an intrinsically sympathetic goal – full scale class warfare! This first volume details how the evil mastermind Moriarty is adopted into a family of nobles, with a slightly sociopathic older brother named Albert who is determined to wage war against the nobility with the benefit of his younger brother’s genius.

The chapters in this first volume often involve an episodic approach to plot, with Moriarty intervening in the lives of people who’ve been taken advantage of by so-called nobility. His focus on revenge is certainly satisfying, and by the end of the volume, he’s surrounded himself with a core group of companions who are similarly bent on striking back against the British class system.

Moriarty the Patriot Volume 2 Ryosuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi

I found this second volume a little less interesting because it had more of the expected story beats that I’d assume would show up in a Holmes adaptation. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more Moriarty in this volume. Here the reader sees Takeuchi’s version of Holmes meet Watson and figure out how to deal with his landlady Mrs Hudson. While it was enjoyable, there wasn’t as much dramatic tension because other than his lower class affectation, Holmes is pretty much what one would expect. As Holmes hurdles into his next case, I’m curious to see if he’s going to be at odds with Moriarty once more, and I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen when they start clashing over cases involving spectacularly murdered noblemen.

Yona of the Dawn 28 and Prince Freya 4

I hit a bit of a pandemic wall in my manga reading, so hoping to feel less bad about my backlog by posting some quick takes on my recent reading. Maybe I’ll have more energy next month!

Yona of the Dawn 28 by Misuho Kusanagi

Yona of the Dawn

Yona of the Dawn is such a consistently satisfying fantasy series with a depth and nunace that few authors are able to pull off. This volume was extremely amusing to me because it featured Tae-jun freaking out a bunch. Tae-jun was extremely worried about his not very great covert support of Yona possibly being found out by his older brother and chief of the fire tribe Kyo-ga. Tae-jun also had the best hysterical facial expressions when he yelled about the need for separate rooms for Hak and Yona. All along as Yona has been traveling the country helping people, there have been hints of what might happen if a cult of personality develops around her as the true heir to the Crimson Dragon King and her new Four Dragon Warriors. These undercurrents were brought to the surface by Su-Won’s advisor lurking around being menacing to anyone in his vicinity. There’s clearly more conflict coming with both political maneuvering and with upcoming battles, but this was a great spacer volume with plenty of wonderful character development moments.

Prince Freya 4 by Keiko Ishihara

Prince Freya

I have come to realize that I read this manga much like I would read a Harlequin romance. Are there inexplicable plot twists? Yes! Do I care about really understanding what’s going on? Not so much! While there are no cases of pregnesia in this manga we do get the shocker of Aleksi coming back from the dead in the company of a group of forest people who express just how metal they are by wearing stag skull masks and making vague pronouncements in an odd tone of voice. Meanwhile, Julius continues to develop more feelings for his charge, and Freya as Prince Edward manages to inspire her subjects even more. An additional complication comes up when Freya has to meet the emotionally unstable king and attempt to pull off a much more complicated bit of acting. This is one of those series that I just read, let wash over me, and don’t worry about the plot twists and complications. I’m expecting some love triangle shenanigans with Julius and Aleksi in the next few volumes, along with the swashbuckling battle scenes that have become a fixture in this manga.

The King’s Beast, Vol 1

The King’s Beast Volume 1 by Rei Toma

I liked Dawn of the Arcana, but The Water Dragon’s Bride was a big step up for Rei Toma artistically. I was extremely curious to read The King’s Beast, which returns to the world of Dawn of the Arcana but with an interesting twist. I was more intrigued by this series when I realized that instead of the quasi-Medieval European setting of Dawn of the Arcana, The King’s Beast was set in a kingdom that resembled historical China. What both series do have in common is an uneasy societal structure where humans live aside Ajin, humanoids who have beast-like features and occasionally special abilities. Ajin are systematically subjugated and forced to serve humans. The manga opens with Rangetsu, a female Ajin who has disguised herself as a boy in order to become a servant prince Tenyou. Her twin brother Sogetsu died in the prince’s service when they were young and now she’s determined to get her revenge.

One of the strongest aspects of The Water Dragon’s Bride was Toma’s exploration of the darker side of humanity and the hope found despite the darkness. This also seems like a continuing theme in The King’s Beast, as the Ajin face severe discrimination, and Rangetsu’s desperation for revenge shows how much pain she’s faced in her life so far. I always enjoy the way Toma paces out her stories, and once Rangetsu is in place she quickly learns that Tenyou wasn’t responsible for her brother’s death, and actually mourns him. There’s plenty of palace intrigue in store as Rangetsu tries to figure out her place as the prince’s new Ajin servant and Tenyou starts realizing what Rangetsu’s motivations are. Toma illustrates her manga with a clear, delicate style but she also pulls of plenty of dynamic action scenes as Rangetsu’s fighting abilities are challenged. This volume did a great job at setting up the dynamic between the two main characters and the political intrigue to come seems like it will be plenty challenging. There’s also a great bonus story for The Water Dragon’s Bride fans included at the end of the volume.

Way of the Househusband Vols 3 and 4

Way of the Househusband Volumes 3 and 4 by Kousuke Oono

One of my favorite things about Way of the Househusband is how ordinary household chores get infused with the action and drama of a gangster drama. Tatsu and his wife Miku have to band together to banish a roach in the opening chapter, and they cycle through roach fighting options growing more and more frantic until their foe is vanquished. There’s no real overarching story line here, but the episodes around high stakes bread baking and grocery store promotion antics were funny. I enjoy most when the househusband has interactions with people from his past, and he runs into his old boss (and an adorable dog!) and then again the grocery store becomes a site for a reunion with a woman yakuza boss from his past. Seeing tough guys melt in the presence of the sheer competence of ladies whipping up nutritious homemade dog food is both heartwarming and hilarious.

I also enjoy the little vignettes that show the househusband and Miku together, and the 4th volume has a couple stories that show the couple tackling going to a theme park with military precision and taking on some local toughs in a dynamic beach volleyball tournament. I was quite amused by the drug dealing influence on boba tea recipies and distribution, as well as a dramatic trip to the dollar store to secure the essential tools of the house keeping trade. While this series is predictable, it is the good kind of predictable that you can find with very well-executed comedy series. The jokes might be the same, but the quirky mash-up between yakuza antics and housekeeping always seems both refreshing and funny. This series is helped a lot by Oono’s dynamic and expressive art which infuses the most mundane tasks with the high-stakes suspense worthy of an action movie.