The Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 6

The Water Dragon’s Bride Volume 6 by Rei Toma

One would not normally expect a fantasy series about a girl from modern day Japan falling through worlds to end up in a quasi-medieval land where the lives of humans revolve around appeasing gods to contain a dense philosophical exploration of what it means to be human, with a side meditation on man’s inhumanity to man, but that’s exactly what the reader gets in The Water Dragon’s Bride. Toma’s masterful storytelling is on full display in the 6th volume, where there’s a dramatic emotional breakthrough with Asahi and her Water Dragon God.

All along the Water Dragon God has been transformed bit by bit due to his close exposure to humans. He doesn’t exactly understand humanity yet, but he’s a great deal more sensitive and caring than the person he was in the first volume who just sat back and let a young Asahi starve to death because the concept of providing food did not occur to him. When the Water Dragon God continues to see that the other humans are going to still persist in trying to control Asahi due to her standing as priestess, he decides that she can’t remain in the human world, and she needs to exist by his side with no more pain. The solution the Water Dragon God hits on is to trap Asagi in a bubble in his world, where she experiences a day of her being a normal high school girl with Subaru over and over again until she begins to sense that something is wrong with her fake new existence. I’m always in awe at what Toma can do with her minimalist yet highly effective approach to illustration. Seeing Asagi trapped in her bubble in the world of the Gods while they discuss her is visually arresting, as the formless world is intercut with scenes of the dream in modern Japan that Asagi slowly realizes is not real.

The power dynamic between Asagi and the Water Dragon God is so unequal, but she manages to break his spell, raising a question about how much power she actually has over him. So much of this volume is expressed through the internal thoughts of the characters, with brief dialog that evokes all of the unsaid emotions as seen Asagi and the Water Dragon God share a “Good Morning” greeting after she breaks out of her water bubble. He decides after his attempt to trap Asagi in a dream that he will set things back on their original path, but can Asagi really go home again after everything she’s experienced? I’m genuinely not sure what to expect from this series next, which makes it such a pleasure to read.

Takane & Hana, Vol 3

Takane & Hana Volume 3 by Yuki Shiwasu

Takane & Hana continues to be a bit of a guilty pleasure read for me. It might not be all that deep, but the humor and Shiwasu’s ability to draw hilarious facial expressions make it a great light summer read, even as it steps through some fairly typical plot points for shoujo manga.

The volume starts off with Hana brokering peace between Takane and his friend Nicola, who promises to be a semi-regular presence in future stories with his womanizing ways and ability to tease Takane. One of the things that has be rooting for this relationship between a CEO and a high schooler against all logic is the way each half of the couple springs into action whenever their partner needs support. In this case, Hana’s grades take a nosedive, and she’s irritated at the presumption people make that it is because she has a new boyfriend. She tells Takane that she needs a break to study and can’t see him for awhile, but of course he takes this as an excuse to turn himself into the perfect tutor, and they spend the time before her big exams studying together. Hana then returns the favor when Takane gets sick. There are possible hints of a potential love triangle ahead, as Hana’s friend Okamon monitors Takane closely when they go on a beach summer vacation trip. Overall this was a fun volume as always, enlivened by Takane’s overwrought reactions to normal life events.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, Vol 1

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, Volume 1 by Kagiji Kumanomata

This manga was an unexpected delight. I was initially curious about Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle due to it being a Shonen Sunday title, which is a bit of a rarity. I feel like fantasy comedy series can be a bit hit or miss, but I found this title quite entertaining, mostly due to the way it subverts the whole idea of kidnapped princesses.

Syalis is the kidnapped princes in question and while the people in her kingdom pine for her and a idiotic knight vows to rescue her at the start of each chapter, she is solely concerned with getting some good rest. The demon castle lacks high quality pillows and bedding, and she is determined to secure what she needs by any means necessary. Syalis casually embarks on a reign of terror in the castle as she locates unique demons to use for her own purposes. She harvests fur from her guards, who look like fluffy teddy bears. She locates giant scissors and cuts off the body of ghosts in order to get some high quality fabric. Throughout most of the manga, her facial expressions are totally stoic, in contrast to the demons who are being driven frantic by her casual escape attempts. She also seems to have a knack for finding rare magical objects and repurposing them as sleep aids. There’s really only one joke in this manga, but it is executed very well. The unique character designs of the demons and the expanding cast of characters keeps the manga entertaining, even though the plot points in each chapter are so similar. I’m not sure how long the central joke can be sustained, as this series lasts for several volumes, but the first volume was so entertaining I’m definitely going to give it a try.

