So Cute it Hurts! Vol 3

So Cute it Hurts! Volume 3 by Go Ikeyamada

This is an excessively silly series, but I’ve been enjoying it, mostly because of the amount of plot twists that get resolved in each volume, so more goofy subplots can promptly develop. Also, I feel like Shojo Beat should always be publishing at least one title where the heroine cross dresses just on principle.

I feel like in many shoujo series, the fraternal twins’ cross dressing antics would fuel plot lines for 4-5 volumes, but in So Cute it Hurts! their true identities were unmasked at the end of the second volume. Aoi, the delinquent boy with a crippling physical aversion to female contact is surprised when the boy he’s been hanging out with is unmasked as Mitsuru’s sister Megumu. At the same time, Mitsuru’s masquerade is uncovered by mean girl Azuza. Aoi deals with the psychological impact of being around a girl unknowingly, and Azuza blurts out a confession of her crush to Mitsuru instead of revealing his secret. Meanwhile, Mitsuru is struggling with his feelings for Shino, but doesn’t want to ruin their friendship by telling her that he’s actually a boy. Oh, the tangled storylines of cross dressing shoujo romance!

When the week-long switch ends after Megumu has taken Mitsuru’s tests for him, there’s still plenty of emotional fall-out as Megumu pines for Aoi, and he begins to come to terms with his own feelings. Aoi’s allergy to girls causes some hilarious reactions when he and Megumu get closer, although they have to stay a certain distance apart to avoid triggering him. Their budding romance is indeed ridiculously cute, and while this manga in no way approaches both the hilarity and emotional depth of My Love Story!!, it is still entertaining. Ikeyamada ratchets up all the emotional reactions of her characters for added hilarity. While this volume focused a bit more on Megumu, I can see how the next volume is going to be focusing more with the love triangle Mitsuru is in since the object of his affections does not even know him as a boy while Azuza continues to have a violent crush on him. So Cute it Hurts! continues to be a fun read for those who enjoy romance with broad comedy.


Maid-sama! Vols 1 and 2

Maid-sama! Volumes 1 and 2 by Hiro Fujiwara

It has been some time since I’ve read this series. I think I read around 4 or 5 volumes or so of the Tokyopop release, so the new omnibus from Viz provided a good excuse to give the series a second try. I totally understand why Maid-sama! would be a strong title to re-release since it has an anime adaptation too. However, a tiny part of me will still hope in vain for some reissues of some of the other less commercial series that got cut off when Toykopop went under.

The maid in this title is Misaki Ayuzawa, a high achieving girl who has become president of a school that has only recently gone co-ed. She’s uncomfortable around boys and has made it her mission to clean up the school and abolish delinquent behaviors in order to protect the small female population. She’s super stern and has great physical prowess when it comes to beating up her fellow students. While she’s a perfect student at school, Misaki has to make ends meet by working as a waitress at a maid cafe as her part-time job. In the first few pages of the manga, Misaki’s secret is discovered by Takumi Usui, a popular and somewhat cynical boy who attends her school. He promptly decides to hold Misaki’s secret over her head and begins to pop up now and then whenever something might go wrong.

Misaki navigates issues with student-council relations, dealing with a rival school, and navigating random cross-dressing events at her part-time job. Aside from the relationship between Misaki and Usui, the manga is pretty entertaining, as Misaki’s outsize reactions to everything gradually begin to mellow out a bit as she begins to relate to all the students at her school as human beings, not just the girls. I had also totally forgotten about the idiot trio, a group of background characters that also discover Misaki’s secret identity as a maid and mostly function to gaze at her adoringly and act occasionally like a slapstick Greek chorus. Fujiwara’s art is clear and easy to follow, and very dynamic when Misaki is leaping into action to defend womanhood or juggling a ton of customers at her part-time job.

The part of this manga that bugs me and I think contributed to my decision to stop reading it before, is that Usui is utterly unappealing as a shoujo male lead to me. His general mode of interaction is to randomly show up, invade Misaki’s space, and make her feel confused and flustered. He also keeps forcing physical affection on Misaki when she’s not a willing participant, as some sort of power game. Also, Fujiwara goes to great length to demonstrate Misaki’s physical prowess when her being strong is funny or over the top, but Misaki suddenly becomes weak and incapable when it serves the purpose of the plot to have Usui rescue her from herself. He’s also constantly reminding Misaki that she’s a girl who needs help, and it only serves to make it appear like the main message of this manga is that a girl with strong type A tendencies needs a man to help her out. For folks who aren’t put off by this relationship dynamic, I do think that Maid-sama! is plenty entertaining. I just find series like Oresama Teacher or My Love Story! much more amusing if I’m looking for something fun to read in the shoujo comedy genre.


Komomo Confiserie Vol 1

Komomo Confiserie, Volume 1 by Maki Minami

So far, Maki Minami’s shoujo series haven’t totally connected with me as a reader. I didn’t care for Special A very much, and while I liked the first couple volumes of Voice Over!: Seiyu Academy, I haven’t gone on to read the entire series. Maybe Komomo Confiserie will finally be the Minami series that I actually finish!

