One Punch Man, Vol 1

I make no secret of my affection for shoujo manga, but occasionally even I want to read shonen manga featuring kicking or punching, preferably both. One Punch Man, as one might suspect, is centered on punching. This is available on the Viz Digital site for your various devices! One Punch Man provides an amusing twist on the typical shonen manga plot about a young protagonist who has to work hard to develop his extraordinary abilities. In this case the hero of the manga, formerly unemployed salaryman turned hero Saitama has already train to develop his powers with such intensity that all his hair has fallen out. He is called “One Punch Man” because he is so strong he can easily defeat any opponent with just one punch, and as a result is incredibly bored.

In One Punch Man, Saitama’s town seems to be an unfortunate focus of giant villains or monsters with satirical origin stories. One Punch Man punches Vaccine Man, who exists due to pollution, a crustacean made angry by graffiti, and a group of subterraneans. Throughout the manga, One Punch Man is vainly hoping for a non-boring battle, only to be disappointed every time. As drawn by Yusuke Murata, One Punch Man often resembles a slightly perturbed superhero with an egg-like head, which only serves to highlight the ridiculousness of his opponents. Towards the end of middle of the volume One Punch Man even takes on a sidekick Genos, “a lone cyborg fighting for justice.”

I found One Punch Man‘s send up of superhero conventions amusing, the art was well executed, and it perfectly fit in my desire to read goofy fighting shonen manga. The send-ups of villains and heroic origin stories mixed in with some spectacular punches made this manga fun to read, and I hope it does well for Viz as a digital first release. I’d buy the next volume, for sure.

Dawn of the Arcana Vols 11 and 12

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 11 by Rei Toma

Dawn of the Arcana is a series that I think is best experienced in mini bursts of 2 or 3 volumes, simply due to the deliberate pace of the storytelling in the manga, as well as the fact that it sometimes takes a half volume or so for my brain to kick in with my memories about what happened in the previous volume due to all the relationships developing and the shifting nature of the geopolitical situations happening in Toma’s world. Usually I’m far too impatient to let the volumes pile up like this though!

After 10 volumes, the new status quo for red haired socially outcast with alarming powers of precognition Princess Nakaba and formerly arrogant but really a nice guy who has a social conscience inspired by the power of love Prince Caesar is to be separated. Nakaba has returned to Senan, determined to do some ruling in her own right, and Caesar is back in his home country of Belquat, dealing with his evil family. This volume shows the emotional impact of Nakaba’s power, the Arcana of Time, as she is determined to save the outcast child of a village that is in the direct path of an avalanche. This becomes a story that further explores the position of the humanoid animal hybrid race called ajin, as Lala the child with bunny ears is actually the product of a human/ajin encounter, leading to her abandonment. Lala has one human friend, and Nakaba’s ever present ajin protector Loki is there to save the day as always.

Loki always seems to have a new revelation every few volumes, either about his emotions or background, and a secret is revealed in this volume that shows that he and Nakaba have even more in common than I previously thought. While there’s the more conventional romantic storyline with Caesar and Nakaba, I actually find Nakaba’s relationship with Loki much more interesting, as they trade off protector duties in unexpected ways. Nakaba decides to take power in her home country, and her choices are largely driven by wanting to prevent Loki from going too far for her.

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 12 by Rei Toma

Everything keeps zipping along, as now that Nakaba and Caesar are in power in their respective countries, they have a chance to finally see each other again, when Caesar is ordered to invade Senan. Nakaba’s been looking in on Caesar and remarks that he’s going to start a revolution, so she’s “Here to lend a hand.” Nakaba’s power also provides Toma with a great way of providing more backstory about her characters. Nakaba looks back at Caesar’s father when he was young, even though Loki warns her that it might be difficult for her to see because she’s “too kind”. Nakaba sees King Guran’s first meeting with his unconventional first queen, the commoner Sara. The unhappy ending of this romance provides a reason for why King Guran might have ended up so twisted and bitter, but it doesn’t prevent a confrontation that is sure to cause even more fallout to happen in the volumes ahead.

