Takane & Hana, vol. 7

Takane and Hana Volume 7 by Yuki Shiwasu

This volume continues to explore how Takane and Hana deal with his changed circumstances as he adjusts to live as an ordinary businessman. It is a slightly more serious volume than usual, but there’s some great character development.

Takane and Hana 7

Hana continues to show up at Takane’s shabby apartment to feed him dinner, although he’s started to get a little better about fending for himself without the advantages of his former wealth. They share a genuine moment of connection when Takane says “Thank you” without his usual posturing and bizarre grimaces. Hana immediately checks to see if Takane might be coming down with a cold because she’s stunned at his behavior. One thing that this descent into poverty confirms is that Hana is indifferent to Takane’s wealth and status. She’s been commenting all along that his over the top gifts and lifestyle doesn’t impress her, and her willingness to hang out with him in poverty just reinforces everything she was saying earlier. Takane might not totally internalize this shift in their relationship, but he actually starts acting less arrogant in his job, and starts making moves to pull off some complex business deals independently. Takane and Hana eventually achieve a sort of new normal in their relationship, and the roles get reversed a little bit when she gets sick and he has to take care of her. This continues to be an entertaining series, and I’m finding this shift away from over the top wealth-related shenanigans to have more emotional depth and resonance than I was originally expecting. I’m curious to see if the series continues to have more of this emphasis on the character relationships or if it goes back to more broad comedy. Shiwasu is executing this series so well, I’d be fine with either option!

Shortcake Cake, vol. 3 and Ao Haru Ride, vol. 3

Third volumes are when I feel longer running series start to settle in a bit. The reader knows all the main characters and the ongoing story lines have been established. In the case of most shoujo manga, it also means it is love triangle time!

Shortcake Cake Volume 3 by suu Morishita

Shortcake Cake 3 opens with a rainstorm, and the unsettling weather continues to mirror the turbulent emotions associated with teen romance throughout the volume. Ten continues to be fascinated with Chiaki, while Chiaki and Ten are pretending to date to throw off the odd obsessive impulses of Riku’s brother Sei. At the same time Chiaki is feeling guilty because he thinks that Ten should be with Riku, even though Ten already previously rejected him. This all sounds like teen-age soap opera insanity when I type out a summary, but Shortcake Cake delivers this all to the reader with a level tone, interspersed with the slice of life aspects of the characters being thrown together in the same boardinghouse and having to deal with issues like fending for themselves when their House Mom gets sick. Riku and Ten have a few moments together where it is clear that he’s not yet gotten over her, as he casually asks what she thinks of Chiaki. This encounter happens when they are crouched under a table cleaning up after a kitchen mishap, showcasing Morishita’s ability to make every day incidents seem oddly intimate.

Shortcake Cake 3

Rain shows up as a background image to the panels where Ran contemplates this moment, thinking “It was as if he was saying all over again that he likes me.” Chiaki keeps his feelings to himself, and keeps pushing Ten towards Riku. One of the reasons why I like Shortcake Cake so much, is that this point I’m genuinely unsure of who Ten might end up with, and she’s not portrayed as fickle or uncaring, just a girl who is uncertain of her feelings. This volume was much more somber in tone than the previous volumes of Shortcake Cake, but it explored new emotional territory for the characters. I’m continuing to be fascinated by the way they influence each other, and that makes for an intriguing series.

Ao Haru Ride Volume 3 by Io Sakisaka

In contrast with Shortcake Cake, I am firmly convinced that Futaba and Kou are going to end up together, but seeing how this unfolds with the pressures of teenage friendship and Kou’s newly acerbic personality is what makes Ao Haru Ride interesting. The volume opens with Futuba dealing with the fact that her new friend Yuri also has a crush on Kou. Futuba cycles through a variety of feelings, as she wants to be supportive to one of her first real friends, but she can’t escape her attachment to Kou. First, Futuba vows to like other boys, but this resolution does not last long. I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I enjoy about Ao Haru Ride is the characters’ tendency to get things out into the open fairly rapidly, so it doesn’t seem like there will be multi volume story lines revolving around people not talking to each other.

