The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Vol 8.

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Volume 8 by Aya Shouoto

This volume of The Demon Prince of Momochi House opens with a crisis, as Aoi hasn’t been able to reverse his usual transformation into the Nue, and he might be lost forever as his ayakashi form completely takes over. Himari has to go on a quest to try to find Aoi’s lost memories, which are her only hope of getting him back.

Himari first tries to locate Aoi’s family to see if there are any clues there that she can use to restore him, but her encounter with them takes an unexpected turn to the unsettling. There are always a few moments that stand out in each volume of this series when the combination of the otherworldly setting and lush detail of the art make the reader feel transported. In this one, as Himari travels into the ayakashi realm with her way lit by Nekobaba’s hairpin, she manages to find her way past a guardian who makes some references to her true name and her long-lost parents. Himari ends up at an archive for memories, which I found quite interesting as a librarian. She sees “drawers of thought” stretching into the distance and is faced with yet another choice – recovering some of her own lost memories about her past, or forgoing that choice to save Aoi. Of course, Himari doesn’t hesitate in trying to save her beloved friend.

Aoi’s memories show him close to the spirit world as a young child, even before his existence was bound to Momochi House. As Himari travels back, liberating her friend might prove more complicated, as the Nue embarks on a seduction campaign in order to preserve his existence. Demon Prince of Momochi House blends unsettling movements of supernatural mystery with some short sketches of character development and found family antics with Himari and the Momochi House spirits. Things seem to be turning in a darker direction now, but I’m confident Himari will find a way to persevere somehow.

Skip Beat!, Vol. 38

Skip Beat! Volume 38 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat! is always emotionally harrowing, but after 38 volumes, there are plenty of different character relationships and plot points that can be explored for maximum drama. This volume finally confronts Kyoko’s relationship with her mother. After seeing the ways Kyoko has been damaged by her abandonment as a child throughout Skip Beat! up until this point, this confrontation is a long time coming, and Kyoko’s reactions and resilience show just how far she’s come.

This volume of Skip Beat! starts out with Sho being an idiot, because a little bit of comic relief is useful before delving into childhood trauma. Kyoko and Ren are also firmly locked into the misunderstandings and delicate emotional balance that causes any interaction between them to be weighted down with layers of unspoken feelings, elements of comfort, and pure anxiety. Kyoko’s encounter with Ren is helping build up her up psychologically, and she comments “I’ll prepare myself body and spirit, since I’ll be fighting a psywar in a blizzard”.

As Kyoko heads towards meeting her mother, she’s keeps her “Love Me” stamp with an infinite number of points that she received from Ren close by, like a token to take into battle. Kyoko first has a conversation with one of her mother’s co-workers in leading up to the main event. Kyoko begins to wonder about her father, and if her mother Saena experienced something similar to the rejection that she experienced from Sho, that kicked off her desire for vengeance. Saena is caught up in biases and assumptions, thinking that Kyoko dropped out of school and that she had a physical relationship with Sho. Saena’s stubbornness and strong facade makes it difficult to communicate with her.

As Kyoko and Saena face off, Nakamura’s portrayal of demons lurking in the background of the conversation and dramatic micro-expressions shows the charged nature of the confrontation. Their conversation is interrupted by flashbacks of a younger Saena struggling to make her way as a lawyer, and seemingly torn between her job and the idea of love. While Saena’s backstory might place her actions in context, it doesn’t really the cruel way she abandoned her daughter. This storyline is obviously going to be stretched out over several volumes, and I have to admit I’m feeling more anxious about Kyoko than I have in awhile! I’m hoping that the maturity that she’s built up over time helps her deal with whatever emotional bombshell her mother is about to drop. Skip Beat! continues to be extremely rewarding for readers, and I’m happy it is still going so strong after 38 volumes.

Yona of the Dawn Vol. 5

Yona of the Dawn Volume 5 by Mizuho Kusanagi

Yona of the Dawn continues to be an absolutely delightful manga. Every time I finish a volume I feel extremely satisfied as a reader, having gotten just the right amount of plot, character development, humor, and action. The fourth volume was much more somber in tone as the intrepid adventurers led by Yona find the Blue Dragon in his mountain village. Entirely isolated due to his special abilities from a young age, the Blue Dragon seems a bit intrigued by the visitors, but still lost and on his own. A cave-in prompts some dramatic action, and when Yona invites him to join her again, he agrees. The first chapter ends on a wistful note as the Blue Dragon’s internal thoughts turn to the previous Dragon who trained him, reflecting that he doesn’t remember the face of the man who used to be his only family.

Yona of the Dawn doesn’t stay moody for long, as Gija attempts to sense the location of the next dragon, only to collapse. This gives Hak an excuse to intone “Rest in Peace”, but Gija is temporarily indisposed. The group heads to a seaside village next, where the Green Dragon is a sardonic pirate, determined to maintain his independence despite his destiny. Hak and the Green Dragon keep running into each other randomly as they save villagers from being oppressed.

