Ao Haru Ride, Vol. 8

Ao Haru Ride, Volume 8 by Ao Sakisaka

Ao Haru Ride continues to provide a unique shoujo story by combining teen romance against a backdrop of grief. Kou continues to think he can fix the world by taking on the responsibility of being sole friend/psychotherapist/boyfriend to his old classmate Yui, but Futuba may finally be ready to move on.

Ao Haru Ride 8

As the volume opens Futuba tells Kou that she likes him, in full expectation that she’s going to be rejected. She wants to get everything out in the open so she can attempt to move on. Kou’s words are carefully chosen, he says “I can’t go out with you” and Futuba smiles and says “That feels like closure.” Her smiling face interrupts a sequence of panels where Kou’s expressionless face is shadowed, pointing to the facade he’s wearing to hide his feelings. Futuba walks away and when Kou’s phone rings (presumably a call from Yui), he smashes it. While Futuba has vowed to move on, she can’t resist trying to make Kou feel a bit of regret, and she decides that she’ll act more feminine and further distance herself from the tomboy persona that she used to assume. She wonders “Is everyone else pretending to be the person they want to be?” Toma seizes his chance and tells Futuba that he likes her just as she is. She isn’t quite sure how to respond, but Toma tells her that he’ll wait and see what she thinks after she gets a chance to know him.

Futuba accidentally runs into Kou at school and he’s back to his usual harsh comments telling her that her attempts to be more feminine totally don’t work for her. Futuba’s introspection makes her both relatable and endearing, as she comments to her friends, “Spending time thinking about a boy who didn’t pick me…is a waste of my youth!” Kou and Futuba are generally so much better together than they are apart, and the attempts to put distance between them simply don’t work. This is a solid middle volume in this series, and there’s a nice one-shot included as a bonus. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Kou decides that he’s no longer responsible for fixing the universe.

Sublime Quick Takes: Liquor and Cigarettes and Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato

I’ve decided in the interest of clearing away some of my to-read manga stacks, I’m going to dedicate the month of February to BL and yaoi manga and do at least one extra post of mini reviews a week. I’m going to do a big giveaway at the end of the month with a selection of what I’ve read (however many manga I can fit into a flat rate priority box). So let’s take a look at some manga from SubLime.

Liquor and Cigarettes by Ranmaru Zariya

Camilo and Theo are childhood best friends who run family businesses across the street from each other in a quasi European setting. Theo sells liquor and Camilo sells cigarettes. Theo’s deep dark secret is that he’s secretly a lightweight who can’t tolerate alcohol. Camillo’s favorite hobby is propping his head in his hands and staring soulfully at Theo. When Camilo asks his lifelong friend to consider dating him, Theo isn’t sure, but he decides to throw himself into a quasi trial relationship while at the same time building up his alcohol tolerance so he can take part in a town wine festival. What follows is a series of booze and angst-filled nights as Theo struggles with his sexuality and Camilo attempts to win him over. The art is well-done and fluid, with distinct character designs. Liquor and Cigarettes is complete in one volume, and would be a good choice for yaoi fans who are wanting something short but explicit to read that also features a decent amount of character development, as both Theo and Camilo puzzle out how to take their relationship forward without the booze.

liquor and cigarettes

Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato By Scarlet Beriko

The cover for Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato shows a shocking lack of concern for basic gun safety. I can say that the cover certainly signals the content of the manga. Tatsuyuki Oyamato is an heir to a powerful yakuza family. He’s not that invested in his duties in organized crime, as he’s struggling to get over being dumped by a masseur. He ends up wandering around a city half-drunk and gets picked up by Koga Nozomi, a kindergarten teacher who recognizes Tatsuyuki from an incident in their past that Tatsuyuki has no memory of. A local mafia boss named Rogi is determined to make both Tasuyuki and Nozomi miserable, and his daughter attends the kindergarten where Nozomi works. One of the reasons why I tend to be only an occasional yaoi reader is that I don’t care for reading much about non-consensual sex. Rogi decides to hatch an elaborate blackmail scheme that involves sexual torture, and that wasn’t appealing to me as a reader. Trauma in general gets a pass in this manga, and Nozomi’s semi obsessive tendencies towards Tatsuyuki get mention and then glossed over. Beriko’s art is great, and Nozomi is appropriately adorable, but in the end, this was not a manga that inspired enthusiasm for me as a reader. While there is a happy ending of sorts, I do hope that the yakuza have a good mental health provider.

Fourth Generation Head

Shortcake Cake, Vol 7

Shortcake Cake Volume 7 by suu Morishita

As I was picking up this volume of Shortcake Cake, I started thinking about how genuinely fond of many of the current Shojo Beat titles. It is quite an accomplishment to develop a line of manga that inspires the feeling that you are seeing a friend again when you get a new volume of a series in your hands, but so many of the current Shojo Beat lineup invoke that feeling for me. Shortcake Cake continues to explore the classic romantic tradition of a love triangle (or possibly quadrangle) as Ten now realizes that she has feelings for Riku after she originally rejected him. In a great scene that takes full advantage of the iconic setting of stairs leading up to a shrine, Riku asks Ten if she likes him, and after a few beats of silence and slightly shifting facial expressions, Ten breaks the tension by balling up her fists and punching herself on either side of her face. Riku grabs her wrists to ask what she’s doing, and she blurts out “I like you.” Morishita’s cinematic approach to paneling switches from character to character, incorporating silent reaction shots coupled with blushes and awkward glances that makes this love confession iconic.

shortcake cake 7

One of the things I like about this series is the way it switches easily between emotional scenes and more comedic aspects of teenage life. Ten continues her confession by saying that she hopes she can make Riku like her back, and asks him to give her some time to win his affection. He says he’ll wait, and Ten thinks that she needs to make up for how she made Riku feel in the past. Ten decides that she’s going to actually attempt to be feminine, and what follows is a crash course in skin care and makeup application from Ageha. Ten also attempts to mirror Riku’s body language to deepen their connection in a hilarious scene. While Ten flits around trying out random advice from friends, Riku seems fairly patient and low key, except when he has to deal with an attempt to clear the air from Chiaki. In settings that recall the places where they’ve spoken in the past, Ten and Riku are open with their feelings and embark on an actual relationship.