Ao Haru Ride 3

Futaba isn’t really able to deal with her feelings honestly, and attempts to come up with arbitrary tests like “if Kou follows me off the train, I’ll keep loving him.” Sakisaka’s excellent paneling makes a conversation near a subway platform look filled with dramatic emotion. Futuba and Kou keep getting thrown together, which doesn’t do much for Futuba’s impulse to bury her feelings to maintain her friendship with Yuri. One of the things I liked most about this volume was seeing Futuba, Yuri, and Murao bond over their romantic tribulations. Futuba is starting to piece together what type of person she wants to be and pondering how to be a good friend. This volume finishes on a bit of an emotional cliffhanger, so I’m curious to see what happens next.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 16

Yona of the Dawn Volume 16 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I often put down a new volume of Yona of the Dawn thinking “this was my favorite volume”, which is a testament to Kuanagi’s storytelling abilities. I’m willing to go on the record now and forever (or at least until volume 17) that 16 is my favorite volume of Yona of the Dawn. I had high hopes when I saw that the cover featured an extremely angry looking Hak.

This is the concluding volume of the Water Tribe story arc, and things have been headed towards a major confrontation, what with all the terrible drugrunning, Riri’s seizing her father’s power of hereditary rule, Su-Won and his minions appearing and hanging out near Riri, Yona getting herself injured, and people in general being repressed. As the story opens, Yona and her companions are determined to attack the fleet of the enemy and crush the drug traffickers. Jaeha has managed to secure a mini-army of attractive female divers due to his habitual flirtatious charm to aid in the attack.

yona 16

Even though it is painfully obvious from the beginning of the series that Hak and Yona are in love, there’s so much going against their romance that Hak is an incredibly sympathetic character and somewhat in the position of the underdog. He’s not acting very much on his feelings for Yona since he’s in the position of being her protector and he’s not nobility. While Hak has some great martial arts abilities, he’s not supernaturally gifted like the Dragon Warriors, and he doesn’t share the emotional/psychic bond that binds Yona and the Dragons together. All along Kusanagi shows Hak and Yona sharing a quiet moment here or there set against the backdrop of the great adventure that they’re on, but the reader hasn’t seen multiple panels showing what Hak is actually feeling before.

Most of the action external to Hak’s journey is handled fairly quickly. Riri has found her strength thanks to Yona’s friendship, and it feels like this series has to feature a pirate ship battle every seven volumes or so. As Yona, Riri, Su-Won, and their companions are standing in town and about to be pinned down by archers sniping at them, Su-Won stands in front of Yona to protect her and cautions her not to reinjure her back by firing arrows at her would-be assassins. Yona doesn’t back down from a fight though, and she has a brief reunion with Ju-Do that causes him to reflect on his own choices in staying to support Su-Won. As the local drug kingpen tries to do away with Yona once and for all, Hak comes out of nowhere to protect her from a dagger strike. He then turns incandescent with rage when he sees Su-Won.

What follows are several nearly wordless panels that dramatically portray Hak’s rage and desire for vengeance. Hak’s pupils contract, and Kusanagi switches over to using dramatic black tone and cross-hatching as Hak goes after Su-won. Hak has to go through Ju-Do first, and Jaeha tries to stop him from continuing to fight. As expected, Hak only stops when Yona steps in front of him. The rest of the volume deals with the fall-out of the incident, as Yona’s companions heal their wounds and Su-Won returns to his palace. Kusanagi has paced the story of Yona of the Dawn so well, every few volumes an event will happen that will dial up the emotional intensity and affect the relationships between the main characters even more. Seeing the rage that Hak has masked inside for so long makes the reader contemplate how controlled he’s been up to this point. Yona of the Dawn is embarking on a new story arc as Yona and her companions say farewell to the Water Tribe and I’m eager to see what happens next.

