Spell of Desire, Vol. 1

Spell of Desire Volume 1 by Tomu Ohmi

I am unapologetically enthusiastic about Shojo Beat’s new habit of releasing slightly smutty josei manga under the Shojo Beat imprint. More josei is a good thing! I was happy to see that after a few volumes of Tohmu Ohmi’s Midnight Secretary, another series of hers was licensed by Viz. Spell of Desire is that series, and I might even like it more than I like Midnight Secretary, as impossible as that might seem.

As you might guess from the title, with Spell of Desire, Ohmi has turned her attention to witches! Kaoruko Mochizuki is a herbalist in a small village, but one day a mysterious man named Kaname Hibiki shows up at her store and announces that she’s a witch, descended from a long line of women with mystical power. It turns out that Kaoruko’s long lost mother is a Witch Queen, and she’s sealed her power within Kaoruko. As the power begins to activate, Kaoruko will need help controlling it, and Kaname just happens to be the Knight dedicated to her protection.

I loved the contrast between Kaoruko and Kaname. She’s drawn as an earthy, hippie type, with flowing layers of clothing with botanical prints that reflect her connection to her profession. Kaoruko is a bit naive, but committed to the customers at her shop and the simple way of life that she enjoys. Kaname’s severe, with an all-black wardrobe and glasses that make him look stern. He also has a bit of a snarky and cynical personality. Kaname comes with two animal companions named Dragon and Unicorn, that appear to be a fluffy white cat and dog, but actually possess mystical powers themselves. When Kaoruko accidentally activates her mystical powers, they manifest as black vine tendrils winding across the panels in the manga, becoming more tangled as her powers become more out of control. Of course, there is a fail-safe mechanism to calm Kaoruko down – kisses from Kaname.

The first volume deals with the conflict between Kaoruko and Kaname as he insinuates himself into her life in order to protect her from her runaway witch powers. It is terrible, but Kaname and Kaoruko have to kiss very often because her powers are starting to really get out of control. While at first Kaoruko is resistant to the idea that she’s a witch, she decides to accept her situation calmly and deal with it even if there are things that she doesn’t understand. Kaname comments in response, “You’re such a decent person it’s almost ludicrous.” Kaoruko is left wondering about Kaname’s real relationship with her mother the Witch Queen, and I can see how there will be plenty to explore in future volumes as Kaoruko has to deal with her new reality as a witch and Kaname’s place in her life. Fans of Midnight Secretary or paranormal romance manga in general should snap this up!

My Love Story! Vol. 1

My Love Story! Vol 1 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

It is fairly rare for a shoujo manga to manage being both hilarious and heartwarming, but My Love Story! delivers. I was looking forward to this title because I absolutely adore Kazune Kawahara’s previously translated series High School Debut, and this new manga more than lived up to my expectations.

My Love Story! is extremely refreshing because in a dramatic shift from most shoujo series, it focuses on a boy as the main character. And the boy that it focuses on is Takeo, a hulking giant who is drawn exactly like the manga stereotype of a local gang leader, with a hulking body, thick eyebrows, and overabundant sideburns. Takeo is looked up to by everyone who plays sports with him, but his true friend is Suna, conventionally attractive in exactly the way a shoujo reader would expect, with windswept hair and a habit of rejecting all the girls who have crushes on him. Takeo has a habit of falling for girls who are crushing on Shun, who are then promptly turned down when they confess their feelings. On a fateful day Takeo saves a girl from being groped on a train, and she shows up the next day at his house with a cake to thank him. Rinko is an incredibly sweet and cute girl who enjoys baking and shyly blushing whenever she comes up with an excuse to be around Takeo. Unfortunately Takeo is so used to being passed over for Shun, he tries to set up Shun and Rinko, while being utterly unaware the the cute girl that he loves actually loves him back.

