Full-Time Wife Escapist Vols 1 and 2

Full-Time Wife Escapist Volume 1 and 2 by Tsunami Umino

Kodansha seems to be putting out so many digital titles, I’m having a hard time keeping track of them all. I’m always curious to check out josei titles and Full-Time Wife Escapist is a unique title, as it isn’t as overtly focused on romance as some of the other josei titles that have been translated over here.

Mikuri is in a bind after attending graduate school in psychology. She’s having difficulty finding a full-time job, and makes ends meet as a temp. When her temp job ends, she’s caught in a difficult situation because her parents are moving to the country, where there will be even less work for her. She picks up some shifts here and there doing housework and meets a man named Tsuzaki, and she becomes his regular part-time housekeeper. They become closer when she takes care of him during an illness. Mikuri and Tsuzaki come up with the solution where Mikuri will move in as his platonic paid wife, taking over housekeeping duties, making him lunch and dinner, and generally making his bachelor apartment more comfortable.

Tsuzaki is a bit of a loner at work, and somewhat emotionally stunted and has a way of relating to other people that make them assume that he’s cranky, but it seems more like he just hasn’t developed his social skills very well. The transnational nature of the relationship is one of the aspects of this manga that makes it both interesting and refreshing. When Mikuri and Tsuzaki go to visit his parents, they set the terms of Mikuri’s overtime by negotiating back and forth. It is interesting to see tasks that would be unacknowledged emotional labor in a real relationship being assigned a dollar value in this one.

Mikuri’s background in psychology shows her observing other people as opposed to getting real insight on herself. She does have some amusing daydream sequences when her mind wanders and she projects herself into some dream tv interviews that offer some commentary on her life choices. Her aunt Yuri, an unmarried career woman, serves as a counterpoint to Mikuri’s more aimless lifestyle. I enjoy manga when it gets a little didatic, and there are some great asides in Full-Time Wife Escapist where the characters start discussing the economic conditions facing younger adults in Japan, providing some real world background and context to Mikuri’s unconventional lifestyle choice.

The first volume sets up the unique relationship situation in The Full-Time Wife Escapist fairly quickly, and the second volume shows some of the issues that happen when the couple continues to try to portray their relationship as real to friends and colleagues, who sense that something is a bit off in the way the couple relate to each other. At the same time, the close proximity of the fake couple is showing some awareness developing between them. This series has a nice slice-of life pace to the storytelling, as everyday activities like preparing dinner have a new slant due to the unique relationship. At the same time, there are some moments of pathos, as Tsuzaki reflects that if Mikuri ever decides to get married for real, he’s going to be alone for the rest of his life.

Tsuzaki’s friend Kazami starts appearing a bit more and more, and he and Mikuri have a few easy friendly conversations. Kazami starts envying the married lifestyle, but he’s not interested in settling down at all. Intriguing changes are signaled for the next few volumes. I enjoy a good josei romance series, but one of the things I appreciate about The Full-Time Wife Escapist is that it is focused more on transactions and slowly developing friendships than overt romance. It’ll also be interesting to see if Mikuri’s unconventional wife for hire lifestyle is sustainable over the long term.

A Springtime With Ninjas Vol. 1

A Springtime with Ninjas Volume 1 by Narumi Hasegaki

I had high hopes for this title because I greatly enjoy both ninjas and shoujo manga, but I was underwhelmed by A Springtime With Ninjas. I think part of my disappointment was because I was hoping that the heroine and hero of the manga were both ninjas, but it turned out to be a decently executed manga that had some funny moments with a very conventional clueless rich girl heroine who was unfortunately not a ninja at all.

Benio is a sheltered rich girl who lives with the a horrible curse – she has to marry the first man who kisses her. She’s trapped in her home, at the mercy of a procession of tutors and she longs to go to school and experience normal life as a high schooler. Her uncle announces that he’s found a friend for her, and produces Tamaki, a flirtatious ninja bodyguard. Benio immediately finds him offputting, cherishing the memory of a friendship she had as a child when a boy who came over to play with her. Surprising no one who has read a shoujo manga before, it is pretty clear that Tamaki is her long lost friend.

Benio and Tamaki eventually get clearance to go to school, and he fends off Benio’s would-be suitors with his elite ninja skills. There were some amusing lines of dialogue like “The sanctity of this princess’s lips bears more weight to me than your lives.” Also, it was fun to see random high school club presidents suddenly manifest ninja abilities. The art is attractive, and the action scenes are clear and easy to follow. But there isn’t really any distinct quality or style to the art that would help offset storylines that kept giving me a sense of deja vu. I ended up putting down this manga being reminded of all the other shoujo manga that I’ve read that cover some of the same story tropes but end up being a little bit more funny, or have a more interesting take on ninjas or sheltered heiresses.

