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.

Honey So Sweet, Vol. 8

Honey So Sweet Volume 8 by Amu Meguro

I’m a little worried about Shojo Beat’s list of titles now, because with both My Love Story!! and Honey So Sweet ending, it seems to be like there is a slight lack of super adorable manga currently being published. I’m sure something else will come along soon to full fans’ need for low conflict shoujo where everyone is genuinely nice to each other, but in the meantime I might have to get that extra warm and fuzzy feeling by rereading older series instead of from new manga.

This final volume focused on the characters’ all getting their lives together as Nao and Taiga start to approach the end of high school. In particular, Nao’s uncle Sou finally has a chance at a life outside of being a parent, as a long-lost love from his past suddenly reappears in his life. Sou has put aside his own feelings to a degree, with all of his efforts focused on Nao’s happiness. Nao is determined to demonstrate that she’s capable of being more self-sufficient, with the goal of encouraging Sou to move on. She has some predictably funny mishaps in her first attempts at household management.

In the end, Taiga’s usual blunt nature and heartfelt feelings cut to the heart of the matter in a conversation with Sou. Sou might find a way to move on as the young couple enters adulthood together. There’s a predictably happy ending, and a bonus story in the back of the manga that shows the first, one-shot version of the story. Overall, while Honey So Sweet might not be the most challenging manga to read, the whimsical illustrations and gentle pacing of the plot in each volume made it a perfect stress relieving manga. It is difficult to feel cynical about the world when reading Honey So Sweet, and that’s the main reason why I enjoyed this series so much.

Kamisama Kiss Vol. 25 – limited edition

Kamisama Kiss Volume 25 Limited Edition by Julietta Suzuki

I had a good time getting caught up on this series in order to enjoy the special edition concluding volume. After having to deal with the grand conclusion of the saga concerning Tomoe and Akura-ou, including visiting the land of the dead, tracking down Akura-oh’s immortal body, and dealing with Nanami’s decline after having her life force taken from her, the final volume gives all the characters in Kamisama Kiss some much needed breathing room, as Nanami and Tomoe prepare to enter the world of human adulthood together. Along the way Nanami helps out the Kotaro and Himemiko one last time, and it is nice to have this circular moment of returning to some of Nanami’s first friends after she became attached to the Ayakashi world.

Nanami and Tomoe’s wedding is a little bittersweet, because when they both become human, they’ll become cut off from the world where all their friends live. This is especially hard on Mizuki, who is worried about being left alone. Nanami and Tomoe decide to marry on the last possible day before becoming human, so everyone can be invited to the wedding. I do enjoy final volumes that allow the reader to say goodbye to an extended cast of characters, and this volume pulls off the reunion and celebration in a lively fashion, with detailed wedding costumes and panels that pause to show all the wedding guests. Someone as capable and arrogant as Tomoe isn’t going to have too much difficulty fitting into the human world, and the final chapter shows just how capable the newly human couple is at adapting to their new life.

The limited edition featured a slim hardcover book with the first few pages devoted to small reproductions of the color pages in the manga volumes. This was done in a collage, year-book style layout which was nice, but it also made me really long for an oversized volume of Julietta Suzuki illustrations because some of the detail was lost. The bulk of the volume is an extra bonus story that shows more of Nanami and Tomoe’s life after becoming human, with bonus pencil sketches of the final chapter of the manga. It was nice to get a window into Suzuki’s artistic process, I only wish the special bonus book had been two times the size and twice as long, but I shouldn’t be greedy! Kamisama Kiss was such a special series, I’m glad the final volume got a little extra bonus for the long-time fans who have enjoyed the series for so long.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 8

Yona of the Dawn Volume 8 by Mizuho Kusanagi

If I had to come up with a brief phrase to describe this volume of Yona of the Dawn, it would be “clever subverted expectations”. Kusanagi explores this theme in a couple ways, first with a brief introductory story focusing on the Yellow Dragon, and then followed by a closer look at King Su-Won.

I was fully expecting another detailed quest storyline as Yona and her companions sit around debating how to search for the Yellow Dragon, but then a mysterious man shows up at their campsite, announcing himself due to his intense stomach gurgling. It is Zeno, the Yellow Dragon, and he is hungry! What follows is one of the comedic interludes that livens up the series as everyone attempts to adjust to the new stranger in their midst and try to figure out what to do next once all the guardian dragons are gathered together. While Zeno initially acts goofy and mysterious, as Yona is trying to figure out what to do next he switches over to serious mode and is incredibly insightful. As one naturally expects from this series Yona’s next direction is not to take back the throne in a grab for power, she wants to help her people who are currently repressed.

The first part of the manga played with the reader’s expectations by subverting the quest narrative that they have come to expect. The second half focuses on king Su-Won and his relationship with his greatest general, Yi Guen-Tae. The general isn’t sure what sort of king Su-Won is, and he’s initially not impressed, as Su-Won appears to be cheerful and ineffectual, without the emphasis on force as a means to an end that Yi Guen-Tae would expect. Reports keep arriving of little problems within the kingdom, and Su-Won appears to be unconcerned. Su-Won ends up proposing an elaborate war game to give the general the action he craves, and Yi Guen-Tae gradually realizes that he’s severely underestimated his king. In this story particularly Kusanagi’s ability to shift between different moods from panel to panel and her facility with facial expressions showcases the real Su-Won as opposed to the mask that usually hides his emotions.

I always put down each volume of Yona of the Dawn feeling a little in awe of Kusanagi’s storytelling abilities. She’s always able to pack so much character development into a single volume, while still giving the reader the feeling that the plot is unfolding in an unhurried, natural way. This is quite tricky to pull off successfully, and one of the reasons why Yona of the Dawn always ends up at the top of my to-read pile as soon as it comes out.

Anonymous Noise Vol. 4

Anonymous Noise, Volume 4 by Ryoko Fukuyama

I feel a bit conflicted about this series. I found the first volume a bit uneven, but was gradually won over by all the performance scenes in the manga, even though some of the drama in the manga seems a bit far-fetched at times. This volume featured fewer performances, which maybe accounts for me feeling somewhat impatient in some of the plot resets that happened. In the first few pages of the book an event occurred that made me think, “Hell no!” and then I put the manga down and proceeded to read a few other things before picking it up again. Yuzu kisses Nino when she’s in the throes of emotional turmoil (her usual condition), and her reaction is to say “Don’t talk to me for awhile.”

Just a few pages later Yuzu clarifies that she was upset because she didn’t realize that being with her was causing Nino so much pain, and yet she continues to be fundamentally clueless about the idea that someone might have a crush on her. Yuzu promptly walks back on the idea that he has any romantic feelings for Nino, telling her that it is her voice that’s important to him. This type of emotional reset button with the storyline is what I find frustrating sometimes about this series. It just doesn’t seem like there’s a great deal of character change or growth five volumes in. In Everyone’s Getting Married, for example, no one is getting married, but the relationships between the main characters has grown and evolved so much over just a few volumes, I’m confident that the series is going somewhere, and all the drama will pay off for the reader in the end. I don’t have that same feeling for Anonymous Noise, but at the same time, it is still compelling to read.

Once I got past the romantic drama, I was able to settle down more with the secret backstory of the formation of Yuzu’s band. The next volume promises to have more of a focus on music, as everyone is gearing up for a battle of the bands. I think I enjoy this series most when it is emphasizing music more than romance, so I’m hoping for some dramatic scenes of Nino doing her rock star scream soon.