Peach Heaven Vol. 1

So far, I’m having a mixed experience with Kodansha’s digital line. I like Chihayafuru and The Full-Time Wife Escapist (review of that coming soon), but I am not thrilled with A Springtime With Ninjas or Peach Heaven. In a way this is good, because I’m not having to set aside funds for so many digital series!

Peach Heaven treads familiar ground as the hapless heroine Momoko is blackmailed into being a slave to an evil male model – is there any other type of model in shoujo manga? Momoko has taken over her father’s writing persona and is cranking out erotica books in order to support her sick mother and younger brother. She toils on her writing all night, only to fall asleep in school the next day. Her friends think she’s hopelessly addicted to online gaming. Through a series of events that I no longer remember, Ranmaru the male model finds out about her double life and starts blackmailing her. Momoko is forced to bring Ranmaru lunch every day at school, and he continues to berate her for her life choices and makes fun of her for being a virgin.

Of course, various situations come up when Ranmaru has to rescue or intervene in Momoko’s life, indicating that he might be not so terrible after all. There isn’t really any suspense or dramatic tension in this manga. While I generally enjoy trashy romance manga, that’s usually only in cases where there’s a bit of a sense of humor or some over the top soap opera element to the storylines, and I don’t see anyone in Peach Heaven, say, abruptly deciding to become a priest or dealing with the aftereffects of personality-changing hypnotism. I was hoping that Peach Heaven would be another fun guilty pleasure manga, but it is just not very interesting. The rote plotting isn’t really complimented by the art, which is competent but doesn’t exhibit any individual sense of style.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 5

I still very much enjoy Everyone’s Getting Married, but this volume was a little bit of a letdown, mostly because I’m not terribly fond of the way the “suddenly a rival appears!” storyline is being executed.

At the end of the last volume Kamiya, a work colleague of Asuka’s decided that she would be his ideal wife. He was not put off by the fact that she’s dating Ryu, and Kamiya’s persistence was one of the most annoying things about this volume, even though he did bring up some good and rational points about Asuka and Ryu’s counterproductive relationship. Asuka is mostly reduced to a bargaining chip between the men, and her actions are a little bit too passive, although I suppose it is an accurate portrayal of where a woman might end up when she has been thoroughly socialized to be nice all the time. The volume opens with Ryu and Kamiya getting a drink together, and even though Ryu warns Kamiya to stop his pursuit of Asuka, Kamiya is undeterred, pointing out the futility of a relationship where one person wants to get married and the other is set against it. Kamiya is convinced that the couple will eventually break up, and when that happens he will be there, ready to scoop up Asuka and take advantage of her innate intelligence and competence to have the supportive live partner of his dreams.

Kamiya proceeds to both threaten and manipulate Asuka into spending time with him, and I started feeling very annoyed that Asuka was so passive that she got thrown into situations with Kamiya when she didn’t really want to spend time with him. Ryu and Asuka always do reaffirm their relationship, and a brief trip away with a break from work serves to smooth things over. One of the reasons why this manga is so interesting to read is the fact that either one of the main characters is going to have to fundamentally change, or they will have to break up, and that dramatic tension is intriguing. This volume felt like a bit more of a placeholder, and I hope there’s a more satisfying story in the next volume.

My Love Story!! Vol. 12

My Love Story!! Volume 12 by Kazune Karahawa and Aruko

I enjoy the volumes of My Love Story!! that focus on the central relationship between Takeo and Yamato, but manga chapters that focus more on Suna are a little bit more rare in this series, so I look on them as a pleasant refresher. Here, a new transfer student named Tanaka has fixated on Suna as a new friend, and while Suna goes along with it to some degree as soon as Tanaka starts badmouthing Takeo, the friendship is over as far as Suna is concerned.

While Takeo is initially very worried about Tanaka using Suna’s photogenic qualities for more Instagram likes, he begins to realize that the transfer student is genuinely lonely and trying to keep up the appearances of having friends. Suna is fiercely protective of Takeo, when Tanaka starts talking about how odd the giant highschooler is, Tanaka is dead to Suna. It takes Takeo’s unusual emotional intelligence to bring everyone together, as he pronounces that dudes just need to hang out and get snacks together to repair friendships. This is true, although hanging out then tends to involve massive feats of strength and physical exertion. Takeo’s simplistic but genuine approach ends up smoothing over the situation with Tanaka, and things seem to be evened out for a little bit.

