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!

Anonymous Noise, Vol 6

Anonymous Noise, Volume 6 by Ryoko Fukuyama

Anonymous Noise, sometimes I find this series a little infuriating because I’m not fond of the dynamics in the Nino-Yuzu-Momo love triangle, where Nino as muse gets bounced back and forth between two songwriters while everyone keeps hiding their feelings for various reasons. On the other hand this series does bring a regular dose of rock band drama, which I do appreciate. I found this volume more entertaining, probably because there was a bit more focus on the supporting cast. This volume starts out with the aftermath of the In No Hurry vs Silent Black Kitty battle of the bands, where Nino runs after Momo, gets rejected, Yuzu shows up to pick up the pieces, and then decides to lie about his feelings again.

Momo vanishes and Nino’s psychosomatic reaction is to have difficulty singing again, but she does hang out Miou a little bit, which I am taking as an indication that my dream ending for the series, where Momo and Miou forswear all men to launch an all girl band is totally going to happen. One thing that I was quite thrilled with is that Miou finally decides to take a chance on Haruyoshi, who has been pursuing her forever. Nino is determined to get back her voice, and Yuzu and Momo are dealing with their obsessions in their own way, as Yuzu buries himself in songwriting, and Momo attempts to get Yuzu to slip one of his songs to Nino. The circular nature of the love triangle leads back to Nino yet again having to choose between the two songwriters.

I don’t know, as I put down this volume I found myself much more invested in the Miou/Haruyoshi romance, because it at least seems to be progressing somewhere! I still read this for the reliable angst and rock band poses, but I would really really like to see a little more progression for the main characters. Also, I miss cranky Nino, and hope she will manifest the snarkiness she exhibited during her band’s radio interview. Will that happen in volume 7????


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Yona of the Dawn Vol. 10

Yona of the Dawn Volume 10 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is a sign of a good long-running fantasy series, when at 10 volumes in I feel like the story is barely getting started and I just want it to go on forever! Part of the reason why I’m finding this manga so compelling to read is the inherent niceness of the characters. It might be cheesy, but this manga helps me maintain some hope for humanity. Yona’s ability to spread compassion throughout her immediate surroundings by demonstrating her own compassion gets featured often in Yona of the Dawn, but each time it is with a special twist that has me immediately captivated.

In this case, the target of Yona’s transformation through compassion is Kang Tae-Jun, second son of the fire chief and all around unpleasant person, as shown in his actions in earlier volumes when he thought he killed Yona by throwing her off a cliff. His obsession has continued, and he’s consumed with guilt when he realizes that Yona might be in the company of the fearsome bandits that are occupying a village. Tae-Jun’s trauma is played for laughs at first, as he lingers in bed and plots to return to Katan village where he thought he heard Yona’s voice. He declares that he finally has a reason for living and his men are bewildered, but supportive. Tae-Jun’s undercover attempts involve an inept disguise as a commoner. When he encounters members of Yona’s band, he assumes that they are evil, but they scoop him up and take him for medical treatment.

Tae-Jun learns that conditions in the town for the citizens are terrible, and the things he’s been told about the lands of the Fire Tribe were lies. Tae-Jun’s encounter with an enigmatic Hak is hilarious, as Hak maintains an enigmatic expression while Tae-Jun is inwardly dying as he realizes that he’s sharing a fire with the dreaded “Thunder Beast”. Kusanagi could teach a master class in drawing overwrought facial expressions as Tae-Jun goes through such an extreme of emotions in this volume. When Tae-Jun finally encounters Yona, she forgives him, and he then decides on a covert campaign to improve the lives of the Katan villagers, while leveraging the resources of the military under his command. Tae Jun keeps helping more and more, until he’s been transformed in his outlook and abilities by the end of the volume. This was a satisfying, more self-contained volume of Yona of the Dawn, but it seems clear that another adventure is about to begin. I’m excited to see what happens next for Yona and her band of mystical warriors.