Young Master’s Revenge, Vol. 4

Young Master’s Revenge Volume 4 by Meca Tanaka

Young Master’s Revenge has been a such a fun short series! I just finished reading the last and final volume this week and I found that it had much more of an emotional payoff than I was expecting from a manga with its main plot centering on turtle-inflicted butt scars. There’s never any doubt that Leo and Tenma are going to end up together, but seeing how they finally both grappled with their feelings made the ending of this series rewarding.

young master's revenge 4

Tenma and Leo are living separately, and she’s actually able to take care of herself finally now that she’s endured life as Leo’s maid. She’s moved on from being oblivious about romance to trying to figure out how to deal with her newly realized crush on Leo, which results in a bunch of protestations and slightly emotional outbursts. Leo’s secret scars are almost exposed, and Hana goes to whatever lengths she can in order to protect him. The confusing feelings of teen romance are amped up even further when Tenma reluctantly agrees to go on a date with “Rose King” Barazono, while Leo and Togo pretend to go on their own date in order to act as silent observers. Tenma finds herself unable to control her crying when she sees Leo and Tojo together, and Leo confesses his true feelings but doesn’t let Tenma say anything in return.

Tenma decides to take on the emotional labor of fixing everything herself and while she previously was more self-contained due to her upbringing and unfamiliarity with basic teen socialization, she stands up for herself and her feelings in quite a spectacular fashion. She demonstrates quite a few over the top angry faces along the way. Seeing Tenma and Leo finally get together without the specter of revenge that’s been hovering over the series brings everything to an extremely satisfying conclusion. Young Master’s Revenge might seem a little superficial and silly, but at four volumes it doesn’t feel like the plot was stretched out just for the sake of extra drama. It is a great series to use as a mini-vacation if you’ve been bogged down by reading too many angst-ridden manga.

I was able to talk about Young Master’s Revenge on the Shojo & Tell Manga Podcast recently, I’ll update this post when the episode is available!

Takane & Hana, Vol. 6

Takane & Hana Volume 6 by Yuki Shiwasu

I should have read this volume earlier this winter, because it had a great Christmas story in it! But Takane & Hana can always be counted on for some breezy shoujo antics as it explores the potentially problematic relationship between a high school student and an heir to industry who become friends after Hana subs in for her sister at an arranged marriage meeting with Takane.

The volume opens with Takane standing Hana up for a date due to his workload, so she goes out with friends instead. It turns out that he was actually planning on surprising her with a Christmas date. Takane is incapable of doing anything less than a grand gesture, so he appears before Hana in a custom designed cashmere Santa Suit. Hana realizes that he planned the whole thing after she made a random comment about how normal people celebrate Christmas, and she’s touched by the gesture.

The major storyline in this volume centers on Takane suffering a reversal of fortunes when his grandfather takes away his access to all his bank accounts, his high-powered job, and his apartment, telling him that he has to prove himself by working his way up to the top. Takane’s occasional glimpses through Hana of how common people live do not prepare him at all for being cut off from his credit card. As he slowly starts to adjust to the horror of cheap suits, convenience store lunches, and public transportation, he cuts off contact with Hana, not sure what to do if he can’t appear before her with elaborately expensive presents. Hana is mystified and confused because while he certainly is in the habit of being busy with work, he’s never cut off contact with her for such a long time before. As always, Shiwasu is a master of exaggerated facial expressions, and seeing Takane react to his changed circumstances is both sad and hilarious.

One of the things that has me rooting for this relationship between a forthright high schooler and an emotionally stunted captain of industry is Hana’s habit of confronting Takane and pointing out when he’s being an idiot. Takane rejects her offers of help, but she’s not going to back down. A rich person learning who they are after a reversal of fortune is a very common plot trope, but seeing how these particular characters take on this challenge makes it interesting in Takane & Hana.