Yona of the Dawn Vols 11 and 12

Yona of the Dawn Volumes 11 and 12 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is an indication of how busy I am that I read two volumes of Yona of the Dawn together, because usually a volume of Yona of the Dawn does not linger unread for very long in my house. Reading volumes 11 and 12 back to back enabled me to appreciate Kusanagi’s storytelling skills even more as she shifts into a new storyline for Yona and her now complete band of mystical dragon protectors. Volume 11 was a little more light-hearted and character-driven, with the opening chapter flashing back to when Yona, Hak, and Su-Won were children, with Yona reacting against the restrictions of her role as a princess and the older boys watching over her as protectors.

A very important moment occurs in the next chapter, when Hak declares his undying devotion to Yona by…kissing her on the forehead. Yona spends most of her time being perplexed. Jaeha turns into a bit of an odd cheerleader for the relationship, by acting continuing to act obnoxious and needling Hak at any opportunity. The team heads into the Kai empire in search of more sustainable food for Yona’s people, and some hilarious scenes ensure as the village maidens who are starved for the sight of handsome men swarm Yona’s companions. Yona has a key moment where she wins over the villagers, demonstrating that she has the unique diplomatic skills of a potential queen. Kusanagi handles moments of Hak’s internal turmoil, Yona’s perplexed emotions, and over the top fangirl squeeing with ease, and I’m always intrigued to see how she chooses to illustrate these important emotional moments.

In contrast, volume 12 shifts into exploring geopolitical issues as generals and lords hatch an elaborate plot to start a rebellion in Kohka. One of my favorite things in this series is seeing Yona become more self-assured and confident with each volume. Once she realizes what is happening she’s determined to return, not for any military or personal ambition of her own, but because she wants to do something to help out the people who might be crushed in a confrontation of opposing armies. At twelve volumes in, one of the great things about this series is that Kusanagi has built up the characters so much that an abrupt shift to multiple scenes of old general dudes hatching evil plots while discussing tea is not alarming at all, because the reader has full confidence that it will all come together in the end, and it totally does. I thoroughly enjoy the pacing of Yona of the Dawn, as the characters and the challenges they face continue to evolve in fascinating ways. Overall, as someone who has read a ton of shoujo fantasy, I think this series is one of the best examples of the genre.

Kenka Bancho Otome, Vol 1

Kenka Bancho Otome by Chie Shimada

Kenka Bancho Otome has many elements that I like present in a single manga. There is a reverse harem scenario in which a girl has to dress as a boy! It is an adaptation of an otome game, and I enjoy the occasional otome game (still playing Ninja Shadow). Also, there is punching and juvenile delinquency involved, and I do greatly appreciate shoujo manga heroines with the ability to perform acts of physical strength.

One thing I found absolutely hilarious was the way the set-up for the whole manga was taken care of in about 5 panels. Hinako, an orphan, is about to start her high school career at an all girls school, when she brushes against a boy who fakes a violent fall. The mysterious boy’s manservant tells her that he has broken his arm, and Hinako is forced to attend his school entrance ceremony in his place. Conveniently, the “injured” boy is Hinako’s doppleganger. She finds herself dressed as a boy, attending an all boys school for juvenile delinquents. Hinako is cosplaying as Hikaru Onigashima, the son of a yakuza boss, whose family obligations require him to become the boss of the school by beating up everyone around him. I sort of wish the rest of the manga took place at such a breakneck speed, but I’m sure that would not be practical to execute.

This being an adaptation of an otome game, handsome boys of different types are introduced in short succession. There’s the mysterious dark-haired uppperclassman with a secret shared past with Hinako, a sporty exuberant boy who blushes all the time, a silent boy with hidden depths, and a flamboyant rock star. I can’t remember their names because the characters are not really all that memorable, but that’s not really the point! Kenka Bancho Otome steps through many standard shoujo plot points with a breezy charm and attractive character designs. It did make me wish that the game was available on android, because I totally would have played it after reading the manga. On that level, I think the manga is a success. It was fun to read, mainly because I’m always up for punching and reverse harem manga. On the other hand, any otome game adaptation isn’t going to have the emotional depth of a manga like Hana Kimi or the hilarity of a series like Oresama Teacher. So Kenka Bancho Otome is nice and diverting, when someone might be in the need of a pleasant distraction, which is a mood I find myself in most of the time.