Queen’s Quality Vol 2

Queen’s Quality Volume 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

Kyousuke Motomi shoujo series are entertaining and refreshing for me to read, because while romance certainly is a feature, it often takes a backseat to subversive humor and action oriented plots involving hackers or the demons that lurk inside the souls of humans. This volume of Queen’s Quality continues the exploration into the twisted soul of a teacher who was bullying students, and Fumi and Kyutaro have to combine their abilities yet again in order to root out the bugs that cause a sort of soul malaise to spread to people like an infectious disease.

Motomi’s humor is on full display in a scene where Fumi is going to pick her sacred psychic weapon and instead of summoning a spear of light or magic sword she conjures a long-handled scrub brush. Kyutaro suggests that she try for another weapon but Fumi is delighted with her weapon because it is perfectly balanced and the best possible implement for cleaning toilets. Fumi’s cartoonish enthusiasm as she waves her brush around in the air is one of the few light-hearted moments in this volume, because once the Sweepers head into the brain of Ms Hayashi, things get both scary and surreal.

Kyutaro’s role as a steady emotional support to Fumi becomes even more important as she reveals another aspect to her hidden power as they battle their most challenging bugs yet. The layers of protection that exist in Fumi’s mind that hide her memories as well as her ability to consciously manifest her role as a “Queen” make Queen’s Quality an intriguing character study. The violent psychic landscape that the couple has to navigate contrasts with the more mundane chores of cleaning and making rice porridge back in the real world. Motomi is great at portraying slightly broken characters with great nuance, and it’ll be interesting to see if Fumi and Kyutaro manage to heal each other and achieve some sort of peace by the end of the series.

Water Dragon’s Bride Vol. 4

Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 4 by Rei Toma

One of the reasons why this manga is so fun to read is that each volume starts out with a slight change in circumstances for the characters. In volume 4 the Water Dragon is now undercover as a human, and Asahi is looking at him as a odd experimental subject, as she teases him into eating human food, even though it isn’t going to have an effect on him. Subaru is a bit creeped out by this new arrangement, but still determined to serve as Asahi’s human protector.

As Asahi completes her yearly ritual, she requests that the Water Dragon God take her and Subaru on a trip during her usual three days of disappearance after the ritual is completed. One of the areas on narrative tension in this series is contrasting the Water Dragon God’s basic inhumanity with the inhumane behavior of humans to each other. When the trio travel to a distant country that happens to be under threat from a natural disaster, the villages there try to offer up a girl as a sacrifice. Asahi can’t get the Water Dragon God to intervene, so she offers herself up as a substitute. She relies on her power to make it rain when she cries to fend off the threatening fire.

Asahi’s powers end up placing her in a priestess role again, and she has to intervene in an outbreak of illness and contend with the local boy emperor. Toma’s illustrations, which often contain little to no backgrounds when the characters are experiencing emotional turmoil, help the reader appreciate the symbolic and otherworldly nature of the situations Asahi finds herself in. Asahi attempts to shield Subaru from her intense sadness, but he understands what she’s trying to hide from him. The Water Dragon God gradually seems to be taking on more human emotions, so it will be interesting to see how his personality continues to evolve, and if Asahi will ever be able to find her way home.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol 9

Yona of the Dawn Volume 9 by Mizuho Kusanagi

Excellent manga continues to be excellent isn’t the most earth shattering reaction to the latest volume of Yona of the Dawn, but it is absolutely true. This latest episode swings between pathos and humor with the ease that I expect from Kusanagi. After meeting up with the Yellow Dragon, all of Yona’s guardians are assembled. What’s going to happen next? They wander into a village that Yun had adopted in the past only to find out that their food stores are low. Yona’s group immediately starts competeting to see who can deny that they are hungry the longest as they help to fix up the village, despite plenty of evidence of rumbling stomachs. Yona wants to see how the people are living as a manifestation of the poor choices her father made when he was king. The villagers are being preyed upon by a local gang of bandits, and Yona promptly proclaims that she’s the head of a rival gang called “The Dark Dragon and the Happy Hungry Bunch” in order to banish the bandits.

