Daytime Shooting Star, Vol. 4

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 4 by Mika Yamamori

This volume of Daytime Shooting Star is focused on summer vacation. I really like the way the matte cover sets off the powdery pink blossoms used in the cover illustration for this volume. I’m so curious as to how this student-teacher romance manga will conclude, I’m guessing a giant time skip picking up with the high school characters post-college graduation. The volume opens as Suzume uses her intense knowledge of fish and extra cash to help out a strange but somewhat familiar man in the grocery store who has difficulty both shopping for seafood and remembering his wallet. When she drops by his house to get repaid for his groceries, she realizes that he’s Mamura’s father! Suzume gets a glimpse of Mamura’s very loud little brother, and she and Mamura are able to talk to each other again like friends.

Tsubomi ends up blowing out of town leaving a tornado of emotional devastation in her wake, as she seems to think it is appropriate to leave a note for her ex-boyfriend Shishio with the teenage girl who has a crush on him. Susume can’t resist the impulse to deliver it, and when she meets Shishio again, they decide to go on a group outing with her classmates to the aquarium, since Tsubomi enclosed an aquarium gift certificate. Of course, the day of the outing no-one else shows up, so the student and teacher are on a full-on solo date where Suzume gets to indulge in all the fish trivia questions she has ever dreamed of. Shishio continues to be fairly inappropriate but not doing anything physical beyond resting his head on Suzume’s shoulder. Even though he rejected Suzume’s love confession, it is clear that he’s still looking out for Suzume at school and in general acting protective and awkward at various moments. Suzume sees all this happening and becomes confused yet again. Fortunately there’s the school festival coming up that will provide a welcome distraction from all these romantic foibles, or amp everything up even more?

I continue to enjoy Yamamori’s stylish character designs. Suzume’s moments of introspection and insight as she’s attempting to get a handle on the world around her keeps Daytime Shooting Star interesting. It is easy to see how she’ll eventually grow up to be a formidable adult.

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.

Takane & Hana, Vols 11 and 12

Takane & Hana, Volumes 11 and 12 by Yuki Shiwasu

Sometimes my interest tends to wane a bit at more long-running comedic series, but Takane and Hana is still going strong, even when some of the plot points tend to get repetitive. The main way this manga manages to actually get me rooting for a romance between an emotionally stunted businessman and a high school girl is the way it deliberately shies away from things progressing very far physically. As the 11th volume opens Takane and Hana are dealing with the emotional fallout from when Takane got carried away….and kissed Hana on the nose. The over-the-top angst combined with Shiwasu’s dynamic rendering of psychological turmoil makes the opening chapter extremely amusing. Things aren’t kept light for long, as Takane’s evil cousin Yakumo figures out the relationship between Takane and Hana and decides to kidnap her. I’m trying to remember if this is the second or third kidnapping in this series, but it does provide the opportunity for some impressive, action-movie heroics as Takane and Okamon attempt to rescue Hana.

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Volume 12 features my favorite cover so for this series, Takane’s twisted grin combined with heart hands captures the wacky appeal of this manga. Takane is recuperating from his dramatic rescue attempt, and Hana is determined to put more distance between them again because she doesn’t want their relationship to cause issues for Takane. This is circling back to a reset of their previous relationship dynamic, where Takane is bombarding Hana with an endless stream of unsuitable gifts and she’s growing more and more frustrated. Okamon ends up enlisting himself as Hana’s beard as he prevents Takane from grabbing Hana and carrying her out of a diner by proclaiming that he and Hana just recently started going out.

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Takane ends up getting relationship advice from Nicola on a speedboat, and his attempts to rehearse speaking to Hana as well as “chill out” feature the emotional anguish and hilariously tortured facial expressions that Shiwasu is so excellent at portraying. These two volumes continue doing what Takane & Hana does so well – set up over the top comedic situations combined with a core relationship that is actually very sweet.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 21

Yona of the Dawn Volume 21 by Mizuho Kusanagi

This is the last volume of the Sei story arc, and it has plenty of action interspersed with great quiet moments where bonds between the characters are affirmed. Everyone joins together to rescue Riri, leading to some surprising alliances. One of the highlights for me was seeing Hak’s reunion with the Wind Tribe, especially his adoptive grandfather Mundok. As Zeno and Jaeha search for Yona and find her cornered in the woods by enemy soldiers, Zeno comes to the rescue by literally dropping out of the sky to defend her. Su-Won is also inspecting the area and getting a full picture of the atrocities being committed. Riri shows her strength of character by being defiant even as the evil Lord Kushibi orders her execution. The attack begins as Su-Won’s group and Yona’s companions both stage parallel rescue missions, and the old bond between Su-Won and Hak is reactivated as they are able to wordlessly communicate across the battlefield in support of a single objective.

Kusanagi’s skills with drawing action are particularly showcased in this volume, as the dynamic paneling for the action scenes ramps up the tension of the battle, with pauses that highlight the emotional stakes for everything that Yona and her friends are fighting for. I also appreciated all the battlefield banter between enemies as Hak and Guen-Tae get snarky with each other. As Kushibi realizes the full extent of his hubris, a shadow is cast over his face that mirrors the dark tones used in portraying the body count of the fight. As everyone recovers from the battle, Zeno has a hilariously off-kilter encounter with Su-Won, and Yona and Hak have a random encounter in the middle of the night that is equal parts hilarious and touching. As always, this was an extremely satisfying volume of Yona of the Dawn. It sets such a high standard, it almost seems impossible for it to keep getting better with each volume, but it does.

The Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 11

The Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 11 by Rei Toma

I was genuinely not sure what to expect in the final volume of The Water Dragon’s Bride. While I naturally tend to assume that a happy ending is a given in a shoujo series, this series has explored the nature of humanity through the slowly changing personality of a god. It has also been unflinching about portraying all the petty and dark aspects of human nature, especially the machinations of humans who attempt to take advantage of the divine.

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In the end, the final volume of this series has an elegantly constructed ending that allows for multiple moments of closure, another opportunity to ponder the nature of immortality, and some flashbacks that add additional resonance and meaning to the previous volumes. The Water Dragon God’s power is now fading after investing power into Asahi. Before he becomes too weak and disappears, he announces that he will send her back to her world. Asahi decides that she wants to spend time enjoying regular activities like picking berries and going fishing. Asahi, Subaru, and the Water Dragon God enjoy some brief lyrical moments just doing basic human activities. Toma’s skills in paneling and illustration are shown off to great advantage throughout this final volume, as brief wordless scenes convey a depth of emotion that make dialog and description unnecessary.

As the Water Dragon God prepares his farewell, Subaru gets a chance to be heroic yet again, looking out for Asahi and her future in a way that she might not immediately appreciate. Themes of longing and loss are explored as The Water Dragon God moves into a new plane of existence and Asahi integrates back into the life that she’s left behind twice. Overall, this was a tremendously affecting series, with a mystical and elegiac quality that sets it apart from other fantasy shoujo that I’ve read. I hope more of Toma’s manga makes it over here.