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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Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 2

Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 2 by Izumi Miyazono

I’m always a happy camper when Viz is putting out a josei title, and with two volumes so far in the Everyone’s Getting Married series, I’m very much enjoying a periodic escape into adult romance trials and tribulations as a nice contrast from all the shoujo I usually read.

One of the things I liked very much about the first volume was that the main couple Asuka and Ryu are so clearly attracted to each other and yet their respective goals of becoming a housewife and never getting married are clearly going to come into conflict. Even when they might have attempted to avoid each other, they find themselves getting closer and closer and in a relationship that is going to have a sudden expiration date if neither of them are going to change.

While Asuka and Ryu are more emotionally connected than ever, they find that their hectic work schedules prevents them from seeing each other very often, causing a bit of tension. Ryu also finds himself enjoying some of the extra homemaker type things that Asuka does a little too much, as she’s able to whip up dinner at short notice and do some extra things to help him through an extra demanding time with his news anchor job.

They manage to navigate their first big fight and end up stronger than ever, but one of the things that I enjoy about this manga is that both characters are sympathetic, their points of view about life are intrinsically opposed, and I’m left rooting for a solution but I can’t picture how they’re going to pull it off. This ends up amping up my curiosity about what is going to happen in the story quite a bit, so I’m eager to see how everything progresses.

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Kuroko’s Basketball, Vols. 1 and 2

Kuroko’s Basketball Volumes 1 and 2 by Tadatoshi Fujimaki

I enjoy a good sports manga, and this omnibus of the first couple volumes of Kuroko’s Basketball was entertaining, due to a unconventional protagonist.

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The manga opens with a bit of a prologue discussing an unbeatable team at Teiko Middle School that was split up and scattered as the team members, known as “The Miracle Generation”, all went to different high schools. While five players were the superstars, there were rumors of a shadowy sixth man who was actually the key to the team’s success. Flash forward to the present day at Seirin High School, all the clubs are out in force trying to recruit new members. Taiga Kagami is an intense first-year student with a superior attitude because he played basketball in the United States who signs up for the club. Tetsuya Kuroko, an unassuming student who formerly attended Teiko signs up for basketball as well.

Taiga is drawn to look a bit like Hanamichi from Slam Dunk, and while both characters share a brash personality and an abundance of natural talent, Taiga isn’t as idiotic as Slam Dunk’s protagonist. The fact that the manga is called Kuroko’s Basketball is a signal that the stereotypical idea of who the hero is in sports manga is going to be subverted a little bit. It turns out that Kuroko has a unique talent of appearing invisible when he’s playing basketball, which turns into an incredible advantage for the Seirin team, as he’s constantly overlooked and underestimated, only to make key passes and plays for all the other players on his team.

Kuroko’s unassuming nature is often played for laughs, as he frequently seems to pop out of nowhere when he’s just overlooked. His talent doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, as when he’s actually playing a game he is paying such close attention to everyone around him and adjusting in response to opposing players, that he can’t log a significant amount of minutes devoted to basketball invisibility without becoming exhausted. The first couple volumes shows the Seinen team coming together under their bossy girl coach Riko. She begins to get a sense that with Kuroko and Taiga on the team, she may be able to build the Seirin team into something special.

I feel like after reading Slam Dunk, the art for any other basketball manga is going to suffer in comparison, especially because as Slam Dunk wrapped up the art was so glorious. But comparing other manga artists to Inoue is like comparing people to Kirby, just fundamentally unfair. So I suffered a few involuntary pangs of wanting some mindblowing basketball action paneling in Kuroko’s Basketball, but on the whole, it was easy to follow all the action in the basketball games, and Kuroko’s deadpan expression is used effectively to provoke a variety of reactions in his teammates.

As this omnibus volume was wrapping up, a tournament style struggle is set up, with the Seiran team placed in a position where they are going to have to face off against other high school teams, each with a standout player from the Miracle Generation. Kuroko is now playing only for the love of the game, he comments that he didn’t want to play with anyone from his former team because they were so focused on winning at all costs, they weren’t truly appreciating basketball. The dynamic that will be explored in future volumes is if Kuroko’s abilities combined with his new team will actually mean that the sixth man will emerge triumphant. I have to say I’m very happy that with Kuroko’s Basketball, Haikyuu!!, and Yowamushi Pedal (which I haven’t read yet), there is a bumper crop of sports manga coming out in English right now.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1

Yona of the Dawn Volume 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is no surprise that I was eagerly anticipating Yona of the Dawn. I feel like there’s been a little bit of a gap in currently translated shoujo fantasy, so I was very much looking forward to this manga. I have a feeling that Yona of the Dawn is one of those manga that will be easier to evaluate once the second volume comes out, because the first volume was mostly set-up. I did enjoy the worldbuilding and some of the plot twists that I wasn’t expecting.

Yona is a sheltered princess whose main issues involve fretting over her red hair. She’s watched over by her guard Hak, and she nurses an intense crush on her cousin Su-won. As she’s getting older the question of her marriage is starting to come up, and her father the king seems to be determined to get her married to anyone but Su-won. Yona is a bit headstrong and pampered, but she still comes across as a sympathetic heroine in the early pages of the manga.

One thing I was dreading a bit is the development of a fairly typical love triangle, because it seemed like that’s the way things might be headed for Yona, Hak, and Su-won at the start of the manga. I was extremely happy when my expectations were foiled within the first couple chapters, and the story took an abrupt turn as Yona has to flee the palace with only Hak by her side. I’ve heard that this series features awesome archery, which is nowhere in evidence yet. I’m much more intrigued by the potential storyline of Yona having to toughen up and learn how better to fend for herself, so I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume.

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Haikyu!!

Haikyu!! Volume 1 by Haruichi Furudate

I’m always curious to check out new sports manga, mostly because we tend to get so few licensed over here. Haikyu!! is a shonen volleyball title. I still have fond memories of the shoujo series Crimson Hero, so I was curious to see the world of volleyball manga yet again.

Shoyo Hinata saw a volleyball tournament when he was younger, where a shorter than average player made up for his height with some wonderful athleticism. Shoyo is determined to become an elite volleyball player, and he’s not going to let the fact that he’s the only member of his volleyball club in middle school stop his dreams. Eventually by his third year, Shoyo manages to put together a small team and play in a tournament, where he faces down Tobio Kageyama. Tobio is a star player, and he knows it, yelling at his teammates constantly and trying to win on his own. Shoyo loses, but displays a ton of heart in the process and manages to score some great points.

Fast forward to the following year, and it is no surprise that Shoyo and Tobio are starting on the same volleyball team in high school. The captain Daichi Sawamura immediately sees a problem with the two new rookies and tells them that they can’t even practice until they can work as a team. While undisciplined enthusiasm and athletic snobbery might not be the best thing for the disgraced former champion team of Karasuno High, Daichi thinks that they could be an unstoppable team if they are able to work together. Shoyo and Tobio have to earn their way back to the team by facing off against the other first-years.

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The art in Haikyu!! uses plenty of action and unconventional angles to display the tension of the volleyball game. Shoyo leaps all over the place for the ball, and Tobio tends to lurk around in a gloomy manner, then suddenly strike like a snake. The character designs are well-executed, with a large supporting cast all given distinct looks and personalities, making it easy to navigate the mass introductions that come with reading the first book of every series. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the upperclassmen on the team, who range from being able to give wise volleyball philosophical advice, to being knuckleheads. The dynamic between Shoyo and Tobio is interesting, because it is so antagonistic but it is clear that there’s a lot they can learn from each other. This first volume mainly served to set up the characters and their long road to a possible championship, but it was definitely entertaining.