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.

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.