Legal Drug by Clamp

Legal Drug Volumes 1-3 by Clamp

I was happy to see that Manga Bookshelf was hosting a Manga Moveable Feast on Clamp, because X/1999 was one of the titles that cemented my status as a fan when I started reading manga again. I also like Clover, and I delight in the new omnibus editions of Cardcaptor Sakura. At the same time, I’m experiencing a bit of fatigue when it comes to Clamp’s newer series. I experienced volume and crossover fatigue with xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa and gave up collecting them midway through the series. I thought the first volume of Kobato was dire and wasn’t able to summon the enthusiasm for Gate 7. I’ve actually had Legal Drug on my shelves for a long time and never read it, so this feast was a perfect excuse to give the series a try. This three volume series was originally published by Tokyopop, and is incomplete, but the continuing series Drug and Drop started up in Japan recently.

Legal Drug is a story about a group of men who work at a drug store who have mysterious powers and often experience angst about how pretty they all are. Rikuo finds Kazehaya almost frozen to death in a park and takes him home like a stray cat. The tall, solidly built Rikuo and the whispy Kazehaya find themselves as a shonen-ai odd couple, turning into bickering roommates who go on odd missions for their bosses at the Green Drugstore. While they do normal things like helping customers and stocking shelves, the mysterious boss of the drugstore Kakei sends the young men on side jobs that require a certain amount of psychic power. Kakei and his belligerent companion Saiga seem like a more grown up version of Kazehaya and Rikuo in appearance at times.

Kazehaya can pick up impressions of objects after touching them, and he and Rikuo are sent off to recover a mysterious book. Rikuo’s power is to break things, which comes in handy when they need to get through a locked door. Kazehaya finds a backyard garden filled with fish swimming through the air and the spirit of a vengeful woman embodied by a fig tree. The tone of this story and some of the visual imagery reminded me strongly of xxxHOLiC, making me wonder if Legal Drug was a bit of a trial run for some of the themes explored in the later series. Kazehaya and Rikuo continue their bickering relationship as they go on other missions, but Kazehaya’s powers have him picking up on mysterious incidents from Rikuo’s past. Both boys are haunted by different events in their lives, which causes a element of mysterious tragedy to carry through the more episodic missions involving spirits or the shadows of invisible fireflies.

The second volume fills in more details about the different women that haunt Kazehaya and Rikuo, as Kazehaya indulges in childhood memories of his sister Kei and Rikuo fiercely vows to track down a powerful woman named Tsukiko without the help of Kakei’s precognitive powers. The boys have to run after a mischevious magical kitten, they track down a vase who gives them a hard time, and poor Kazehaya is forced to cross-dress in order to help a female spirit live out her wish of the last day of school. There’s a brief cameo from the protagonists of Suki: A Like Story. Overall, this second volume cemented the usual plot points that the reader would expect after the first volume. Kazehaya and Rikuo fight, but there’s a bit of an unspoken friendship developing due to their extreme familiarity with each other. Rikuo realizes that Kazehaya might be useful with his quest for Tsukiko, if the psychic is able to pick up on memories that he can’t access himself. Rikuo acts as a protector when Kazehaya gets in over his head during missions. Saiga serves as a bit of comic relief when he isn’t busy groping Kakei as they discuss the boys’ missions while remaining mysterious and aloof.

The third volume deviates from the episodic structure of the earlier volumes as Kazehaya and Rikuo are sent undercover to find a ring at a boys only school where the students live in dorm. They meet their classmates and Kazehaya in particular befriends a boy named Nayki. Rikuo is told to wear glasses while he poses as a student, and he strongly resembles the student body president Mukofujiwara. Nayuki seems cheerful in a forced way, and the presence of a spirit running around the school shows that something supernatural is going on. As with all boys only schools in manga, there is also a cross dressing contest.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Legal Drug. The art duties for this series were handled by Mick Nekoi, who’s more unadorned style for this series provides a bit of visual relief if you are more used to the ornamented stylings of usual Clamp artist Mokona. I would really be interested in reading the sequel series for Legal Drug if it is translated here, since so many things were hinted at but not followed up on in this series. Still, Kazehaya’s and Rikuo’s missions and the dynamics between all four of the characters were plenty engaging even without a clear conclusion. I generally tend to steer clear of unfinished series, but reading this manga was a satisfying experience and it reminded me again why I enjoy reading works by Clamp.

Stellar Six of Gingacho Volume 2 by Yuuki Fujimoto

Stellar Six of Gingacho Volume 2 by Yuuki Fujimoto

One of the things I found so frustrating about Tokyopop going down the tubes as a manga publisher is that it had really started to increase the output of nice shoujo titles right before it was dissolved. I will always feel a yearning to read the rest of the delicious crackfest that was Demon Sacred, wonder about the hot janitor student romance possibilities in Sky Blue Shore, and wonder what happened when the kids of Stellar Six of Gingacho grew up. If you read the first volume of Stellar Six, the second is very similar. The thing that makes this series so enjoyable is the nostalgic and humorous take on slice of life stories at a street market as the protagonists face the pressures of high school and teenagerdom.

