Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 4

Yona of the Dawn Volume 4 by Mizuho Kusanagi

Yona of the Dawn is firmly in the “get the team together” quest story line that is so common in fantasy manga, but even though the plot is predictable, I’m enjoying it greatly just due ot the character interactions along the way and the interesting world building. It wouldn’t be a team without plenty of bickering, and the first chapter of this volume shows Gija and Hak constantly going at it as they both want the role of Yona’s main protector. Gija’s sheltered upbringing in his remote village doesn’t exactly prepare him for life on the open road, as it turns out he is terrified by bugs. The bickering continues and provides some much needed humor before the rest of the volume settles in with a much more serious story line.

It turns out that not every dragon guardian was raised with as much privelege and love as Gija, and as the Yona and her band go to find the Blue Dragon, they find a mysterious village with masked tribes people, and the Blue Dragon has been treated as a pariah, not celebrated due to his unique powers like Gija. The feeling in the village is unsettling, and provides Yona a real challenge to work through as she attempts to discover the identity of the Blue Dragon. One of the reasons why I like this series so much is that while Yona is obviously blessed by being a princes and having some fabled mystical guardians, she isn’t going to stop trying to improve herself. She still spends hours practicing her archery alone because she wants to be able to help the people who are fighting for her. Getting through to the Blue Dragon is a product of her insight into human nature and her genuine interest in other people as opposed to relying on her title or position in the world.

Kusanagi’s art continues to be clear and easy to read, and she’s great at conveying different moods and emotions like Gija’s over exaggerated reactions to the horrors of nature, Yona’s determination, and the unsettling masks of the Blue Dragon’s tribe.

Skip Beat!, Vol 37

Skip Beat! Volume 37, by Yoshiki Nakamura

I always do a mental happy dance whenever a new volume of Skip Beat! comes out, because it is just so consistently good. This volume brings the pain, as Kyoko has to deal with her mother. Kyoko’s family has always been consistently absent from this series, and now the reader knows why. There was a bit of a reference to family difficulties when Kyoko had to get her mother’s permission to sign with a talent agency, but she hasn’t appeared in person in the manga before. Kyoko’s mom appears to be a cold-hearted lawyer who doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by her own daughter.

Coming off of the Heel Siblings arc, Kyoko is back in Japan, working as a Love Me section member again while the first few episodes of her new drama are airing. She runs into her mother by an elevator, but she only displays a few hostile micro-expressions before walking by her daughter, utterly ignoring her. Later, it turns out that Saena Mogami is filling in for another lawyer on a variety show and when responding to questions about her cold demeanor, she replies that she’s never had children. Both Ren and Sho witness this moment, and they think about Kyoko’s feelings, rushing to be by her side.

Sho arrives first, right after Kyoko sees her mother deny her existence. Kyoko’s response to this event is to utterly shut down her emotions. Nakamura does such a great job with Kyoko’s facial expressions in this scene. Kyoko is usually so animated, swinging from one emotional extreme to another that to see her be both beyond sad and blank at the same time is shocking. Kyoko’s eyes are shadowed in grey, and the aftermath of her mother’s interview settles on Kyoko like a physical weight. Sho being Sho, his response is to try to provoke some sort of emotion out of her, and he fails miserably.

Skip Beat! has that rare combination of gripping plots and lovely art, even though the characters might have the leg proportions of giraffes. There are always several pages in each volume where I stop to appreciate the art, like the panels that show Kyoko’s devastation, a photo shoot with Ren that shows the charisma he has that has made him a star, and the moment where Kyoko finally finds some comfort.

Kyoko goes on the run and finds Ren, but she thinks he’s Corn! Oh the tangled web we weave, etc! Still, no mater what side of himself Ren may be portraying, he’s the refuge that Kyoko needs at the time. I can see this storyline spinning out over several volumes, and as usual when Skip Beat! embarks on new direction I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Skip Beat! Vol. 36

Skip Beat Volume 36 by Yoshiki Nakamura

I feel like most reviews of Skip Beat could just be summed up as, “Skip Beat, long-running shoujo series, continues to be relentlessly excellent,” but as I was reading the latest volume there were several specific things that struck me about it. I absolutely loved the Heel siblings plot, and while the manga has to move on from Ren and Kyoko being forced to be in close proximity to each other as they pretend to be gothic semi-incestual siblings in order to further Ren’s acting career as he acts in a drama while pretending to be an entirely different actor than “Ren” which is itself a totally different persona from his genuine personality, I’m glad that this volume eases out of the story line gently, with Kyoko getting one last big scene as Setsu.