One of the things that I really like about the art in this series is that it is so clear and easy to read. Toma might not have the most intricate backgrounds or innovative approach to paneling, but I’m never left puzzled about action scenes or finding that I have to go back and reread a page to make sure I understand the sequencing. The wordless exchanges between Nakaba and Caesar and the sidelong glances between Loki and Caesar do more to express the tensions between the characters than several pages of dialog. Overall, these were two very solid volumes in a fantasy series that is always surprising me with unexpected depths. I’m looking forward to the next few volumes to see what will become of Nakaba, Caesar, and Loki (well, really mostly Loki).

Nisekoi: False Love Vol 1

Nisekoi: False Love Vol 1 by Naoshi Komi

I don’t tend to track trends in English releases of shonen manga as much as I do shoujo manga, but it certainly seems like it has been some time since we’ve seen a shonen romantic comedy set in high school. Raku is the typical shonen protagonist who (say it together with me!) “just wants a normal high school life.” Unfortunately while Raku has set his goal as becoming a reliable civil servant, his desire to be boring and normal is foiled by the fact that he’s the heir to a yakuza clan. Raku also is dealing with the aftermath of an encounter in his youth, when he exchanged vows of love with a girl he cannot remember. He has a special pendant in the shape of a lock, and his faceless beloved is holding on to the key. But Raku doesn’t remember her name!

Raku starts school awkwardly failing to ask out the nicest and prettiest girl in school, Ondera. His romantic ambitions are foiled when a new girl appears in his class. Chitoge is cute, athletic, and brash and she and Raku naturally start bickering immediately. They are assigned desks next each other as well as duties after school and they spend most of their time arguing so much, their classmates start to wonder if they are especially close. Things get even worse for Raku when he agrees to pretend to be romantically involved with the daughter of a rival gang boss in order to preserve peace, only to find out that his new “girlfriend” is Chitoge. Under the watchful eyes of retainers from both families, Raku and Chitoge go through the motions of a weekend date, only to find out that their romantic status has been announced at school as well, leaving them no rest from their charade.

There’s plenty of humor in this title even though it doesn’t reach the laugh out loud heights of Oresama Teacher. Komi frequently draws rictus-like facial expressions when his characters are in the grips of strong emotions. While the love triangle in this book is predictable, it certainly isn’t more derivative than the typical shoujo title. Chitoge and Raku’s similar backgrounds and tendencies to freak out often make them seem like natural friends with something in common, whereas Ondera’s more retiring personality makes her someone that Raku can easily admire from afar even though he doesn’t know her very well. While I didn’t connect with this title the same way I do my treasured shoujo romances, for anyone looking for shonen romantic comedy I think this will be an enjoyable manga to read. The art is well-executed, the personalities of the characters are interesting if a bit broadly drawn, and random yakuza thugs make everything more fun.

Happy Marriage Vol. 3 and Demon Love Spell Vol. 5

Happy Marriage Volume 3

I continue to enjoy Maki Enjoji’s series about an office lady who abruptly finds herself married to a seemingly cold and domineering company president. Chiwa and Hokuto have gradually grown closer over the first two volumes of this series, and the relationship continues to develop further in the third volume. Chiwa finally deals with Hokuto when he’s in a vulnerable position when he suddenly becomes ill, and she has to tend to him at home. One thing I enjoy is the way Enjoji slips into showing action without words or thought balloons in order to show events with more emotional impact. When Hokuto wakes up in the middle of the night and sees Chiwa sleeping by the side of his bed, he looks absolutely shocked, then silently pulls her over so she can sleep more comfortably beside him. There are still some slice of life humorous moments in the manga, like when Chiwa deals with Hokuto’s hidden slovenly habits at home and her tendency to become an “Octopus Woman” when she sleeps.

The big emotional breakthrough in the volume occurs when Chiwa and Hokuto have to go visit his family, and Chiwa sees how poorly he’s treated by his relatives. This explains a great deal about his personality and motivations, and Chiwa gets so angry she is more emotionally honest about her feelings for her husband as she’s sticking up for him than she’s ever been when talking to Hokuto directly. I’m looking forward to what happens next! It is a bit odd to root for a married couple to get together, but Enjoji manages to pull this situation off with an engaging story and sympathetic characters.