Mike is still determinedly innocent, determined to stick together with all her friends from the street market even as they face attending different high schools from each other. She’s unaware of the feelings her best friend Kuro has for her, even though it is obvious to everyone else that he’s in love with her. Life goes on as it always does, with Mike’s gang investigating various incidents at the Gingacho street market. First they investigate a mysterious case of vandalism prompted by jealous love at a local shop. Next, Mike and Kuro are besieged by all the athletic clubs at their new school, because the displays of athleticism they’ve honed by promoting the market make them desirable prospects. Mike and Kuro help a new family to the neighborhood open their Bento shop, with some special care for the young girl who misses all of her old friends that she’s moved away from.

With a slice of life manga like Stellar Six, what happens isn’t as important as the interactions between the characters as they navigate their daily lives. Memorable moments from this manga for me were the blank stares Mike and her friends give the adults who predict that their friendship isn’t going to survive high school, or the awkward way Mike and Kuro discuss love after they see the effects of a love triangle in one of the cases they’ve investigated. It is too bad that we’re not going to see the full series of this manga, because angst-free, slice of life manga are hard to find.

Demon Sacred #4, Shinobi Life #7, and Karakuri Odette #6

Ah, the last volumes of series published by Tokyopop. I can’t help but feel wistful when I think about not being able to read the end of these series. And since a decent number of volumes for both of these were published, I can’t imagine another company would pick up the licenses. Fortunately after feeling mournful about Demon Sacred and Shinobi Life, I was able to read the concluding volume of the ever delightful Karakuri Odette.

Demon Sacred #4

After the first few volumes of non-stop insanity with all the demons manifesting on earth as pop idol duplicates and reverse aging syndrome, the fourth volume is a little bit more settled. It felt to me like Itsuki was digging in a bit with her typical slow world building. One revelation I found interesting was that the immortal demons are attracted to humans due to their mortality. If a human ever truely loves a demon, the demon may finally receive the gift of a revered type of death. Shinobu’s evil sister Zophie manages to coax her way into his apartment by bribing K2 with pastries, and as soon as she gets a glimpse of the demon she decides to use her cougar wiles on him. Mona is less than thrilled about her demon running off with an older woman. Rina is dealing with the emotional effects of her reverse aging. Shinobu’s family and the government are introducing an anti-demon military and propaganda campaign and they’ve decided to approach Keito to act as their celebrity spokesperson. I love the way Itsuki manages to construct a story out of the most improbably elements but still manage to make everything happening seem believable and natural. With so many volumes left in this series, I’m really curious about where the story would have gone.

Shinobi Life #7

It seems like with every volume of this series there’s a surprising character revelation. Beni is trapped in the past with a younger version of Kegetora, while Kagetora travels to a time in Beni’s past when she is a little girl and her mother is alive. Beni is navigating through all the treachery and suspicion that surrounds Kagetora’s ninja clan, struggling with her feelings for a teenage Kagetora who hasn’t turned into the man she loves yet. Kagetora gets to observe a young Beni’s interactions with her mother, and he makes the discovery that Beni’s father is a time traveler as well. Beni’s mother describes what happens when travelers meet themselves, and Kagetora is determined to keep jumping through time until he finds her again. This was another great volume of Shinobi Life, and I’m sorry that I won’t be able to read the rest of the series.

Karakuri Odette #6

The final volume of this series has one of those open-ended conclusions that I sometimes find annoying, but Karakuri Odette has always been so episodic it didn’t bother me that no big plots were wrapped up at the end. Odette’s robot girl uniqueness is explored further when the sibling robots of rival creator Dr Owen cause further complications in her life. Travis has decided that Odette should be his robot bride. Even though Grace has a lower level of artificial intelligence, she’s jealous of Odette. Owen sees that Odette is superior to his own creations and is determined to grab her so he can find out how she became so advanced. Owen’s strategies to capture Odette result in horrible failure. He underestimates the capabilities of his own robots to decide on their own actions. He approaches Odette himself with a “Hey little girl” type line that she immediately sees through. Finally, he tries to get Odette’s human best friend Asao to deliver Odette to him, with disastrous results. Odette is working through the idea that she might not have a companion for life. Asao is moving on and graduating, and as much has he professes not to care for the robot girl, he still appears to help her whenever she’s in trouble. Chris just lurks in the background being silently supportive and Travis isn’t suitable for a number of reasons. Odette’s final lesson in her journey to becoming human is understanding the nature of change. As the school year ends, all the characters seem to be capable of moving on in their own ways.

Gatcha Gacha Volumes 7 and 8

I’ve procrastinated writing about the last couple volumes of Gatcha Gacha because I didn’t really want this series to end. In a world filled with cookie cutter shoujo, this series is genuinely weird, somewhat endearing, and occasionally disturbing. I’m assuming that based on the long stretches of time between the series debut and the translation of the final volume that this series didn’t do so well in the sales arena, so kudos for Tokyopop for finishing it. While I’m unhappy about so many series being unfinished with Tokyopop shutting down, I’m trying to comfort myself with the idea that at least Gatcha Gacha was finished. There are plenty of spoilers ahead, so be warned.