There’s plenty of caricature and humorous reactions as Takeo goes through extreme emotions. While it would be easy for Takeo to be the target of jokes, Shun genuinely cares for his best friend. While much is made of Takeo being an unlikely shoujo hero, he’s actually surrounded by supporters. It turns out that Shun is rejecting any girl who speaks badly about Takeo, because he has no interest in dating anyone who shows themselves as a mean person. Shun manages to get Rinko and Takeo together, and it is nice to see a manga series centered around people who just simply care about each other. My Love Story doesn’t suffer from second volume syndrome at all, by the end of the first two chapters I was utterly won over by the combination of characters, humor, and random feats of strength exhibited by Takeo as he goes about his day. The art maybe relies a bit too much on the contrast between Takeo being a blundering thug in a sparkly shoujo world, but there’s plenty of plot driven and situational humor to balance out this aspect of the manga.

As Rinko and Takeo start going out, Shun learns that his older sister has also been nursing a crush on Takeo that she has never expressed, because she was waiting to tell him her feelings when she was older. She immediately concludes that Rinko must be no good, and heads off to intervene, but Rinko and Ai quickly bond over their shared feelings. The end of the first volume of My Love Story! is too funny to spoil, but I’ll be looking forward to the second volume for this winning combination of laugh out loud moments and quirky romance.

Shojo Beat Quick Takes – Midnight Secretary Vol 6 and Dengeki Daisy Vol 14

Midnight Secretary Vol 6 by Tomu Ohmi

This volume of Midnight Secretary shows the relationship between Kaya and her vampire boss Kyohei on firmer footing, but the manipulations of the vampire clan start to interfere with the couple. Kyohei takes Kaya to a party as his date, and there’s a bit of unexpected fallout from the action. Kyohei’s vampire mother shows up to warn Kaya off of becoming involved in a human/vampire relationship. Kaya has a bit of a pregnancy scare, and she’s worried about what would happen if she had a vampire baby, because the vampire clan would swoop in and claim any vampire child as one of their own. It turns out that Kaya’s not pregnant and Kyohei tells her that he has no intention of marrying her or having children with her, simply because of the way their relationship would be stressed with outside interference as soon as it takes on the appearance of being serious. While he doesn’t want Kaya to be manipulated by the vampire clan, she’s soon deluged with marriage offers as the clan takes steps to separate her from Kyohei. Vampire politics soon becomes even more of a focus of the volume, as the head of the clan shows up, looking less evil than one would suppose! Throughout the trials and tribulations in this volume Kaya and Kyohei’s relationship remains strong, but we’ll have to see in future volumes if they can withstand the forces that are seeking to drive them apart. This series continues to be very entertaining. I’m always amused by the combination of heartfelt romance, the paranormal elements, and boardroom politics.

Dengeki Daisy Vol 14 by Kyousuke Motomi

Dengeki Daisy is still going strong in its 14th volume. I have to say, I don’t really care about the latest hacker drama that is occupying all the characters, it is really the way that they interact with each other when dealing with the high stakes world of computer viruses and conspiracy theories. In their search for “M’s Last Testament”, the group has finally found out more information about the mysterious hacker Akira, and learned how exactly he became so twisted. One of the reasons why I like this series so much is that the reactions of the characters seem so much more authentic and less reliant on what I’d expect to see in a shoujo romance. When Teru learns the truth about Akira she can see why her other friends feel an obligation to help him, but her own suffering at his hands has left her wondering if he’s a person without any hope of redemption. In a more typical series, the disclosure of a character’s tragic past would prompt people to immediately move towards forgiveness, but Teru isn’t able to get over the past and she’s very forthright about her feelings. This drives a bit of a wedge between her and Kurosaki, as he moves on with the rest of the team even though he understands Teru’s reasons for not wanting to participate. In true Dengeki Daisy fashion, this first crisis of their relationship is solved with text messaging, in a nice bit of circular plotting that echoes back to the beginning of the series. Motomi could really just call each new hacker MacGuffin 1 or MacGuffin 2 and I’d still love reading this series just because it is so well executed and the characters are very memorable.

Gangsta Vols 1 and 2

Gangsta Volumes 1 and 2 by Kohske

I was pretty intrigued by Gangsta when I first heard that Viz was going to be translating this title. I always am interested in series that get the deluxe treatment of the Viz Signature line. The art looked very stylish, and I generally enjoy the few examples of seinen written by women authors that we get translated over here, so I was already intrigued for a few months before finally getting my hands on a couple volumes.