With the way this series is developing, I’m not expecting the love confessions in this volume to be the last ones, which is a good thing because Morishita executes them so well. It is pretty adorable seeing Ten and Riku together and on the same page, but I’m very curious to see what happens when Rei figures out what is going on. Rei is largely absent from this volume, except for a single vignette after the main story, so I’m expecting him to show up soon. Shortcake Cake presents teen romance with a depth and emotional resonance that sets it apart from many other series. I’m still unsure who Ten is going to end up with, and that continues to keep me intrigued as a reader.

Jujutsu Kaisen, Vol. 1

Jujutsu Kaisen Volume 1 by Gege Akutami

Fending off supernatural threats is a shonen staple, so how does Jujutsu Kaisen stack up? It very much felt like an early effort from a mangaka, which it is, but the first volume has a few flashes of humor and a central premise that is both disgusting and entertaining.

jujutsu kaisen volume 1

Yuji Itadori is a teenager who enjoys hanging out with the occult club despite his superhuman strength and speed. He’s being targeted for his athletic abilities by the track coach, but manages to maintain his new supernatural hobby by winning a bet about his shot put abilities. Megumi Fushiguro, a student from another school with actual occult abilities, is investigating the presence of a cursed object when he encounters Yuji and his new friends. It turns out that the occult club has gotten their hands on an artifact that is actually quite cursed, and Yuji and Megumi have to team up to save his friends from demonic destruction. Along the way, Yuji casually eats a demonic finger in order to get cursed energy to fend off the evil spirits. This ends up giving Yuji a semi-manageable case of spirit possession, but also makes him useful to demon hunters because he’s basically a walking container for cursed objects, as long as he eats them. There’s a particular demon who is the source of the cursed digits, and Yuji is going to join a team hunting down the relics of the evil Sakuna.

The art throughout this volume is serviceable but a bit rough, there’s little mobility in the characters’ facial expressions and while the action scenes are easy to follow they’d be a lot more entertaining with some shifts in perspective or more dynamic paneling. I’m curious to see if the art improves more as the series continues to develop. The demons do look appropriately freaky and scary.

Yuji’s motivations for fighting demons are introduced with a lack of subtly. Then again, I guess one does not expect delicately and subtle plot points from a Shonen Jump manga. There were a few moments that I thought were hilarious enough to be engaging. When Yuji is figuring out how many digits he is going to have to consume, the total number is high due to a surprising reason which is tossed off in casual conversation. I also enjoyed Yuji’s low-key approach to performing dramatic physical feats. The end of the volume sets up the new occult fighting team and their sparsely populated high school that has a curriculum dedicated to fighting evil, and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. Ultimately this first volume reminded me that sometimes one has to give a manga two volumes before deciding to follow a series or not, and that is what I’ll be doing with Jujutsu Kaisen.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol. 4

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 4 by Mika Yamamori

This volume of Daytime Shooting Star is focused on summer vacation. I really like the way the matte cover sets off the powdery pink blossoms used in the cover illustration for this volume. I’m so curious as to how this student-teacher romance manga will conclude, I’m guessing a giant time skip picking up with the high school characters post-college graduation. The volume opens as Suzume uses her intense knowledge of fish and extra cash to help out a strange but somewhat familiar man in the grocery store who has difficulty both shopping for seafood and remembering his wallet. When she drops by his house to get repaid for his groceries, she realizes that he’s Mamura’s father! Suzume gets a glimpse of Mamura’s very loud little brother, and she and Mamura are able to talk to each other again like friends.

Tsubomi ends up blowing out of town leaving a tornado of emotional devastation in her wake, as she seems to think it is appropriate to leave a note for her ex-boyfriend Shishio with the teenage girl who has a crush on him. Susume can’t resist the impulse to deliver it, and when she meets Shishio again, they decide to go on a group outing with her classmates to the aquarium, since Tsubomi enclosed an aquarium gift certificate. Of course, the day of the outing no-one else shows up, so the student and teacher are on a full-on solo date where Suzume gets to indulge in all the fish trivia questions she has ever dreamed of. Shishio continues to be fairly inappropriate but not doing anything physical beyond resting his head on Suzume’s shoulder. Even though he rejected Suzume’s love confession, it is clear that he’s still looking out for Suzume at school and in general acting protective and awkward at various moments. Suzume sees all this happening and becomes confused yet again. Fortunately there’s the school festival coming up that will provide a welcome distraction from all these romantic foibles, or amp everything up even more?

I continue to enjoy Yamamori’s stylish character designs. Suzume’s moments of introspection and insight as she’s attempting to get a handle on the world around her keeps Daytime Shooting Star interesting. It is easy to see how she’ll eventually grow up to be a formidable adult.