Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 16

Yona of the Dawn Volume 16 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I often put down a new volume of Yona of the Dawn thinking “this was my favorite volume”, which is a testament to Kuanagi’s storytelling abilities. I’m willing to go on the record now and forever (or at least until volume 17) that 16 is my favorite volume of Yona of the Dawn. I had high hopes when I saw that the cover featured an extremely angry looking Hak.

This is the concluding volume of the Water Tribe story arc, and things have been headed towards a major confrontation, what with all the terrible drugrunning, Riri’s seizing her father’s power of hereditary rule, Su-Won and his minions appearing and hanging out near Riri, Yona getting herself injured, and people in general being repressed. As the story opens, Yona and her companions are determined to attack the fleet of the enemy and crush the drug traffickers. Jaeha has managed to secure a mini-army of attractive female divers due to his habitual flirtatious charm to aid in the attack.

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Even though it is painfully obvious from the beginning of the series that Hak and Yona are in love, there’s so much going against their romance that Hak is an incredibly sympathetic character and somewhat in the position of the underdog. He’s not acting very much on his feelings for Yona since he’s in the position of being her protector and he’s not nobility. While Hak has some great martial arts abilities, he’s not supernaturally gifted like the Dragon Warriors, and he doesn’t share the emotional/psychic bond that binds Yona and the Dragons together. All along Kusanagi shows Hak and Yona sharing a quiet moment here or there set against the backdrop of the great adventure that they’re on, but the reader hasn’t seen multiple panels showing what Hak is actually feeling before.

Most of the action external to Hak’s journey is handled fairly quickly. Riri has found her strength thanks to Yona’s friendship, and it feels like this series has to feature a pirate ship battle every seven volumes or so. As Yona, Riri, Su-Won, and their companions are standing in town and about to be pinned down by archers sniping at them, Su-Won stands in front of Yona to protect her and cautions her not to reinjure her back by firing arrows at her would-be assassins. Yona doesn’t back down from a fight though, and she has a brief reunion with Ju-Do that causes him to reflect on his own choices in staying to support Su-Won. As the local drug kingpen tries to do away with Yona once and for all, Hak comes out of nowhere to protect her from a dagger strike. He then turns incandescent with rage when he sees Su-Won.

What follows are several nearly wordless panels that dramatically portray Hak’s rage and desire for vengeance. Hak’s pupils contract, and Kusanagi switches over to using dramatic black tone and cross-hatching as Hak goes after Su-won. Hak has to go through Ju-Do first, and Jaeha tries to stop him from continuing to fight. As expected, Hak only stops when Yona steps in front of him. The rest of the volume deals with the fall-out of the incident, as Yona’s companions heal their wounds and Su-Won returns to his palace. Kusanagi has paced the story of Yona of the Dawn so well, every few volumes an event will happen that will dial up the emotional intensity and affect the relationships between the main characters even more. Seeing the rage that Hak has masked inside for so long makes the reader contemplate how controlled he’s been up to this point. Yona of the Dawn is embarking on a new story arc as Yona and her companions say farewell to the Water Tribe and I’m eager to see what happens next.

Young Master’s Revenge, Vol. 4

Young Master’s Revenge Volume 4 by Meca Tanaka

Young Master’s Revenge has been a such a fun short series! I just finished reading the last and final volume this week and I found that it had much more of an emotional payoff than I was expecting from a manga with its main plot centering on turtle-inflicted butt scars. There’s never any doubt that Leo and Tenma are going to end up together, but seeing how they finally both grappled with their feelings made the ending of this series rewarding.

young master's revenge 4

Tenma and Leo are living separately, and she’s actually able to take care of herself finally now that she’s endured life as Leo’s maid. She’s moved on from being oblivious about romance to trying to figure out how to deal with her newly realized crush on Leo, which results in a bunch of protestations and slightly emotional outbursts. Leo’s secret scars are almost exposed, and Hana goes to whatever lengths she can in order to protect him. The confusing feelings of teen romance are amped up even further when Tenma reluctantly agrees to go on a date with “Rose King” Barazono, while Leo and Togo pretend to go on their own date in order to act as silent observers. Tenma finds herself unable to control her crying when she sees Leo and Tojo together, and Leo confesses his true feelings but doesn’t let Tenma say anything in return.

Tenma decides to take on the emotional labor of fixing everything herself and while she previously was more self-contained due to her upbringing and unfamiliarity with basic teen socialization, she stands up for herself and her feelings in quite a spectacular fashion. She demonstrates quite a few over the top angry faces along the way. Seeing Tenma and Leo finally get together without the specter of revenge that’s been hovering over the series brings everything to an extremely satisfying conclusion. Young Master’s Revenge might seem a little superficial and silly, but at four volumes it doesn’t feel like the plot was stretched out just for the sake of extra drama. It is a great series to use as a mini-vacation if you’ve been bogged down by reading too many angst-ridden manga.

I was able to talk about Young Master’s Revenge on the Shojo & Tell Manga Podcast recently, I’ll update this post when the episode is available!

