Sweet Blue Flowers, Vol 1

Sweet Blue Flowers Volume 1 by Takako Shimura

The Viz signature line might not have quite as much hype as it did when it first launched, but it is nice to see it reserved for titles that deserve special treatment, like Sweet Blue Flowers. I had high expectations for this title based on Takako Shimura’s sensitivity and artistry in her other series Wandering Son, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Sweet Blue Flowers starts by showing old friends reconnecting. Akira Okudaira meets Fumi Manjome on her way to school, and the girls fend off train gropers together. They head off to different schools, where Fumi deals with her crippling shyness, and Akira has an easier time fitting in. Akira banters with her family about the possibility of bringing home a girlfriend from her all-girls high school. The girls’ mothers reconnect and they realize that they were kindergarten friend. Back then, Akira served as Fumi’s protector when dealing with all the trials and tribulations of childhood.

As the story unfolded in this manga, I was struck with the economy of Shimura’s storytelling, and how small moments or single panels are filled with significance. Fumi is upset about her cousin’s marriage to an extent that seems slightly beyond the norm, even for a girl who has retained some of her childhood tendency to burst into tears as an adolescent. Shimura captures the hazards of teen girls taking public transportation in a short panel sequence that focuses on a disembodied reaching hand and Akira’s shocked facial expression. Shimura is also wonderful at scattering plot points throughout the manga in a way that makes the narrative feel like it just evolves naturally from the daily lives of the characters. Fumi’s relationship with her cousin is mentioned more as the book unfolds, as Fumi becomes involved with the dashing Yasuko, who takes on the role of Heathcliff in a production of Wuthering Heights.

Akira is steadfastly supportive, and as the manga unfolds Sweet Blue Flowers’ slice of life approach to exploring friendship and romance draws the reader in. Shimura’s subtle storytelling and sensitivity towards character development makes reading this manga a pleasure. I’m disappointed with myself that I took so long to finally read this volume!

Kamisama Kiss Vol. 25 – limited edition

Kamisama Kiss Volume 25 Limited Edition by Julietta Suzuki

I had a good time getting caught up on this series in order to enjoy the special edition concluding volume. After having to deal with the grand conclusion of the saga concerning Tomoe and Akura-ou, including visiting the land of the dead, tracking down Akura-oh’s immortal body, and dealing with Nanami’s decline after having her life force taken from her, the final volume gives all the characters in Kamisama Kiss some much needed breathing room, as Nanami and Tomoe prepare to enter the world of human adulthood together. Along the way Nanami helps out the Kotaro and Himemiko one last time, and it is nice to have this circular moment of returning to some of Nanami’s first friends after she became attached to the Ayakashi world.

Nanami and Tomoe’s wedding is a little bittersweet, because when they both become human, they’ll become cut off from the world where all their friends live. This is especially hard on Mizuki, who is worried about being left alone. Nanami and Tomoe decide to marry on the last possible day before becoming human, so everyone can be invited to the wedding. I do enjoy final volumes that allow the reader to say goodbye to an extended cast of characters, and this volume pulls off the reunion and celebration in a lively fashion, with detailed wedding costumes and panels that pause to show all the wedding guests. Someone as capable and arrogant as Tomoe isn’t going to have too much difficulty fitting into the human world, and the final chapter shows just how capable the newly human couple is at adapting to their new life.

The limited edition featured a slim hardcover book with the first few pages devoted to small reproductions of the color pages in the manga volumes. This was done in a collage, year-book style layout which was nice, but it also made me really long for an oversized volume of Julietta Suzuki illustrations because some of the detail was lost. The bulk of the volume is an extra bonus story that shows more of Nanami and Tomoe’s life after becoming human, with bonus pencil sketches of the final chapter of the manga. It was nice to get a window into Suzuki’s artistic process, I only wish the special bonus book had been two times the size and twice as long, but I shouldn’t be greedy! Kamisama Kiss was such a special series, I’m glad the final volume got a little extra bonus for the long-time fans who have enjoyed the series for so long.

Haikyu!! Vols 3 and 4

Haikyu!! Volumes 3 and 4 by Haruichi Furudate

I have great difficulty reading Haikyu!! because my kids keep stealing my volumes and rereading them before I have a chance to get to them, but I recently managed to find volumes 3 and 4 and stash them away so I finally got a chance get caught up. I’m very much enjoying the pacing of the story in Haikyu!! and also the accelerated release schedule that Viz has been setting for these volumes, so I don’t have to wait too long for the next one. The first couple volumes firmly established the new rookies on the volleyball team, Kageyama the perfectionist and Hinata the enthusiastic but short volleyball savant, but two rookies can’t make up a whole team. There are still some essential players missing, and these two volumes did a good job at filling in the gaps of the Karasuno High Volleyball team.

