Kenka Bancho Otome, Vol 1

Kenka Bancho Otome by Chie Shimada

Kenka Bancho Otome has many elements that I like present in a single manga. There is a reverse harem scenario in which a girl has to dress as a boy! It is an adaptation of an otome game, and I enjoy the occasional otome game (still playing Ninja Shadow). Also, there is punching and juvenile delinquency involved, and I do greatly appreciate shoujo manga heroines with the ability to perform acts of physical strength.

One thing I found absolutely hilarious was the way the set-up for the whole manga was taken care of in about 5 panels. Hinako, an orphan, is about to start her high school career at an all girls school, when she brushes against a boy who fakes a violent fall. The mysterious boy’s manservant tells her that he has broken his arm, and Hinako is forced to attend his school entrance ceremony in his place. Conveniently, the “injured” boy is Hinako’s doppleganger. She finds herself dressed as a boy, attending an all boys school for juvenile delinquents. Hinako is cosplaying as Hikaru Onigashima, the son of a yakuza boss, whose family obligations require him to become the boss of the school by beating up everyone around him. I sort of wish the rest of the manga took place at such a breakneck speed, but I’m sure that would not be practical to execute.

This being an adaptation of an otome game, handsome boys of different types are introduced in short succession. There’s the mysterious dark-haired uppperclassman with a secret shared past with Hinako, a sporty exuberant boy who blushes all the time, a silent boy with hidden depths, and a flamboyant rock star. I can’t remember their names because the characters are not really all that memorable, but that’s not really the point! Kenka Bancho Otome steps through many standard shoujo plot points with a breezy charm and attractive character designs. It did make me wish that the game was available on android, because I totally would have played it after reading the manga. On that level, I think the manga is a success. It was fun to read, mainly because I’m always up for punching and reverse harem manga. On the other hand, any otome game adaptation isn’t going to have the emotional depth of a manga like Hana Kimi or the hilarity of a series like Oresama Teacher. So Kenka Bancho Otome is nice and diverting, when someone might be in the need of a pleasant distraction, which is a mood I find myself in most of the time.

Takane & Hana, Vol. 2

Takane & Hana Volume 2 by Yuki Shiwasu

I enjoyed the first volume of this series, but it is always good to see how a new manga series will settle in after the author has gotten through introducing the characters and plot points in the first five chapters or so. It was interesting to see this odd couple continue to navigate situations that are out of their respective comfort zones. Hana attends an important work social event with Takane, made up to resemble her older sister. Hana then concludes (sensibly) that the age difference between them is too great and attempts to push Takane away, but that doesn’t go well. Hana then takes Takane out to cherry blossom viewing where he has to deal with being around throngs of people. One of the nice things about this series is seeing how this couple tends to push each other to experience new things, and then be very supportive of each other. One of Takane’s playboy friends shows up and awakens all of his protective instincts towards Hana. Shiwasu makes a comment in this volume about how much she enjoys drawing funny facial expressions and it really shows in the artwork for this series. I feel like even if there was very little character development or dialogue I would almost buy this series just to see Takane’s perplexed and incredulous facial expressions as he attempts to deal with Hana shoving a sea cucumber into his mouth. At two volumes in, Takane & Hana is still a fun, breezy read, and a welcome dose of shoujo comedy.


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The Young Master’s Revenge, Vol. 1

The Young Master’s Revenge, Vol. 1 by Meca Tanaka

Meca Tanaka’s manga is so charming! I thought that the first page of The Young Master’s Revenge was one of the most captivating first pages of manga that I’ve read recently. All in black, the thought “It is time for me to start my revenge” hovers while a boy accompanied by a lovely shoujo floral background illustration is leaving an airport with a bright smile and an adorable dog in a carrier. The contrast between the dark thoughts and the stereotypical innocent hero illustration immediately drew my attention.

The vengeful hero is Leo, a boy returning to Japan to attend high school after his father’s fashion company has become incredibly successful. Before he left Japan, he used to be friends with an heiress to a department store named Tenma. She was a tomboy who loved chasing animals, accidentally getting Leo into a situation where he was bitten on the butt by turtles, which has caused him years of psychological trauma. Leo has nursed his hatred for 10 years, turning himself into the perfect specimen of a high school boy just so he can make Tenman fall in love with him and then dump her. Unfortunately he finds out that things have changed in Japan and his path to revenge is not so smooth. Tenma’s family has fallen on hard times, and when he meets her again, she picks up her friendship with him exactly where they left off, but without any romantic notions at all.

Tanaka’s illustrations easily switch between capably showing the subtle emotions in the growing friendship between Tenma and Leo to straight out caricature. Tanaka’s characters have the most adorable surprised facial expressions. Leo grows more distressed as he realizes that other boys are aware of Tenma too, and potential rivals for her affection are introduced in such over the top ways, it is fun to see Tanaka poking fun at some typical shoujo conventions. Leo’s reasons for revenge are ridiculous, but this manga isn’t mean spirited at all. I preferred the revenge story in this manga as opposed to Komomo Confiserie which has an extremely similar plot because The Young Master’s Revenge never seems to cross the line into meanness at all. For me this manga fills that slot on my reading list for simple, cute, and adorable manga that has been left a little vacant by series like My Love Story!! and Honey So Sweet that have recently finished.

Skip Beat, Vol. 40 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat Volume 40 by Yoshiki Nakamura

The cover of this volume made me happy, because it has been a little while since Kyoko and Moko were hanging out together! As a consequence this volume is decidedly light on Ren, but as always there are trade-offs and compromises in both life and manga. Skip Beat is such a long-running series that is so well-done that even when plot elements are used over and over again I find myself looking forward to what new spin Nakamura will put on the situation. When I realized that there would be a big audition coming up, I was curious to see how Kyoko would handle it with all the progress she’s been making to become more sure of herself and her acting.

Kyoko and Moko are up for a part in a ninja-related series, so there’s an impressive training montage where they have to visit a master of stage fighting and learn all the technique they need to be believable on the screen. The drama about the audition is amped up even more when Kyoko learns that she’s competing for the part against one of Ren’s former co-stars. An additional element of mystery is layered on with the return of Koenji, who has a psychosomatic illness after being in a bad accident. Kyoko heads into auditions with Ren’s manager on her side as well. Nakamura does a great job setting up a variety of story elements with a new beginning, making Skip Beat! still feel fresh 40 volumes in.

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!