This volume had some of my favorite character-driven moments so far, as Yona permits all of her entourage to call her by her fist name except for Hak. He’s horrified that she’s allowing herself to be addressed so casually, and when they are talking together separately, she asks him to always be sure to call her “your highness”, because she can’t forget where she came from, to preserve the memory of her former family. The scene shows Hak’s unwavering devotion, the closeness between Hak and Yona, and at the same time the distance that rank puts between them. Yona has come a long way from the frightened princess n the first volume, and she’s still determined to keep improving herself. I’m enjoying the pace of this manga as well. With three of the dragon guardians identified, I’m looking forward to seeing the fourth one tracked down and then seeing how the story unfolds once Yona has her mini army all gathered together.

Anonymous Noise Vol. 2

I feel like Anonymous Noise is hobbled by its covers, because they are so consistently great the manga inside has a hard time living up to them. That being said, I found the contrived plot elements a little less annoying in the second volume, probably because the cliched character introductions are now out of the way.

The volume opens with Nino being challenged about her vocal ability. Miou, Yuzu’s former singer points out that while Nino’s voice has a compelling quality, her technique is a mess. Nino and Miou sing together and Miou is able to sustain her note much longer than Nino. Nino is determined to get better, and she starts reading tons of books on vocal technique. Nino spots Momo’s name on a flyer advertising music autions for a famous writer/producer, and she decides to try out in order to find out if the mysterious producer is her long-lost Momo. Of course the auditions are on the same day as the next TV appearance of In No Hurry to Shout, and Nino has to somehow pull off being at both at the same time.

The aspect of this manga that I found most interesting in the first volume was Nino as a destructive muse. She’s so single-minded, she is still utterly unaware that she’s hurting Yuzu’s feelings with her never-ending Momo obsession. Yuzu is inspired to compose by the idea of Nino as his Alice, but Momo is determined to avoid her because he’s turned away from his original childhood inspiration to compose pop hits. Yuzu even damaged his voice to sing with Nino when they were children, with the result that he’s no longer able to sing himself and Nino is now serving as his proxy. All this obsession in the service of creativity might not be a good thing, yet the joyful scenes of people lost in song carry the manga along.

I wish some of the plot elements were a little less contrived, because the coincidences piling on top of each other take me out of enjoying the story a little bit. I am still enjoying the stylish art, particularly a great panel where Yuzu hands Nino the wig of the lead singer for his band. I think this series might be one where I become a little better at engaging my suspension of disbelief with each volume. Anonymous Noise certainly delivers dramatic angst, so I’m still finding it interesting to read.

Anonymous Noise Vol. 1

Anonymous Noise Volume 1 by Ryoko Fukuyama

I read Anonymous Noise a few days ago, and I’ve had a hard time writing about it, I think because I ended up feeling very conflicted about whether or not I actually enjoyed reading it. It was stylish looking, which I appreciated. The author deployed a great deal of typical shoujo manga plot elements, which I was less than enthusiastic about. Finally, there was a level of angst involved in the relationships between the characters that I actually found intriguing, and will likely keep me hanging on to reading this series in the hopes that it gets a bit better in the second volume.

Childhood friends who are separated and meet again only to fall in love is such a shoujo staple plot element, that I get weary of it if it isn’t executed well. Nino Arisugawa has a habit of developing close childhood friendships with boys only for them to utterly disappear, which will make it very handy for her to have a love triangle as a teenager. Her first friend is Momo, a next door neighbor boy with a habit of making terrible puns. They’re in the habit of singing together. Momo abruptly moves away with his family and while Nino is visiting the sea to scream her agony into it, she stumbles across Yuzu, a kid composer who likes to write musical compositions in the sand. Yuzu is also a very familiar character type seen in manga, the short kid who drinks a ton of milk in hopes of triggering a growth spurt. Nino finds a bit of peace when singing Yuzu’s compositions, but she still longs for her lost friend Momo.

Switching gears to the future, Nino starts attending a school where Yuzu is a student. He’s very busy, because he also has the time to be in a rock band called In No Hurry, which performs wearing face masks and eyepatches. Nino and Yuzu reconnect, but it is clear that she’s still nurturing her feelings for Momo. The part of this manga that I found most interesting, and I’m not sure if it was intentional on the part of the author, is that Yuzu’s obsession with Nino as a muse is so clearly unhealthy. He has a girl singer in his band called Alice who is designed with his memories of Nino in mind, and he likens his feelings for Nino as being trapped under the spell of a canary. Yuzu ends up being the most compelling character in this manga, just because he wears his emotional agony on his sleeve. No surprise, Momo is attending the same high school, and shows up around Yuzu to make a few bad puns and then disappear in an enigmatic fashion.

The art is stylish, if a bit generic. I enjoyed the edgy costumes for Yuzu’s band. A couple moments in the manga that stood out to be as being particularly well-executed were a scene of Nino and Yuzu reconnecting through music in a practice room, and an encounter with Yuzu’s band mates that hints at a whole different story of unrequited love. I often feel like some manga series need at least two volumes before passing judgement on them, and I’m hoping that the second volume of Anonymous Noise has less shoujo cliches and more teen angst because the potential is there for an entertaining music infused teen soap opera, but I’m not quite seeing that yet.