The third volume introduces Karusuno’s libero, a player who specializes in defence. Yu Nishinoya is even shorter than Hinata, and he’s fiercely dedicated to his specialist position. When he shows up to practice, he’s disappointed that Karasuno’s ace Asahi isn’t participating. He refuses to play without Asahi, but is won over by Hinata’s enthusiasm and desire to learn. The spector of the missing Asahi hovers over practice, and when the reader is introduced to him, he looks at first like a mild giant, his fighting spirit knocked out of him by a horrible volleyball loss the last time he played.

Another missing piece is a coach, Keishin Ukai, the grandson of the legendary coach who was responsible for Karasuno’s winning era. Ukai promptly sets up a new challenge for the high school kids – they have to play the local municipal team of adults. Along the way, Yu actually mangest to get Asahi involved in the game again. Bolstered by additional players and a coach, the team is starting to pull together.

The fourth volume shows the team take on a new challenge – a practice game with their traditional rivals, Nekoma High. One of the things I enjoyed most about this volume was seeing the personalities and playing habits of Karasuno pitted against another high school team. Karasuno still has a long way to go, but they have flashes of brilliance here and there which hint at success in future volumes. Sometimes sheer determination and repetition forces Hinata to take his game to the next level. The trust developing between all the teammates is also key to their improved performance.

Haikyu!! is just delightful to read, and while I might be inadvertently learning more about volleyball strategy than I ever expected, seeing all the subplots develop as each member of the team has individual struggles to reach their full potential is what makes this series so entertaining. Widening the focus of the story to include other team members like Asahi and Nishinoya keeps everything fresh, as the rookies have to adjust to the changing team dynamics.

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Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 2

Yona of the Dawn Volume 2 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I’m enjoying the way this story seems to is moving along at a fairly fast clip, but still seems to have plenty of time for character development and world building. In the last volume Princess Yona’s world was utterly shattered and she has to go on the run with her trusty protector Hak. He takes her to the home village of the wind tribe in order to seek refuge for a short time. I was happy to see that in this volume, Yona’s resolute spirit is highlighted, since she was mostly silly, sassy, and incredibly depressed in the first volume.

As they reach the Wind Tribe, there’s a little bit of comic relief as Hak meets up with some fellow warriors. Yona is exhausted, but living among the Wind Tribe helps her gain back some resiliency as she’s surrounded by a warm family. Hak continues to tease Yona somewhat relentlessly in such a way that I’m assuming that he’s just trying to cover up for his feelings for her. Yona has an opportunity to stay and live a quiet live with the Wind Tribe, but when it becomes clear that Su-Won isn’t going to stop trying to track her down. Yona is still a valuable political pawn.

What I most enjoyed about this volume is that I was able to see some flashes of the heroine I’m sure Yona is going to become. When Hak tries to leave her behind, she cuts through his joking demeanor and demands his fealty, and they strike out on their own again. Su Won’s soldiers are determined to capture Yona, and she stands up to the enemy, demonstrating that she isn’t the broken princess they were assuming they would find.

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QQ Sweeper, Vol 3

QQ Sweeper, Volume 3 by Kyousuke Motomi

I hadn’t realized that this series was so short, followed by a rebooted sequel series. So this concluding volume isn’t so much of an ending as it is wrapping up one stage of the series and signaling a new one. Still, with Motomi behind things, QQ Sweeper still manages to be a pretty satisfying non-concluding three volume series, and I hope Queen’s Quality also gets licensed.

As the volume opens, Kyutaro knows that Fumi is his long-lost childhood friend, but her peculiar amnesia prevents her from remembering any elements of her previous life. He’s content to be near her, even if she doesn’t regain her memories. While there is a little bit of school drama, most of the conflict in this volume comes from Fumi being signaled out by a new enemy, Ataru, pretending to be a boy with fortunetelling skills. Ataru shows up for group karaoke dates but then manipulates everyone around him by intoning dark prophecies. One of Fumi’s friends is particularly susceptible to this type of plotting, and Fumi soon finds herself gossiped about as being cursed yet again. Fortunately some of her closest friends don’t fall into this trap, and QQ Sweeper shows that there’s plenty of possibility for redemption in humanity after all.

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All along in Fumi’s efforts to become a sweeper and clean up bad supernatural messes, there have been hints of a larger destiny for her. As Fumi and Kyutaro confront Ataru, he references Fumi’s potential to become a Queen, and she exhibits a greater degree of confidence and control in bring back her friend’s lost soul. Motomi series always have an endearing quirkiness about them, that when combined with the themes of friendship and found family result in manga with a unique feel. QQ Sweeper‘s juxtaposition of random domestic cleaning with violent supernatural confrontation with some humor here and there made me wish that this wasn’t the last volume. I hope to see these characters again in Queen’s Quality if Viz decides to bring out that series too!