SP Baby, Vol. 1

SP Baby Volume 1 by Maki Enjoji

I’m a pretty big fan of Enjoji’s series Happy Marriage so I was excited when it was announced that Shojo Beat would be bringing out another series of hers. While Happy Marriage has an undercurrent of tension (spoiler alert! no one is getting married yet), the first volume of SP Baby is more of a comedic workplace romance.

Tamaki Hasegawa is struggling to find a full-time job. She needs to better support both herself and her little brother who is about to enter college. She has an ordinary life where one of the highlights is her helpless pining for her long-time friend Natsu who works in a flower shop. One day she sees one man chasing another on the street and jumps in to help by attempting a kick to the head of the threatening man. He promptly catches her ankle, leaving her at a loss on what to do next. After it becomes clear that the two men in question know each other, Tamaki apologizes for interrupting a lover’s quarrel and runs away. Her adventures are not over because the next day she’s shoved into a car carrying Kagetora Sugou, the man who she attempted to defend. He gives her a suit with a short skirt and announces that he’s going to interview her for the full-time job of being his bodyguard.

Kagetora is a nice contrast from Ryu in Everyone’s Getting Married. Kagetora is of course rich, but there’s an odd open-hearted innocence in his mannerisms and actions, like when he gives the people he works with nicknames that are usually reserved for cats. He alludes to having met Tamaki in the past, which is something that she has no memory of. Tamaki embarks on her new job, which necessitates dealing with some intense training in martial arts as well as finally getting her driver’s license. While it is obvious that her new boss is romantically interested in her, Tamaki keeps reminding herself of her so far one-sided affection for Natsu.

Enjoji’s art is always solid, and she easily captures the extreme emotions that Tamaki deals with as she ends up on an impromptu date with Kagetora or gives in to her lighting-fast violent reflexes. By the end of SP Baby, I was rooting for this very odd couple and wanting to see more of this story unfold. February is a long time to wait for the next volume! I recommend this title if you enjoy josei comedies with heroines who have a tendency to kick people in the head.

I Hear the Sunspot

I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino

I Hear the Sunspot was a delightful surprise, and not a title that I expected to see One Peace Books license. For those of you who have been wishing for some slice of life character-driven shounen-ai manga, this title will easily fulfill your manga cravings.

I Hear the Sunspot traces the developing friendship between a couple of college students. Kohei, a student with hearing difficulties who keeps himself isolated from his classmates. Taichi is an outspoken semi-slacker who finds it difficult to keep a full-time job. Taichi is also perpetually hungry. After accidentally stumbling on one of Kohei’s hiding spots, Taichi finds himself gifted with Kohei’s lunch after staring at it with hungry eyes. The entire exchange is wordless on Kohei’s part and Taichi checks up on him with other students afterwards, finding out that Kohei needs volunteer note takers in order to support his studies.

One of the things I liked so much about this series was Fumino’s art. She has a great facility with facial expressions, where Taichi’s open, smiling mannerisms contrast with Kohei’s carefully cultivated almost expressionless looks as he is repeatedly confronted by someone who isn’t going to take “No” for an answer in his attempts at friendship. Taichi turns out to be a less than stellar note taker due to his habits of falling asleep or zoning out in class, but Kohei pays him for his efforts by bringing him extraordinarily delicious lunches. Kohei gradually begins to open up more thanks to Taichi’s efforts to include him in regular school activities, and the slice of life school stories mixed with small scenes showing the depth of this new friendship made I Hear the Sunspot a pleasure to read.

One of my favorite moments in the book was when Taichi finds himself in conversation with a girl who asks about Kohei in a really intrusive way, clearly indicating that she is invested in the idea of herself acting benevolent to a person with a disability. Taichi gets angry, and his reaction is just on the edge of being a little too upset, to the point where I started to wonder if he was romantically jealous in addition to wanting to protect his new friend. Character driven moments like this are why I Hear the Sunspot is now one of my favorite manga of the past year. I’m happy to hear that One Peace Books is also picking up at least one of the sequel volumes, and I’m so curious to find out what happens next in this slowly developing romance.

Beasts of Abigaile Vol. 2

Beasts of Abigaile Volume 2 by Spica Aoki

I enjoyed the first volume of this series more than I was expecting to, so I was hoping that the second volume would deliver more paranormal romance trashy fun, and I was not disappointed. Nina continues to attempt to survive her undercover existence at werewolf school, ending up with more power and influence than anyone would have predicted.

Towards the end of the first volume, Nina takes an interest in Poe, a somewhat non-verbal artist who as an Omega, gets picked on by the rest of the students and the instructors. Nina is unhappy about the unsanctioned fight clubs that put students up against real live wolfs. Meanwhile, Roy and mean girl Eva seem to be having some significant fractures in their relationship, as Roy continues to find Nina fascinating, and Eva lurks in the bushes like a lupine Maleficent, spying on her possible female rival. Nina wants to let Poe into her pack, the White Rose Maiden Association, but the art kids that she hangs out with don’t want their status to drop by taking him in. They’d also be put in a position of danger in needing to defend him against other students as well. Eventually the situation boils over and Nina impetuously volunteers to take Poe’s place in the fight club. She declares herself Poe’s Alpha and says that she’ll fight all his battles for him. While Nina’s karate skills come in handy, she’s eventually rescued by Giles, who always seems to be around when she needs him.

This volume filled in a little bit of the backstory, both with Nina’s past history with bullying that makes her a relentless advocate for the downtrodden, and also some of the history of the school and why Poe has been placed in such a lowly position. Roy continues to be a total jerk, and I’m hoping that Nina doesn’t end up with him in the end, but with the way shoujo manga tends to go I’m guessing Nina’s influence will change him from being a terrible person. The art in this series continues to be well-executed, even if it doesn’t have a very distinct style. I’m still enjoying this series, but I tend to be a bit of an easy mark for supernatural shoujo.

Honey So Sweet, Vol. 8

Honey So Sweet Volume 8 by Amu Meguro

I’m a little worried about Shojo Beat’s list of titles now, because with both My Love Story!! and Honey So Sweet ending, it seems to be like there is a slight lack of super adorable manga currently being published. I’m sure something else will come along soon to full fans’ need for low conflict shoujo where everyone is genuinely nice to each other, but in the meantime I might have to get that extra warm and fuzzy feeling by rereading older series instead of from new manga.

This final volume focused on the characters’ all getting their lives together as Nao and Taiga start to approach the end of high school. In particular, Nao’s uncle Sou finally has a chance at a life outside of being a parent, as a long-lost love from his past suddenly reappears in his life. Sou has put aside his own feelings to a degree, with all of his efforts focused on Nao’s happiness. Nao is determined to demonstrate that she’s capable of being more self-sufficient, with the goal of encouraging Sou to move on. She has some predictably funny mishaps in her first attempts at household management.

In the end, Taiga’s usual blunt nature and heartfelt feelings cut to the heart of the matter in a conversation with Sou. Sou might find a way to move on as the young couple enters adulthood together. There’s a predictably happy ending, and a bonus story in the back of the manga that shows the first, one-shot version of the story. Overall, while Honey So Sweet might not be the most challenging manga to read, the whimsical illustrations and gentle pacing of the plot in each volume made it a perfect stress relieving manga. It is difficult to feel cynical about the world when reading Honey So Sweet, and that’s the main reason why I enjoyed this series so much.

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.