The series starts out with a flashback, as the incredibly spoiled and rich little girl Komomo picks on a young boy named Natsu. He’s the son of her family’s chef, and Komomo only likes the sweets that Natsu prepares for her. Komomo is ungracious and bossy, but she has an emotional connection to Natsu’s food, it serving as a substitute for companionship as she lives in a huge mansion abandoned by her parents. In just a few panels, this rich yet emotionally empty life is overturned, as Komomo’s father announces that he’s lost their fortune, and Komomo has to work to support herself with a part time job. Life as a rich heiress hasn’t prepared Komomo with the social graces or work ethic to be able to handle any type of employment and she keeps getting fired over and over again.

It wouldn’t be a shoujo manga if Natsu wasn’t about to return to Japan a triumphant celebrity from studying pastry abroad, determined to seek out his old “friend” to exact revenge, only to find that their positions have been reversed in an ironic twist of fate! Natsu has an exceedingly charming pastry shop to run, and he runs in to Komomo just as she is tossed out into the street from her latest misadventure in employment.

If Komomo was absolutely unrepentant and spoiled, this manga wouldn’t work very well, but what I enjoyed most about this series were the cracks in the facades for both Natsu and Komomo. Komomo gradually begins to realize how superficial her previous life was, when none of her old friends come to her aid. While Natsu initially appears to be slightly psychotic in his pursuit of revenge, he is actually moved a few times when seeing Komomo eat his food and try to adjust to her new life. Komomo’s rich girl attitudes come in handy when she’s faced with a new high school. Mean girl bullying just slides off of her, and she sails through unaffected. Komomo is gradually learning to be a real human being, and as her personality changes, Natsu begins to find her more and more adorable.

Minami is a solid shoujo artist, and I particularly appreciated her being able to dramatize facial expressions that are a bit off, for example when Natsu’s kindness is a facade for his evil plans. I’m hoping that Komomo will become more and more adept with dealing with the real world, changing the power dynamic between her and Natsu more in the next few volumes.

Kiss of the Rose Princess, Vol. 5

Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 5 by Aya Shouto

I find myself enjoying this series more and more, mostly because with each new volume my suspension of disbelief grows, and I just kick back and enjoy the ridiculousness of this reverse harem fantasy manga. This volume did a good job balancing out which knights were featured, with a bit more attention given to Tenjo the White Rose Knight. As ever, Kaede the Red Rose Knight lurks around and smolders in a few panels for each chapter.

The first part of this volume picks up at an area that is fraught with terror in most shoujo manga – an amusement park. Meek classmate Mikage with her overwhelming crush on Kaede has been hiding an even worse secret. Even more fake Rose Knights appear, leading to an excess of flower avatar people everywhere! Anise powers up a bit, triggering an awakening in Tenjo the White Rose that allows him to deal with their enemies easily. This throws off the balance of power and changes the dynamics in the group a little bit.

The fake rose idols Rhodecia make a brief appearance again, and there’s an extended comedy bit when Anise, Kaede, and Seiran dress as servants in an attempt to infiltrate Tenjo’s mansion to check up on him. There are plenty of gags involving both maid costumes and the odd decorating habits of the rich. One of the things I enjoy about the series is the way it switches back and forth between more lighthearted scenes and hints of upcoming ominous events. Shouoto’s dramatic art has plenty of flourishes that suit the dramatic and silly situations the protagonists find themselves in. Even though evil fake roses keep popping up, the mystery around Anise’s diabolical father is still touched on briefly with each volume, hinting at larger issues Anise is going to confront eventually. With the Black Rose Mutsuki seeming to take center stage at the end of this volume and I’m assuming the start of the next, it looks like there’s going to be more grim vampirific backstory to look forward to.

Spell of Desire Vol. 5

Spell of Desire Volume 5 by Tomu Ohmi

It is the final volume of Spell of Desire! What’s happening in the conclusion of this paranormal romance series?

Throughout Spell of Desire Kaoruko has been heading towards a confrontation with her mother, the mysterious Witch Queen. She finds out that her mother sealed herself away as part of a spell to balance out the positive and negative energy that was building up in the world. The Witch Queen emerges, and Kaname confesses that he’s no longer able to serve as the Witch Queen’s knight due to his love for Kaoruko. The Witch Queen promptly wins an award for worst mother of the year when she announces that she’s going to curse her daughter’s boyfriend by taking all of his senses away, followed by taking his memories of Kaoruko away too. Kaname is blinded, and he slowly becomes more and more debilitated.

This curse presents quite the conundrum, and Kaoruko is determined to harness her power for once and for all in order to save Kaname. She’s been slowly inching towards claiming her power, so it was great to see her finally take charge and do something. She’s aided by an elderly black witch who shows up and indulges in a great deal of exposition as the volume wraps up.

Overall, I thought the pacing of this series was a bit off. I enjoyed the world building and character introductions in the first couple volumes a great deal, but the rest of the series felt like it was just marking time until the big witch battle happened in the final volume. Kaoruko’s rise to self-assurance and command of her power felt a bit rushed, but I still appreciate that by the end of the series she was making her own decisions and acting heroically in order to create her own happy ending. While Spell of Desire wasn’t the best example of paranormal romance, Ohmi’s clear visual storytelling made it easy to read.

I see that this manga hasn’t sold as well as Ohmi’s other series to be translated into English, Midnight Secretary. This is a bit of a shame, because I was hoping that Viz would bring out her earlier series Kindan no Koi de Ikou, since there is such a dearth of werewolf manga romance being translated into English. We have all the vampires we need, what about some werewolves for a change? I’d still recommend Spell of Desire and Midnight Secretary to romance manga fans, and I hope more of Ohmi’s work gets translated here.