Gatcha Gacha Volume 7 by Yutaka Tachibana

The seventh volume was the first one where I felt like Tachibana was stalling for time before the end of the series. Instead of focusing on the relationships between the main characters, we get an extended flashback of what happened between Motoko and a girl from her past named Sae. Motoko gets involved in Sae’s life, and while Sae thinks that she’s using Motoko, it is clear that everyone’s favorite tough girl has her own motivations for intervening. The next story arc in this Motokocentric volume touches on the possibility that she has a different family background than everybody previously assumed. It is interesting to see the agony Yuri goes through when confronted with the idea that Motoko might be disappearing from her life. Motoko ends up solving the issue with her customary directness, and it reminded me how much I enjoy reading a manga that features a character that just says whatever she wants without fear. In another series, the situation probably wouldn’t have been taken care of in half a volume, because everyone would sill be sneaking around without saying anything.

Gatcha Gacha Volume 8 by Yutaka Tachibana

The final volume confirms that the great love affair in this manga wasn’t between Yuri and Yabe or Yuri and Hirao, but Yuri and Motoko. Someone with a better background in gender studies than I would probably have a field day with Gatcha Gacha. It certainly shows a quirky yet positive proto-lesbian relationship between Yuri and Motoko, but it also uses gay characters and situations as fodder for soap opera sleaze of the highest order, as the cute girl who has been stalking Hirao is revealed to be a guy with an overprotective brother/gang leader who makes his displeasure known when the male objects of his cross dressing brothers affection reject his advances. The image of Yuri being menaced by a gang member in full gimp costume is one of the most incongruous things I’ve seen in mainstream shoujo, and one of the reasons why I love Gatcha Gacha is that it can be both surprising and weird.

The ending is one of those open-ended conclusions that often seem to plague manga. The characters are all a little different thanks to knowing each other, but all of the ongoing relationship issues are hinted at instead of given a clear resolution. Hirao is still enamored of Yuri, but even as she tries to give their relationship a chance and acts jealous if other girls give him attention, she’s probably slotted him into a non-romantic category in her mind. His emotional sensitivity and generosity has her thinking of him as princess she wants to protect. In contrast, when Yuri needs someone to rescue her, the person she calls for is Motoko. Motoko sweeps in, ready to fight for Yuri. When I first put the volume down I felt a little cheated because the end of the manga didn’t totally feel like a static conclusion. After reflecting a bit, I realized that even though there might not be major changes, the personalities of all of the characters have shifted a little bit just from their interaction over time. Motoko really views friendship with Yuri as something precious. Yuri is able to stand up for herself a little bit. Hirao is still going after Yuri, but he’s aware that it may already be too late. One of the funniest bits in this volume came with the omake at the back where the characters react to the lack of an ending, and Hirao is complaining that everything’s come back to where it started, only to be answered with the comment that “the girls have all grown into strong, sensitive men.” Gatcha Gacha has been one of the quirkiest shoujo manga that I’ve read, and I’ll horde these precious volumes until I die since they’ll be going out of print. I’m already looking forward to rereading the series next year.

Thanks so much to Sean Gaffney for sending me his extra copy of Volume 8!

Yaoi Quick Takes from Blumanga – Cute Devil and Blood Honey

Cute Devil by Hiro Madarame

Tohru is the strong silent type. He wears glasses and serves in the student council. One day a boy with an angelic face named Fuuta asks if he’ll be his friend. Due to Fuuta’s striking looks, he’s treated like a princess by everyone at school. Fuuta pleads with Tohru with limpid watery eyes, and the two start hanging out together. While Fuuta might look like an angel, he’s actually a sexually rapacious demon and he’s picked Tohru to be his lover. I didn’t care for the story very much, because there wasn’t very time spent on character development. Also, I don’t find the fairly typical in yaoi dynamic of one character forcing himself on the other very entertaining. The chapters in the manga are all fairly similar, as Fuuta and Tohru play out the same dynamic in their relationship over and over again. That being said, Fuuta’s rapid personality shifts were funny and Madarame has some very attractive character designs.

Blood Honey by Sakyou Yozakura

Yuki is a vampire with a very sensible job of working at a blood bank. His favorite blood donor is Mayuzumi, a teacher who seems to enjoy donating blood more frequently than the average person. It turns out Mayuzumi is so hot blooded, he needs to get rid of excess blood so he doesn’t lose his temper. When Yuki is propositioned by his boss, Mayuzumi comes to his rescue and offers to give blood to Yuki for the rest of his life. Blood Honey switches the point of view for various chapters. Yuki’s featured at the start of the volume, Mayuzumi deals with temptation and his feelings for Yuki in the next, and the third story focuses on Yuki’s vampire nephew Kiri. Kiri’s a notorious playboy who keeps trying to insert himself into Mayuzumi and Yuki’s life, so they send him off to live in a temple along with a slightly corrupt priest. Yozakura’s art is simple and a bit on the cartoony side, as Mayuzumi’s temper seems to always show him overreacting to everything. I liked the linked short story format of this volume.
Review copies provided by the publisher