First of all, to totally judge a manga by its cover, I was immediately captivated by the cover designs! The front and back covers of both volumes show the same scene from different perspectives, showcasing the personalities of the main characters Nic and Worick. The first volume shows Nic glaring out at the reader, with Worick turned away. On the back Worick has his finger raised over his lips to prevent someone from telling a secret. Worick and Nic are handymen, mercenaries, couriers, and assassins taking on jobs no one else will. Their day opens in a way that conveys the gritty and corrupt nature of the city of Ergastulum, as a hooker gets beat up and the police chief asks the handymen to deal with recent gang activity, promising them “all their goods” as payment.

As the day unfolds, more gets revealed about Nic and Worick. Nic is a “Tag” or “Twilight,” who appears to be an ex-soldier who was the subject of some sort of enhancement experiments that have turned him into a deadly warrior. Nic is deaf, and Kohske has come up with some clever ways of portraying this, by representing his sign language with a different style of word balloons and carefully drawing them as emanating from his hands as he gestures. Nic is incredibly deadly, but he is viewed as subhuman by almost everybody but Worick. The duo quickly becomes a platonic (so far) threesome, as the handymen decide to liberate Ally, the hooker who was being beat up by her john before. When the police chief objects, Nic yells that the handymen will take whatever they want.

What follows is a mix between slice of life communal living issues, drug deals, and over the top action scenes as Ally putters around the handymen’s apartment, reading sign language dictionaries and answering their phone. She gradually learns a little more about Worick and Nic, including the fact that Worick occasionally hires himself out as a gigalo and that his past might be very far from the circles where he runs in now.

There are a few elements of Gangsta that reminded me of other series, but not in a bad way. The intense friendship of Nic and Worick set against a gritty background with mysterious drugs enhancing human abilities gave me some slight Wild Adapter flashbacks, although Gangsta isn’t very shonen-ai (yet). I’m sure there’s some Gangsta doujinshi out there that is though! Worick’s mysterious and privileged past made me remember Antique Bakery a bit. And the 3 rules for Twilight behavior are basically Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics. But Kohske hints at so many different plots to be explored in future volumes, I’m wanting to see the shared past of the handymen explored, wondering if Ally is better off with them than without them, and curious to see how Nic manages to deal with the latest in a procession of super human enemies.

Kohske’s art is gritty and stylish, showcasing the dynamic nature of the fights the handymen find themselves embroiled in as well as the run down area of the city where they live. The illustrations in this book are for sure not style over substance, as there are nuanced and varying character designs for all the members of the expanding cast. Nic’s growling antagonism and Worick’s intelligently constructed careless facade are both nimbly portrayed, as are the wordless exchanges and day to day moments that say volumes about the friendship they share. After enjoying the first two volumes, I’m certainly going to see about reading the rest of this series.

One Punch Man, Vol 1

I make no secret of my affection for shoujo manga, but occasionally even I want to read shonen manga featuring kicking or punching, preferably both. One Punch Man, as one might suspect, is centered on punching. This is available on the Viz Digital site for your various devices! One Punch Man provides an amusing twist on the typical shonen manga plot about a young protagonist who has to work hard to develop his extraordinary abilities. In this case the hero of the manga, formerly unemployed salaryman turned hero Saitama has already train to develop his powers with such intensity that all his hair has fallen out. He is called “One Punch Man” because he is so strong he can easily defeat any opponent with just one punch, and as a result is incredibly bored.

In One Punch Man, Saitama’s town seems to be an unfortunate focus of giant villains or monsters with satirical origin stories. One Punch Man punches Vaccine Man, who exists due to pollution, a crustacean made angry by graffiti, and a group of subterraneans. Throughout the manga, One Punch Man is vainly hoping for a non-boring battle, only to be disappointed every time. As drawn by Yusuke Murata, One Punch Man often resembles a slightly perturbed superhero with an egg-like head, which only serves to highlight the ridiculousness of his opponents. Towards the end of middle of the volume One Punch Man even takes on a sidekick Genos, “a lone cyborg fighting for justice.”

I found One Punch Man‘s send up of superhero conventions amusing, the art was well executed, and it perfectly fit in my desire to read goofy fighting shonen manga. The send-ups of villains and heroic origin stories mixed in with some spectacular punches made this manga fun to read, and I hope it does well for Viz as a digital first release. I’d buy the next volume, for sure.