This is all pretty hilarious, especially the way the new gang starts threatening the villagers by forcing them to take extra portions of supplies and candy. But the local bandits once driven off come back in force, and things get serious. Sinha ends up confronting his terrible destructive power with Yona’s help. He’s drawn in shadow, with the focus on his eyes that allow his powers to manifest, seeming almost monstrous until Yona prevents him from using his powers in a way that he might later regret. As always with this series, while Yona has been training to build her capacity to fight, it is her insight into human nature and her genuine support of her companions that allow them to get through difficult moments.

This is such a pleasure to read, and I’m happy that Viz decided to all in on a multi-volume fantasy manga series. Seeing how the characters evolve in a series where there’s time for the mangaka to do slow and deliberate character development is extremely rewarding.

The Promised Neverland, Vol 1

The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu

This series is one of more intriguing debuts that I’ve read from the Shonen Jump line in a long time. It is also a very difficult series to write about due to a pretty dramatic plot twist that happens around 40 pages into the manga, but I’m going to be deliberately vague and avoid spoilers.
The series opens with a semi-idyllic portrayal of life in an orphanage in what looks like a non-specific European country. Emma, Norman, and Ray are some of the oldest orphans, and each is gifted with some special talents. Emma is a tremendous athlete, Norman is incredibly smart, and Ray is a strategic thinker who is constantly honing his powers of observation. The orphans are cared for by a woman named Mom, who they all love as the only adult in their lives. As the first few pages unfold, small details in the art start to unsettle the reader. Why do all the orphans have numeric sequences tattooed on their necks? Why do they all have to dress in white? Why are they subjected to what looks like insanely detailed IQ tests in the morning, and then given the freedom to roam around the woods that surround the orphanage in the afternoon?

The orphans make a discovery that causes them to question the environment that they’ve been raised in, and their unique personalities and perspectives cause them to band together to start to assess their situation and develop a plan of action. While Emma is smart, one of the greatest things she brings to the team is moral clarity and a sense of urgency. The two boys are more cerebral, with Norman being more book smart, and Ray serving as a mastermind who is initially focused most on what is practical to accomplish. This volume focuses mainly on the orphans testing their assumptions and working together to figure out how The Promised Neverland doesn’t really live up to the fairy-tale aspects of the title. The art in the series features faces that are a but smushy, but very expressive of emotion. Emma’s hairstyle looks like a reference to Duck in Princess Tutu, so I found that amusing. The Promised Neverland is incredibly dark, but seeing how resourceful the orphans are brings an element of hope into play for the reader. The first volume of the series easily draws the reader into the sinister world the orphans are resisting. Extremely entertaining, and I’m already impatient for the next volume.

Idol Dreams, Vol. 4

Idol Dreams Volume 4, by Arina Tanemura

I’m always up for any Arina Tanemura manga, but I do spend a great deal of time while I am reading Idol Dreams mentally preparing for disaster to strike, as the storyline of a hapless editor with no self confidence and few social skills reliving her teen years as an aspiring idol singer named Hikari with the help of magic pills just seems fraught with traumatic situations. This volume definitely went somewhat into the danger zone, as Chikage in her 15 year old persona decides to go out on at date with her fellow teen idol Ru. The volume opens with Chikage telling Tokita all about her teen romance plans, and he doesn’t point out the inherent problems of Chikage dating someone half her age very strongly, but he does ask the pointed question, “Are you going to tell him that you’re actually 31?” GOOD QUESTION TOKITA!

Chikage is nervous about her upcoming date and gets some tips from one of her coworkers. Quite frankly, as a reader, I was nervous about this date too as it seems like a horrible idea, but my anxiety was blunted somewhat when Ru decided to cross dress so his fans wouldn’t recognize him. Chikage and Ru go out, looking like a couple of girlfriends. Really, the only possible happy ending for this manga is for Chikage to not emotionally damage any of the teenagers she’s hanging out with, and gain enough confidence to actually become a functional adult. There are some slight signs of progress with her adult life in this volume, as she shows how adept she is at dealing with an editorial emergency at work.

As Chikage learns more about Ru, she realizes that she can’t continue to go out with him, but she chooses to break up with him in a particularly cruel way. Chikage’s lack of emotional intelligence is leaving plenty of distress in her wake, but I’m not sure if she realizes what she’s doing. I do miss Tanemura’s more teenage-centric manga, but I’m certainly curious about what will happen next in Idol Dreams.