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.

Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, Vol. 1

Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, Volume 1 by Waco Ioka, Midori Yuma, and Laruha

Ordinary girl suddenly discovering a world filled of spirits or yokai and having her life altered forever is a common trope in shoujo manga, it is subgenre that can be relied upon for some interesting storytelling. However, is there room for more translated yokai titles after such great series such as Kamisama Kiss and Demon Prince of Momomochi House?

Kakuriyo:Bed and Breakfast for Spirits is a light novel franchise with an anime adaptation as well, so that accounts for the multiple credits on the managa, which sometimes makes me a bit nervous. Aoi Tsubaki had a charming but shiftless grandfather who recently passed away. She goes about her daily interrupted by her visions of strange ayakashi, and she feeds homemade snacks to the more harmless ones. As she passes a shrine she sees an ayakashi who looks like a young man wearing a demon mask and she hands him her bento box after he complains that he’s hungry. When she passes by the spot later on that day to retrieve her bento, she finds it decorated with a fancy hair ornament and new wrapping cloth. A gate opens up and the ayakashi grabs her wrist, saying “Welcome to Kakuriyo, my darling bride.”

bed and breakfast for spirits

Kijin is an ogre and the master of Tenjin-ya, an inn for ayakashi. When Aoi refuses to become his fiancee, she offers to work at Tenjin-ya to pay off her grandfather’s debt, except none of the ayakashi in charge of the various functions of the inn are willing to hire a human. Aoi then meets Ginji, a nine-tailed fox with a series of different forms and he becomes her unofficial guide to the spirit world. As Aoi begins to become more aquainted with her strange new world, one constant that she takes with her is her joy in preparing food for people. I found the slice of life and food elements in this story entertaining. Where this title falls a little flat compared to similar series is the art. It works just fine, but without that something extra present that readers can find in the whimsy of Kamisama Kiss or the lush detail of The Demon Prince of Momochi House. I always hope that the opportunity to portray a spirit world will cause an artist to go wild with creativity and innovative character designs, but I wasn’t finding that in this series. I’m hoping though that the fact that the manga is an adaptation of a light novel series will mean that the plot will compensate for the art being less creative than I’d like for the subject matter. I did enjoy the setting in this first volume and I’m curious to see how the story unfolds.

Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 8

The Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 8 by Rei Toma

One of the central questions I had as a reader of The Water Dragon’s Bride was what would happen if Asahi managed to find her way home? With her return to modern day Japan and her decision to rejoin her friends in the world of the Water Dragon God, I was curious to see where Toma would take the plot next in terms of a main conflict. She introduces a new antagonist for the Water Dragon God and Asahi, and I’m genuinely curious to see where the story goes next because I’m not sure what to expect.

Water Dragon God 8

The idea of other castaway people has been touched on a little bit before in this series, but this volume takes a turn when it thoroughly explores the backstory of Kurose, the companion to Tokoyami the God of Darkness, who rules an Underworld where it is impossible for the Water Dragon God to enter. The Water Dragon God enlists Subaru for help, but it ends up being Asahi’s unpredictable reactions to danger and the strength of her caring for others that opens up a possibility for her to escape.

Asahi and the Water Dragon God end up creating some deadly supernatural enemies, and one of the things that I appreciate about Toma is that her antagonists are fully drawn, with motivations and reasons for their actions that cause the reader to ponder the nature of humanity. Kurose is bullied in school, and when he’s rescued by Tokoyami and taken to a world of darkness, we see what happens when a less resilient human gets exposed to supernatural influences without the benefit of Asahi’s strong inner will. Kurose has his own traumatic adventures in the world of the Water Dragon God, where bad things happen to good people, and the gods seem indifferent to the suffering that they refuse to intervene in. As always, Toma’s capable illustrations serve to heighten the impact of the symbolic world that the gods inhabit, contrasted to the lives of ordinary villagers and teenagers in the modern world. There’s a confrontation between the two gods and their companions which will surely happen in the volumes ahead, and I’m very curious to see if Asahi’s unique outlook and faith manages to get herself and the Water Dragon God out of yet another complex situation.

Beasts of Abigaile Vol. 4

Beasts of Abigaile Volume 4 by Spica Aoki

I hadn’t realized that Beasts of Abigaile was only 4 volumes long, and I’m guessing that the mangaka wasn’t planning on the series wrapping up so quickly either, based on the sheer amount of backstory and exposition crammed into one volume. Still, the story does end on a satisfying note, although I would have been fine to see the series get stretched out to 5 or 6 volumes in order to be able to spend more time with the supporting cast.

Nina’s been captured and her secret of being a human at the werewolf academy on the island of Abigaile is threatened with exposure! She encounters a chained-up Giles, who fills in some of the details about the manipulation of Angelica the student body president who is nursing a special hatred for Nina. Nina is determined to be a force for good at the academy after hearing more about how its potential has been subverted by the school administrators. Roy is on his way to rescue Nina when she flies in with a high kick and they take off and hide in rose bushes to escape. One of the things that I like about this series is that for all of Roy’s alpha male blustering, Nina often manages to rescue herself through sheer determination.

On the way to the resolution of the series, the reader learns about Nina’s secret past, Roy and Giles’ secret past, and Nina comes to realize exactly what her own feelings are. There are some spectacular revelations and many panels of people staring intensely through jail bars. While this volume suffered a bit from too much story being crammed into a few short chapters, overall Beasts of Abigaile was a fun to read breezy paranormal shoujo series that I enjoyed. I hope it did well enough for Seven Seas that they continue to publish the occasional shoujo manga, as I like to see shoujo coming here from a variety of Japanese publishers.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 15

Yona of the Dawn, Volume 15 by Mizuho Kusanagi

This story arc of Yona of the Dawn examines issues of geopolitics and addiction, along with Yona’s growth into someone who inspires others to do their their best. Yona gets injured defending her new friend Riri. Sinha appears just in time to rescue her, and as she recuperates Hak is constantly by her side. Yona being Yona, as soon as she is slightly mobile she decides to continue her mission to track down the source of the drug trade that is decimating the Water Tribe. Seeing Yona’s determination, Riri challenges herself to do what she can as well, stealing her father’s seal of authority and traveling to the coastal city of Sensui. Riri’s overtures of friendship to Yona as they part ways are adorably awkward, as she shoves a box of sweets at Yona and attempts to help her with her sash.

Yona of the Dawn 15

One of the reasons why I like Yona of the Dawn so much is the way Kusanagi builds in short character development moments into a larger, more complex story. Seeing Riri on her own standing up for what she believes in shows the depth of Yona’s influence. Jaeha has a few quiet moments with Yona that show how much of his breezy womanizing persona is actually an act. The larger conflict between Yona and Su-Won appears again, as their paths continue to intersect as Yona’s actions on behalf of the people intersect with his travels through his kingdom. Kusanagi is building up to a dramatic confrontation, and while I have no doubt that Yona and her companions will eventually leave the country of the Water Tribe in better shape than it was when they arrived, seeing the pathway to fixing the problems of the people is what makes this series so consistently interesting.