Knight of the Ice, Vol 1

Knight of the Ice Volume 1 by Yayoi Ogawa

I think Tramps Like Us (Kimi Wa Pet) started coming out here in the mid 2000s, and 15+ years is a long time to wait between Yayoi Ogawa series. Fortunately for anyone in the need of sports-based josei distraction in these trying times, Knight of the Ice serves up plenty of Ogawa’s off-kilter humor along with workplace romance hijinks. The heroine of this story is Chitose, who works at a magazine. She’s so incredibly tiny that she’s sometimes mistaken for a child, which causes her some problems in the workplace.

Knight of the Ice

Chitose’s childhood friend Kokoro is a champion figure skater, who is able to keep up his flawless facade on the ice only when Chitose is present to cast a magical girl spell on him by quoting the anime they were both obsessed with as children. Having to suddenly disappear right around ice skating championships also causes problems when Chitose has to duck out of work without any clear explanations. Her boss Sawada keeps making references to her tiny size by giving her a nickname that references the Moomins, but he also seems to be a little more aware of Chitose as a woman than he should be. The set-up of a figure skater with severe performance anxiety is funny by itself, but Ogawa also adds additional humor with Kokoro’s domanatrix-like manager, and the occasional appearance of “Yayoi Ogawa”, an old school friend of Chitose who occasionally appears to offer commentary and life advice. Ogawa’s art is distinctive and energetic, capturing Kokoro’s graceful poses along with plenty of emotional outbursts and quieter moments of romantic confusion. Ogawa does a good job slowly setting up the potential love triangle between Chitose, Sawada, and Kokoro. Her quirky sensibilities make this first volume extremely engaging. I’m on board for this whole series!

An Incurable Case of Love, Vol. 2

An Incurable Case of Love, Volume 2 by Maki Enjoji

As with most romance manga I was totally expecting an additional antagonist to show up to further complicate the non-relationship between Dr. Tendo and nurse Nanase. Dr Kusagi is unfailingly smiling, with a focus on his outward demeanor that seems suspicious. Kusagi quickly keys in to the budding relationship between Nanase and Tendo and attempts to subvert it by plying Nanase with alcohol, even though after an earlier outburst and piggybacking episode with Dr Tendo, she is determined to cut down on her consumption.

Tendo immediately starts acting irrationally territorial, and if you enjoy grouchy and withholding heroes, this manga has plenty of scenes of Tendo attempting to object to things and then realizing that he has little standing to interfere in Nanase’s life. This doesn’t stop him though!

While the story is developing with a very familiar formula, Enjoji is executing it extremely well, with little touches that make the series unique. I continue to be amused by the workplace culture at the hospital, and the gang of nurses who continue on with their nicknames of “Valiant One” for Nanase and “Dark Lord” for Tendo. Their support of this unconventional mentoring relationship developing into a friendship is mainly because no one wants to be the target of the Dark Lord’s criticism, but it all still manages to seem like a relatively supportive and friendly workplace! The hospital setting also feels a bit fresh to me after reading plenty of manga series set in offices. Enjoji doesn’t have a ton of variation in her character designs, but she does draw with great expression as Nanase struggles to deal with her romantic life and move ahead with her goals as a new nurse.

Nanase and Tendo keep getting thrown together for various reasons, and the volume closes with a take on a serious situation that can befall any woman who might be easily targeted in a helping or service profession. The main workplace romance combined with side stories dealing with more serious topics seems like a promising way for this series to develop. I’m also enjoying Nanase’s personality, she’s young but still sometimes blunt about expressing what she wants, and I’m curious about how her character will develop as she becomes more comfortable with her new profession. We might only get one josei disguised as shoujo series being released at a time from Shojo Beat, but An Incurable Case of Love fits in well with the rest of the line, and I’m enjoying it while I wait for even more josei releases.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 9

Everyone’s Getting Married Volume 9 by Izumi Miyazono

I’m always glad when Viz puts out stealth josei under the Shojo Beat imprint, and while it might mean only one josei series from them running every year or so, I’ll take what I can get. The final volume of Everyone’s Getting Married reminded me a bunch of a last episode of a Korean drama, because Ryu and Asuka keep quasi breaking up and getting back together after long periods of time pass. Couples separating and reconciling in a dramatic fashion after many years is such a Korean drama staple!

everyone's getting married 9

All along, Ryu’s fervent opposition to marriage and Asuka’s total commitment to becoming a homemaker as her ultimate goal created plenty of dramatic tension throughout the series. It was difficult to envision a happy ending where both of them would be fulfilled, but this final volume showed in an episodic fashion how their personalities shifted a bit after they paused their relationship. Asuka started finding more fulfillment and rewards at work, while Ryu realized that he can’t be solely committed to his career. It takes the wedding of an equally unlikely couple, Rio and Hiroki, to bring Asuka and Ryu back together for good. This volume was much more episodic in nature than previous volumes, with the story unfolding more like a series of vignettes. I put down this volume appreciating all the emotional depth Miyazono brought to the story. Since most of the Shojo Beat imprint focuses on high school romance, it was refreshing to have a series featuring adults dealing with relationships and commitment issues. Now I’ve just got to be patient for fall when the Maki Enjoji series An Incurable Case of Love comes out for my next mainstream josei fix from Viz.

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.

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.