Early in this volume I was reminded at how good Nakamura is at drawing Kyoko in freak-out mode, as she suffers agony in telling Ren that she kissed her long-lost fairy prince Corn (who is also Ren). Ren is pushing Kyoko a bit to get an emotional reaction from her, but he also is genuinely grateful for her help as they part and she heads back to Japan to resume her own acting career. Kyoko has matured so much as an actress and a person, and while she’s handling a crisis on her new show, things get complicated fast when Sho visits her home.

A settled and stable shoujo heroine doesn’t make for much drama, and now in addition to Sho’s reappearance, Kyoko is confronted with the specter of her long-absent horrible mother. Just when she starts to get a bit of emotional equilibrium, something happens to throw things off!

Lettering Skip Beat! must be a fun and challenging job, as there are different fonts used for Kyoko when she’s beset by the angry demon side of her personality, when she’s yelling at Sho, and when she’s calmly giving advice to a fellow actress. All in all, this was a very entertaining volume helping Skip Beat! transition away from one story line into a new direction, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

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So Cute it Hurts!! Vol. 2

My biggest complaint with the first volume of So Cute it Hurts!! was that I thought it focused a bit too much on boy twin Mitsuru’s adventures cross-dressing as a girl, without as much character development or action for his sister Megumu pretending to be her brother at a school largely populated by juvenile delinquents. I was happy to see that in the second volume Megumu gets a larger chunk of the story.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed in Ikeyamada’s series so far is that the plot moves fairly fast. Developments that might take at least a two volumes to be explored in another series are quickly resolved, only for even more complications to pop up. Also, many of the issues that the characters have are so ridiculous, I find it extremely entertaining. Megumu pretending to be her brother grows closer and closer to head one-eyed delinquent Aoi Sanada, who turns out to have a deadly Achilles heel involving female company. If he so much as touches a girl, he immediately feels faint and sick. It is to Megumu’s credit that as soon as she finds this out after indulging in fantasies about revealing her true gender and confessing her love to Aoi, she vows to just remain at his side as a male because she doesn’t want to burden him by making him deal with her as a girl.

In the first volume there’s a hint that the deaf girl that Mitsuru likes, Shino and Aoi know each other. This is promptly explored in the second volume, continuing with the plot moving along quickly. Most of this volume will be very familiar to Hana Kimi fans, as Megumu’s natural cuteness shines through her boyish disguise, causing her classmates and Aoi in particular to experience odd feelings. Even though the romances in So Cute it Hurts!! are absolutely silly, there are a few sweet moments where it is clear that twins really do care about the objects of their affection. Overall, I was happy to see the additional character development I was hoping for and while So Cute it Hurts!! is not in any way profound, it is a nice brain candy type manga series.

Otomen Volume 11

Otomen Volume 11 by Aya Kanno

I’d collected a fair amount of Otomen when I stopped feeling the need to keep preordering it. I like it, but the episodic nature of the book means that most of the volumes revolve around the same conflict – will Asuka’s secret talents for feminine pursuits like knitting and baking be revealed and destroy his facade of manliness? The 11th volume is pretty much the same, but it wasn’t very hard for me to pick up on what was going on after skipping several volumes and Otomen is consistently funny.

Asuka is on a class trip/feudal Japan reenactment when he and his friends find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Asuka’s enigmatic and tomboyish girlfriend Ryo promptly starts foraging, while Asuka decides to lift everybody’s spirits by constructing lovely origami flowers. Ryo gets stranded in the woods and ends up cheerfully and capably rescuing Tonomine, who comments to Asuka “She may be a girl…but she’s a true samurai.” Other episodes in this volume includes Asuka attending secret baking lessons for men and a showdown at school over Valentine’s chocolate between Asuka and “Pheromone Prince” Suzaku Oji, the school nurse. Kanno’s sense of humor really comes through in her character designs, as Oji is drawn with flowing hair and a ruffled shirt worn under his white labcoat. He makes pronouncements like “come to me, my kittens,” and all the teenage girls swoon.

Asuka’s better nature begins to make inroads against the strict gender roles enforced by his school, but things are about to take a turn for the worse when his mother comes back from overseas. My major complaint with this volume was that there wasn’t enough focus on Ryo and mangaka Juta Tachibana. A bonus story of “Love Chick” the manga Juta wrote based on Asuka and Ryo with their genders swapped was included in the back of the volume. This was fun to see, since Kanno drew it in a deliberately more simple and insipid style.

Review copy provided by the publisher