Kiss of the Rose Princess, Vol. 1

Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 1 by Aya Shouoto

I’m always happy to check out a new reverse harem manga. Kiss of the Rose Princess seems a little bit on the wacky and comedic side like Ouran High School Host Club, except it has random paranormal elements, is less ridiculous, and does not feature twins. So actually, not very like Ouran at all. The heroine of the story is Anise Yamamoto, a girl who is cursed with wearing the same rose necklace to school every day in flagrant violation of the dress code, because her father told her that she would be cursed if she ever took the necklace off.

Of course, only a few pages into the manga, Anise’s necklace falls off and she soon finds herself assigned mystical knights who she can summon to do her bidding by kissing cards imprinted with different colored roses. By day they are Kaede the slightly cranky yet typically handsome shoujo hero, Tenjo the secretly freaky student council president, the gothically morose Mutsuki, and the tiny but cute Asagi. Random events at school cause Anise to need help, and as she mystically summons her knights to her side she begins to learn a bit more about their personalities. There are plenty of amusing scenes in Kiss of the Rose Princess, even though it doesn’t approach the manic humor of a series like Ouran High School Host Club or Oresama Teacher.

The art is attractive, but fairly conventional. It doesn’t have much of a distinct style to it, and I tend to enjoy reading manga a bit more if the artist has some recognizable unique takes on character design, backgrounds, or paneling. I found myself picking up and putting down this volume a bit, which might have been a function of me being crazy busy recently, but the story didn’t really capture all of my attention. That being said, Kiss of the Rose Princess was enjoyable to read, as a good example of super light and fluffy manga. I’m hoping that the humor and the relationships between the characters develops a bit more in the second volume.

Spell of Desire, Vol. 2

Spell of Desire Volume 2 by Tomu Ohmi

This series is rapidly becoming my favorite josei masked as shoujo series released on the Shojo Beat imprint. When I picked up the second volume, I was expecting a bit of filler with a few more episodes of Kaoruko’s runaway witch powers manifesting, with the obligatory makeout sessions with Kaname in order to keep her powers under control. While this certainly happened, Ohmi also went full speed ahead with plot development, introducing us to more backstory, evil covens, and Kaname actually admitting he has feelings for the young witch he has sworn to protect.

The sensual nature of Kaoruko’s magic ensures that she’s going to be an object of attraction to men, and Kaname is struggling with this himself. She wants to be able to control her magical abilities, but the fact is that having her mother’s power sealed inside her, in addition to her own magic has made her a bit of a danger to herself. Kaname returns to the coven, leaving one of his mystical animal sidekicks behind for Karuoku’s protection. In his dealings with the coven we see how Kaname is struggling with wanting what is best for his charge as person, in contrast to the way the coven views her as a valuable pawn. He wants to protect her freedom as much as possible, but the powerful witches he reports to might make this difficult.

Kaoruko’s neighbor Yu finds himself irresistibly attracted to her when her magic spirals out of control, but fortunately Unicorn delays things a bit. When some additional witches show up at Kaoruko’s house, she’s almost attacked again, but Kaname returns just in time to save her. Towards the end of the volume, Kaoruko makes a fateful decision to protect Kaname herself. While she’s been a bit passive so far due to reacting to her out of control powers, Kaoruko shows that she has plenty of willpower when someone she cares about is threatened.

I still really enjoy the way Ohmi portrays Kaoruko’s powers as black vines becoming entwined around the panels of the manga, it’s a visual device that is both pretty and ominous at the same time. I was happy that by the second volume, both Kaoruko and Kaname are clear that they love each other, even if they aren’t clear yet that their feelings are reciprocated. I think there will be interesting times ahead if Kaoruko is able to control her own powers and doesn’t need Kaname’s protection as much. I highly recommend this series if you enjoy paranormal romance manga.

World Trigger, Vols 1 and 2

World Trigger Volumes 1 and 2 by Daisuke Ashihara

World Trigger starts out with a very Attack on Titanesque set-up, expressed simply in one page. Monsters from another dimension are invading the earth. A paramilitary force shows up to fight the monsters. Daily life for the rest of humanity is often interrupted by these “Neighbors” who look a bit like giant eels and the humans who fight back against the invasion.

Osamu is a bit of an unassuming student, but he finds his life complicated when a mysterious new transfer student named Yuma shows up. Yuma seems to not know very much about basic human behavior. When a Neighbor attacks outside of the usual boundaries, Osamu reveals that he’s actually a trainee for the Border Defense Agency, with a small amount of power that he’s determined to use to protect everyone in his city. Yuma turns out to have some extraordinary powers himself. He claims to also be a Neighbor, from the dimension where the monsters come from. He also has the ability to use a trigger, the weapon/body exchange protocol that allows users to fight off the monsters.

In the ensuing battle, Yuma fends off a powerful monster after Osamu proves not to have the level that he needs in order to destroy his enemy. Osamu turns to helping out however he can, by evacuating residents and helping everyone stay safe. Members of the Border Protection Agency turn up, suspicious of the recent events and determined to follow correct bureaucratic procedure. The cast of the book gradually expands beyond Osamu and Yuma to include many of the typical foils for a shonen protagonist. There’s a cool older male mentor, a type A overachiever warrior girl, and a host of bureaucrats in the Border Protection Agency that will surely make life difficult for Osamu.