Since this series is nearing the end, there’s a late breaking complication for Takeo and Yamato’s relationship that I’m sure will be resolved wonderfully in the last volume. It says a lot about the quality of My Love Story!! that I’m genuinely looking forward to some very conventional shoujo plot twists, because everything is just so well-executed and heartwarming.

The Girl From the Other Side: : Siúil, A Rún Vol. 1

The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, A Rún Volume 1 by Nagabe

This title from Seven Seas is totally the opposite of what I tend to expect from the publisher. The Girl From the Other Side is a fascinating dark fairy tale that has overtones of a philosophical thought experiment, while still presenting the reader with compelling art and characters.

Shiva lives with her teacher, a man with an affliction who appears to be half-man, half beast. They live in a house and venture out to an abandoned village to forage for food and household items. Shiva thinks that her aunt is going to appear soon to pick her up, but she’s actually been abandoned and her teacher can’t bring himself to tell her. There’s a divide between the remains of humanity, who seem to have retreated behind walls, and the land overtaken by “The Others”, people who have been cursed or perhaps contracted some sort of disease that robs them of their humanity.

Shiva’s teacher attempts to keep some sort of regular routine, and while Shiva runs around like the extremely resilient little girl that she is, the reader is filled with a growing sense of unease as more and more of her world is filled in. Is food going to run out at some time? Why are The Others, or anyone suspected of being in contact with them hunted down and killed? Is Shiva’s teacher different from the rest of The Others, and how did that manage to happen? How has Shiva even managed to survive up until this point? I haven’t read a manga before that manages to blend heartwarming slice of life moments with supernatural horror, but The Girl From the Other Side pulls it off masterfully. I’m not actually sure yet if The Others should be dreaded quite as much as the humans who are attempting to defend their society from them though.

The art in The Girl From the Other Side fits the themes of the story perfectly. Instead of a more generic or commercial style, Nagabe’s illustrations are filled with dark cross-hatching and tones that give the panels a feeling of an antique woodcut. Shiva is rendered almost entirely in white, providing a visual counterweight to the dark backgrounds. Shiva’s teacher is rendered in darkness, with the details of his face difficult to discern, making the condition of “The Others” seem more mysterious and frightening.

There’s an all ages rating on this manga, which I find odd. While there might be no sexual content and not much overt violence, the themes of the manga are both grim and emotionally challenging, and it isn’t a manga I would recommend for all audiences. That being said, this is one of the most unique and well-executed manga that I’ve read in quite some time, and I highly recommend it.

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Vol 8.

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Volume 8 by Aya Shouoto

This volume of The Demon Prince of Momochi House opens with a crisis, as Aoi hasn’t been able to reverse his usual transformation into the Nue, and he might be lost forever as his ayakashi form completely takes over. Himari has to go on a quest to try to find Aoi’s lost memories, which are her only hope of getting him back.

Himari first tries to locate Aoi’s family to see if there are any clues there that she can use to restore him, but her encounter with them takes an unexpected turn to the unsettling. There are always a few moments that stand out in each volume of this series when the combination of the otherworldly setting and lush detail of the art make the reader feel transported. In this one, as Himari travels into the ayakashi realm with her way lit by Nekobaba’s hairpin, she manages to find her way past a guardian who makes some references to her true name and her long-lost parents. Himari ends up at an archive for memories, which I found quite interesting as a librarian. She sees “drawers of thought” stretching into the distance and is faced with yet another choice – recovering some of her own lost memories about her past, or forgoing that choice to save Aoi. Of course, Himari doesn’t hesitate in trying to save her beloved friend.

Aoi’s memories show him close to the spirit world as a young child, even before his existence was bound to Momochi House. As Himari travels back, liberating her friend might prove more complicated, as the Nue embarks on a seduction campaign in order to preserve his existence. Demon Prince of Momochi House blends unsettling movements of supernatural mystery with some short sketches of character development and found family antics with Himari and the Momochi House spirits. Things seem to be turning in a darker direction now, but I’m confident Himari will find a way to persevere somehow.