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.

Snow White with the Red Hair Vol 2

Snow White with the Red Hair Volume 2 by Sorata Akiduki

Snow White with the Red Hair had a fairly episodic first volume, so I was curious to see what the second volume would bring now that the characters and setting had all been set up. This volume blended medical mystery and palace intrigue with a little hit of the undercurrent of emotions between Shirayuki and Zen, in a way that sets up a great escapist read for anyone wanting to disappear momentarily into another world.

Snow White With the Red Hair Volume 2

Snow White with the Red Hair
doesn’t have the magical elements of a fantasy manga yet, but it has a quasi-medieval setting in an imaginary kingdom, and this volume opens with a low key slice of life situation as Shirayuki takes up her role as a court herbalist and finds out that she’s been paired with Ryu, a 12 year old prodigy as her new mentor. Ryu is brilliant, but not so great at dealing with people. Shirayuki’s open manner and genuine approach to dealing with people wins him over gradually. Shirayuki also learns some hard truths about Zen’s life when she gets a glimpse of his medical chart, which shows that however idyllic the setting of this manga is, people are still cruel to each other in unfathomable ways.

Shirayuki’s skills come to the forefront yet again when Zen investigates a fort where many of the soldiers are dealing with a mysterious illness. Here, all of Zen’s princely strategies aren’t all that useful, but Shirayuki’s keen knowledge and observational powers cause her to come up with a solution that he’d be unable to achieve. Things are complicated even further when Zen’s older brother comes back to the palace and shows himself to be thoroughly unpleasant. Even though there might be some manipulative scheming going on, the core of Snow White with the Red Hair is the gradually deepening friendship between Shirayuki and Zen. Seeing two characters who treasure each other so much invests this manga with a ton of heart. While most of their serious interactions are just a few panels here and there in between dealing with various tough situations, Akiduki has built up a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the couple in just two volumes. It is impossible not to root for them, even seeing that they will have plenty of obstacles ahead.

Takane & Hana, Vols. 8 and 9

Takane and Hana, Volumes 8 and 9 by Yuki Shiwasu

At 9 volumes in Takane and Hana continues to have story arcs centered on wacky shenanigans, but since those shenanigans seem to be prodding along the romance between Takane and Hana at a glacial pace, I tend to just sit back and enjoy the story.

Most of this volume is taken up with Hana’s realization that she actually cares for Takane, and stumbling through events like Valentine’s Day and dinner with her family while she’s burdened with newfound awareness of her own feelings. There are still plenty of moments of culture shock as Takane isn’t sure what to do the first time he encounters insufficiently marbled beef. There could only be so long that Takane could survived in forced poverty in the position of a mediocre salaryman, mostly because while he is an emotional idiot, he’s actually exceedingly good at business. His current company ends up creating more of a manager role for him, and he’s clearly moving up.

Takane & Hana 9

Takane’s grandfather is pleased with the success of his machinations to force his grandson to grow through vicariously experiencing poverty, but now he’s worried that there will be no time for Takane’s romance to progress. Since exercising familial authority through housing worked so well the last time, he decides to provide Hana’s family with an elaborate mansion to live in as part of a made-up “testing program.” They all move in, only to find out later that they are also required to live with Takane. Takane and Hana end up setting some rigid boundaries around their new living situation, but they aren’t rigid enough for Okamon. Okamon has been lurking on the margins with his carefully deadpan expression, but he hasn’t weighed in on Takane and Hana’s relationship before. I was delighted that volume 9 finally featured Okamon being more direct and also presented a chapter from his point of view. While Okamon may firmly be fulfilling the role of “second lead guy” so familiar in Korean dramas, and I don’t think that he represents a serious threat to an eventual resolution for Takane and Hana, it was a nice change of pace to get to spend more time with him in this volume. I’m expecting that Takane and Hana cohabiting in a mansion will provide plenty of antics for at least 2 volumes.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol 1

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 1 by Mika Yamamori

We haven’t had a ton of student-teacher shoujo romances being translated here recently, but perhaps series like Dengeki Daisy and Takane and Hana have paved the way. Suzume has a comfortable, slow-paced life in the country. Her classmates are all as familiar to her as siblings, and she feels free to randomly ditch class and go up on the roof of her school building to stare at the sky. Unfortunately her routines are about to be disrupted, as her parents announce that they have to go abroad for her father’s work, and they are sending her to Tokyo to live with her uncle. Suzume ends up getting lost on her way to her uncle’s house and an eccentric young man wearing a goofy hat helps her out. It turns out that Shishio is a friend of her uncle’s and her teacher! This amazing coincidence isn’t terribly surprising. The contrast between Shishio’s mannerisms when he’s off-duty and when he’s at school is amusing.

Suzume initially has a hard time fitting in with her new school, but she makes a quasi-friend in Mamura, the boy she ends up sitting next to in class. He has a almost pathological reaction of terror in response to any contact from girls. She also makes a frenemy in the form of Nekota, a girl at school who sets up a fairly weak way of deliberately excluding Suzume from a weekend outing with her classmates. When Suzume realizes what is going on, she decides to charge in and confront the issue. Shishio keeps showing up at odd moments when Suzume is feeling down, and while she’s clearly developing a hidden crush, she has plenty of other things on her mind as she attempts to deal with adjusting to life in Tokyo.

Yamamori’s art is attractive and stylish, and I enjoy the varied way Suzume is portrayed, as she swings from being timid in a new environment, to cool and confident on the volleyball court, to desperately trying to cover up evidence of a girlfight. Suzume is an engaging heroine, and I’m looking forward to see what happens next as the relationships between the characters develop more.