The Border Protection Agency seems more chaotic than a force for either good or evil, as a squad starts to hunt down Yuma. Osamu tries to intercede, but Yuma’s level of power is such that he’s able to evade attack from multiple agents at once with only some slight injuries. One interesting aspect of the story is that Osamu keeps getting promoted within the Border Protection Agency simply because he is often in the right place at the right time and occasionally forced to take credit for some of Yuma’s actions in order to maintain his new friend’s cover. Osamu’s leveling up though being an unassuming nice guy who is incredibly lucky is a bit unexpected for a reader expecting a more typical brash shonen hero, and this was one aspect of the book that I found intriguing.

There’s a fair amount of world building as the characters go into details about the alien tech infused battle system, but I didn’t find this very interesting. The art is workmanlike and easy to follow, but it doesn’t have that extra bit of style or distinct quality that would make me want to pick up the manga just to see some fabulously paneled battle scenes. The story is solid, but there isn’t much that’s surprising about it so far. The anime for this series is starting to air, so I imagine that will fuel interest for this title. I didn’t find myself inspired to keep reading the series, simply because there are other titles out there that are much more entertaining. I can read One Punch Man if I want something funny, Attack on Titan if I want to read about a dystopian future where humanity is fighting off giant invaders, or Seraph of the End for more attractive art and interesting world building. Overall, this is a solid if not super compelling shonen title, and I imagine that someone less picky about shonen manga than me will enjoy it.

My Love Story! Vol 2

My Love Story! Volume 2 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

I thought the first volume of this series managed to be both hilarious and refreshing with its unconventional for shoujo manga premise of focusing on the foibles of a unconventional male hero. The second volume took first place on my to-read pile as soon as I got it, and it was just as delightful as the first volume. There are a few episodic chapters here that all manage to focus on something a bit different, while still providing some continuity in exploring the developing romance between the giant Takeo and his cute girlfriend Yamato, with conventionally attractive Sunakawa acting as a willing and supportive third wheel.

The first chapter shows Takeo tasked with the job of rounding up some boys to go along on a group date with Yamato and her friends from school. BYamato has told all her friends how awesome her new boyfriend is, and when they are confronted with the somewhat ungainly Takeo and his band of misfits, they don’t react well. Takeo does excel at feats of strength, and when a fire breaks out he manages to rescue everyone from the burning building, winning the admiration of every new acquaintance. Yamato and Takeo’s relationship is tested further when he agrees to do the judo team the favor of temporarily joining them before a big match, which causes him to have to spend too much time training. Sunakawa acts as a somewhat enigmatic but still caring sounding board to the couple. As Takeo starts preparing the best birthday ever for Yamato, he notices that the usually reticent Sunakawa seems to be even more preoccupied, causing him to have to choose between his girlfriend and his best friend.

The type of comedy in My Love Story! is tricky to pull off. Even though Takeo is drawn to be exaggeratedly not the shoujo manga ideal and he gets into plenty of ridiculous situations, the steadfast affection of Yamato and Sunakawa ensures that he’s never an object of ridicule. The world might be against him, but he has the support of people who think he’s great the way he is. It’s a nice central message that’s absent from more cynical series. Aruko does a great job with drawing physical comedy of the series, with plenty of exaggerated expressions and action elements, but there are also plenty of more subtle moments as Sunakawa shields his emotions and Yamato reacts with joy to practically everything Takeo does. This is all a balancing act of plot and art, and My Love Story! pulls it off well.

Food Wars, Vol 1

Food Wars Volume 1 by Yuto Tsukudo and Shun Saeki

This is a potentially engaging battle style foodie manga that I found myself having a difficult time getting into due to the copious amounts of fan service. I do realize that in shonen manga, one has to expect some boobs and miniskirts, just as one might expect scenes of shirtless vampires chained to the wall in supernatural shoujo manga, but I thought the sexual elements in Food Wars didn’t really enhance what might otherwise be a fun food battle manga.

Soma has grown up cooking for his father’s neighborhood restaurant. He’s trying to battle his father for supremacy but still falling short of the mark. The third page of the manga contains a reference to tentacle rape, as Soma pops a bite of a squid food experiment into a girls mouth, only for her to feel horrifically molested by the terrible combination of flavors. The first chapter in the book is a prolog, as representatives of a hostile corporation try to move in on the restaurant, Soma’s father decides to take off and cook in America, and Soma is promptly sent to try out for an elite cooking school called the Totsuki Saryo Culinary Institute.

The female antagonist of Food Wars is Erina Nakiri, a student with an incredibly refined palette, and a gift for metaphor, as she likens an unsatisfactory dish to the sensation of visiting a hot springs only to find out that there is a gorilla staring at her. Full visuals for this scene are of course provided, and it is actually much more funny than some of the other fanservicey scenes that just seem to involve food blowing away peoples’ clothes. Erina judges Soma’s dish and finds it extraordinary despite the fact that he’s making everyday Japanese food instead of something more fancy. She fails him, but he’s let into the school after all when a school administrator tears up the test results after tasting the dish.

I do enjoy food manga, and ordinarily I’d be totally up for reading a few volumes of food battling set in an elite high school. I also liked the theme of contrasting Soma’s expertise in making everyday food with the snobby pretensions of his fellow students. The fan service elements were just a bit too much for me, and there are certainly other examples of food manga that manage to show the transformative experience of eating an excellent dish without resorting to upskirt shots. So for funny food manga, I’d probably recommend that someone with similar tastes as me go with Yakitate Japan or the ridiculous Toriko.