Welcome to the Ballroom, Vol. 1

Welcome to the Ballroom Volume 1 by Tomo Takeuchi

The ballet manga Swan is one of my all-time favorites, and dance manga doesn’t get translated into english very often so I was very interested in checking out Welcome to the Ballroom, which has a shonen take on learning how to dance.

Like many shonen protagonists, Tatara Fujita is aimless and without purpose. When he’s saved from being bullied by Kaname Sengoku, Tatara is dragged along to a ballroom dance studio where he is part of a new student round-up campaign. Kaname yells at him, “Through dance, you can absolutely achieve your adolescent fantasies of touching someone’s body!” Conveniently Tatara discovers that Shizuku, a girl at his school has been taking dance classes at the same studio. Tatara is too self-conscious and poor to sign up for lessons, but later on at home he watches a dvd of ballroom dance performances and decides that he’s finally found something that he can care about.

When Tatara shows up at the studio again and announces to Kaname that he’s going to turn pro and wants to learn how to dance, he’s set up for some serious hazing. Kaname instructs his new student in the box step and tells him to practice until he is given permission to stop. Tatara practices all through the night and into the next morning. It turns out that while he isn’t great at following directions, if he sees a dance performed he can successfully mimic some advanced movements.

I enjoyed the art in this book, while the dancing doesn’t reach level of the ballet in Swan, the dance scenes are suitably dynamic. I was impressed at how Takeuchi handled the varying looks and somewhat split personality of Shizuku’s partner Hanaoka, who shifts from being a polished and commanding presence on the dance floor to a scruffy student with a cold. The contrast between the dancers in daily life and their costumes and bearing during competition showcases how ballroom dancing is an entirely new world.

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By the end of the volume, Tatara has found his purpose, started to practice with great devotion, and continued despite all of Kaname’s attempts to discourage him. It is possible to see the possibility that he might make it as a dancer, and I’m thoroughly enjoying seeing some of the shonen staple sports manga plot elements being applied to ballroom dance.

Vinland Saga Vol 1

Vinland Saga, Vol 1 by Makoto Yukimura

This is a manga that I think of as having mirage-like qualities. I never thought it would actually be released in the US, just because I assumed a 13+ volume series about vikings would be a bit of a hard sell, despite the almost universal acclaim that Planetes Yukimura’s other English-translated series received. Furthermore the fact that the first volume of this series vanished from amazon (it is still available in kindle format) made it seem all the more hard to get. Fortunately I was able to brave the wilderness of an actual brick and mortar bookstore (isn’t it good these are still around) and track down this volume.

Releasing series that might be slightly less commercial in an omnibus deluxe format seems like a smart move. This hardcover volume features color pages, author notes, and a bonus story, so the higher price point still feels like a bargain. Vinland Saga certainly lives up to its title, as the first two volumes set up a sweeping tale of adventure, simmering revenge, daring battles, amusing cynicism, and manly men being almost too awesomely manly. The story opens mid-battle, as the Viking commander Askeladd observes a battle between Frankish tribes and is determined to enter the battle as a third party and make off with all the spoils of war. Askeladd sends out a pathologically surly young boy to be his messenger, but Thorfinn demands a reward before agreeing to undertake his task. Askeladd knows what Thorfinn wants and promises him his reward if he brings back the head of the commander of the opposing forces.

Bringing back someone’s head might seem like a bit too much of a burden for a young man, but Thorfinn capably negotiates with the frog-like Frankish leader, climbs the walls of the besieged castle, beheads his target, loses the head, retrieves it, then heads back to his companions to demand his reward – a duel with Askeladd. Thorfinn has been raised by Vikings who killed his father, and as he’s grown older and more capable his desire for revenge has increased as well. The battle scenes in Vinland Saga are dynamic and detailed, and it is hard not to root for Askeladd due to his innovative battle tactics and glee in his victories. If this manga only focused on battles, I could see it becoming less interesting, but Yukimura spends just as much time showing the reader the family life of the men who go out to plunder and raid.

An extended flashback throws Thorfinn’s current life in sharp contrast, as the reader sees the peaceful village where he was raised, and the father who he wishes to avenge. While Thorfinn’s family was removed from violence in the past, his father’s legendary martial prowess results in old enemies seeking him out, and Thorfinn’s innocent desire for adventure ends up leading him to experience loss at a very young age. Yukimura’s realistic and detailed style grounds the story effectively, with all of the background elements such as dwellings, ships, and clothing having the well-researched feeling that just allows a reader to slip into enjoying the story easily. While there’s plenty of adventure and action in Vinland Saga what stands out to me more are the human elements that Yukimura focuses on so well. Seeing the world weary desire for peace shown by Thorfinn’s father does more to ground the character than showing all of his past battles. Leif Erikson shows up as a storyteller who enjoys talking about himself far too much. Thorfinn’s sister is hilariously indifferent to the attentions of the village boys, and Thorfinn’s gentle mother is shown with murder in her eyes when she sees her husband not paying enough attention to her newborn daughter. I’m very much looking forward to the next volume of this series.