Takane & Hana, Vol. 6

Takane & Hana Volume 6 by Yuki Shiwasu

I should have read this volume earlier this winter, because it had a great Christmas story in it! But Takane & Hana can always be counted on for some breezy shoujo antics as it explores the potentially problematic relationship between a high school student and an heir to industry who become friends after Hana subs in for her sister at an arranged marriage meeting with Takane.

The volume opens with Takane standing Hana up for a date due to his workload, so she goes out with friends instead. It turns out that he was actually planning on surprising her with a Christmas date. Takane is incapable of doing anything less than a grand gesture, so he appears before Hana in a custom designed cashmere Santa Suit. Hana realizes that he planned the whole thing after she made a random comment about how normal people celebrate Christmas, and she’s touched by the gesture.

The major storyline in this volume centers on Takane suffering a reversal of fortunes when his grandfather takes away his access to all his bank accounts, his high-powered job, and his apartment, telling him that he has to prove himself by working his way up to the top. Takane’s occasional glimpses through Hana of how common people live do not prepare him at all for being cut off from his credit card. As he slowly starts to adjust to the horror of cheap suits, convenience store lunches, and public transportation, he cuts off contact with Hana, not sure what to do if he can’t appear before her with elaborately expensive presents. Hana is mystified and confused because while he certainly is in the habit of being busy with work, he’s never cut off contact with her for such a long time before. As always, Shiwasu is a master of exaggerated facial expressions, and seeing Takane react to his changed circumstances is both sad and hilarious.

One of the things that has me rooting for this relationship between a forthright high schooler and an emotionally stunted captain of industry is Hana’s habit of confronting Takane and pointing out when he’s being an idiot. Takane rejects her offers of help, but she’s not going to back down. A rich person learning who they are after a reversal of fortune is a very common plot trope, but seeing how these particular characters take on this challenge makes it interesting in Takane & Hana.

Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 8

The Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 8 by Rei Toma

One of the central questions I had as a reader of The Water Dragon’s Bride was what would happen if Asahi managed to find her way home? With her return to modern day Japan and her decision to rejoin her friends in the world of the Water Dragon God, I was curious to see where Toma would take the plot next in terms of a main conflict. She introduces a new antagonist for the Water Dragon God and Asahi, and I’m genuinely curious to see where the story goes next because I’m not sure what to expect.

Water Dragon God 8

The idea of other castaway people has been touched on a little bit before in this series, but this volume takes a turn when it thoroughly explores the backstory of Kurose, the companion to Tokoyami the God of Darkness, who rules an Underworld where it is impossible for the Water Dragon God to enter. The Water Dragon God enlists Subaru for help, but it ends up being Asahi’s unpredictable reactions to danger and the strength of her caring for others that opens up a possibility for her to escape.

Asahi and the Water Dragon God end up creating some deadly supernatural enemies, and one of the things that I appreciate about Toma is that her antagonists are fully drawn, with motivations and reasons for their actions that cause the reader to ponder the nature of humanity. Kurose is bullied in school, and when he’s rescued by Tokoyami and taken to a world of darkness, we see what happens when a less resilient human gets exposed to supernatural influences without the benefit of Asahi’s strong inner will. Kurose has his own traumatic adventures in the world of the Water Dragon God, where bad things happen to good people, and the gods seem indifferent to the suffering that they refuse to intervene in. As always, Toma’s capable illustrations serve to heighten the impact of the symbolic world that the gods inhabit, contrasted to the lives of ordinary villagers and teenagers in the modern world. There’s a confrontation between the two gods and their companions which will surely happen in the volumes ahead, and I’m very curious to see if Asahi’s unique outlook and faith manages to get herself and the Water Dragon God out of yet another complex situation.

Beasts of Abigaile Vol. 4

Beasts of Abigaile Volume 4 by Spica Aoki

I hadn’t realized that Beasts of Abigaile was only 4 volumes long, and I’m guessing that the mangaka wasn’t planning on the series wrapping up so quickly either, based on the sheer amount of backstory and exposition crammed into one volume. Still, the story does end on a satisfying note, although I would have been fine to see the series get stretched out to 5 or 6 volumes in order to be able to spend more time with the supporting cast.

Nina’s been captured and her secret of being a human at the werewolf academy on the island of Abigaile is threatened with exposure! She encounters a chained-up Giles, who fills in some of the details about the manipulation of Angelica the student body president who is nursing a special hatred for Nina. Nina is determined to be a force for good at the academy after hearing more about how its potential has been subverted by the school administrators. Roy is on his way to rescue Nina when she flies in with a high kick and they take off and hide in rose bushes to escape. One of the things that I like about this series is that for all of Roy’s alpha male blustering, Nina often manages to rescue herself through sheer determination.

On the way to the resolution of the series, the reader learns about Nina’s secret past, Roy and Giles’ secret past, and Nina comes to realize exactly what her own feelings are. There are some spectacular revelations and many panels of people staring intensely through jail bars. While this volume suffered a bit from too much story being crammed into a few short chapters, overall Beasts of Abigaile was a fun to read breezy paranormal shoujo series that I enjoyed. I hope it did well enough for Seven Seas that they continue to publish the occasional shoujo manga, as I like to see shoujo coming here from a variety of Japanese publishers.