SP Baby Vol. 2

SP Baby, Volume 2 by Maki Enjoji

I hadn’t realized before that this was only a two volume series! The second volume of SP Baby does exhibit some typical final second manga volume characteristics of plotlines going kablooie, but overall I enjoyed it as a peak into the possibilities of a slightly more lighthearted Maki Enjoji series.

Story wise, the pacing in this volume is a bit on the frantic side, as each chapter races through events that might have taken an entire volume to play out in a series with a bit more space. Tamaki deals with her infatuation for the florist next door, there’s an incident where she’s suddenly a maid for a short period of time, she continues to demonstrate her unerring bodyguarding instincts, the reader gets a little bit of information about Kagetora’s mysterious past connection to her, and a mysterious random fiancee is quickly disposed of. That’s a crazy amount of stuff to happen in one volume! Still, I liked the more comedic touch Enjoji brought to this series. Everyone’s Getting Married has me much more anxious about what will happen to the characters, but SP Baby was much lighter in tone, so I wasn’t reading every volume with a slight feeling of dread.

I enjoyed Tamaki’s frequent aggressive kicking and Kagetora’s intrinsic endearing weirdness and disconnection from reality. Enjoji’s art is always solid, easily portraying Tamaki’s swings of emotion from unchecked aggression to more tender feelings towards Kagetora. I really think that with 3 or 4 volumes and more time for the pacing to be more deliberate, SP Baby would have been so much better. As it is, it is a nice brief read that doesn’t quite come together in the end. Still recommended for fans of light and fluffy josei.

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.

Children of the Whales, Vol. 1

Children of the Whales Volume 1 by Abi Umeda

Dystopia manga can sometimes be a bit tricky. Some have great world building, some have intriguing characters, some have compelling story lines, but you don’t often get a manga that has the perfect ratio of those three elements. I very much liked the setting of Children of the Whales, but the character and story development fell a little flat to me in the first volume.

The Mud Whale is an floating island adrift on a sea of sand, and Chakuro serves as the archivist, chronicling the lives of the people. One class of people with magical powers called thymia tend to die young. The less gifted are long-lived elders who end up governing the Mud Whale. One thing I liked very much about this title was the art. The desolate sea of sand contrasts with the rounded towers of the Mud Whale, and the bleak horizon in the background serves to underscore the isolation of the characters. Aspects of the art reminded me a little bit of Nausicaa, particularly the lack of hard edges and the look of the eroded buildings. The setting is one of the most compelling things about Children of the Whales, however I think the story could have benefited from being a bit more slowly paced. There was a bit of a tendency to dump way too much background information in Chakuro’s internal narration, instead of letting the reader discover this world in a more organic fashion. Since so much of the manga is spent in Chakuro’s head, the other characters just don’t seem as developed, with their motivations not as thoroughly explored.

As can be expected in a story that centers on an isolated society, when outside influences come in, the world of the Mud Whale is tested in unusual and violent ways. This first volume was intriguing, but it didn’t totally make me invested in wanting to find out what would happen to the characters, which is a little disappointing because it ends on a shocking cliffhanger. There were enough aspects of Children of the Whales that I did like that I would give the second volume a try, just to see if things come together a little bit better once all the exposition is out of the way.