Demon Love Spell Volume 5

This volume will be particularly fun for any fans of Mayu Shinjo’s series Sensual Phrase. Demon Love Spell can be depended upon to serve up plenty of humor and paranormal romance hijinks, and this volume picks things up with a funny plot device. Incubus Kagura and priestess Miko decide that they’re going to move out of Miko’s family home/shrine and her father promptly agrees! But before they go Miko’s father uses his priestly powers and puts a curse on Kagura so that he will be utterly incapable of romancing Miko in any capacity. The young teenager and incredibly old incubus struggle with finding an apartment. Miko starts working a part-time job to support them. They barely ever see each other, and it seems like their new apartment may also be haunted!

In any romance manga, misunderstandings get in the way of true love, and when Kagura decides to go into showbiz in order to make some money to support Miko, she promptly becomes jealous and concerned that he’s getting “powered up” from other women. Kagura’s demonic hotness ensures overnight success as a male model, and he soon becomes a pop sensation as well. Much is made of Kagura’s resemblance to the hero Sakuya from Sensual Phrase, and I found it hilarious that Shinjo’s habit of drawing her male heroes in a very similar fashion was acknowledged in this manner. All in all, this was another fun volume of this series. I’m definitely enjoying Demon Love Spell much more than Ai Ore, and I hope that more of Shinjo’s series get translated over here.

Sweet Rein Vol 1

Sweet Rein Vol 1 by Sakura Tsukuba

I had totally forgotten that Sweet Rein was coming out, so when I saw it I got to be pleasantly surprised all over again. Sakura Tsukuba had two series published by CMX, Penguin Revolution and Land of the Blindfolded. Both of these series fit well into the low-fi, cozy vibe that was characteristic of many of CMX’s fantasy series. I was very happy to read Sweet Rein, and I’m calling it now – this is the perfect feel-good shoujo for the holiday season.

Sweet Rein has the sort of premise that is most enjoyed when the reader doesn’t think about it too hard. Kurumi is walking along alone when she bumps into a boy. Kurumi and the boy are suddenly tethered together, and he rushes up to her and yells “Master!” He then proceeds to explain “I’m your reindeer and you’re my Santa Claus!” It turns out that mystical reindeer with the power to take human form are bonded forever to a human Santa Claus, who is the only person who can release the reindeer’s magical powers. Kaito comes from a family of magical reindeer, and he cheerfully and happily fulfills all of Kurumi’s commands. Kurumi is extremely dubious about the invisible tether that connects them and also is very uncomfortable with the idea that she has any form of power over another being. Kaito is just happy that his Santa Claus is a nice and cute girl who is so concerned for him.

Kaito being at Kurumi’s beck and call is played more for gentle laughs than anything else, as he shoots away from her in the air when she yells “Get off of me!” and promptly appears outside her window when she wishes for his presence. Kurumi is genuinely kind, and Kaito’s presence eases her loneliness. She’s extremely careful not to get entangled in a romantic relationship with him, because she doesn’t want to abuse her power over him. In the meantime, Kaito’s enthusiasm serves as a counterpoint to Kurumi’s introspection, and it is clear that he’s fallen in love with her almost immediately.

For a manga dealing with Santa Claus and reindeer, it is actually a bit surprising how many stories in this volume take place in the spring or summer. Kurumi does deliver presents on Christmas Eve, but much of the manga is centered around Kurumi fulfilling a wish for a sick boy she encounters while on summer vacation. Readers also get a glimpse of Kaito’s extended magical reindeer family. I was actually a bit disappointed that a there was a lengthy vampire back up story, not because it was poorly executed, but I wanted to read a bit more of the main story. Tsukuba’s light and playful illustrations complement the story, ably depicting Kaito flying through the air or swooping in to comfort Kurumi. In the hands of a creator with less of a deft touch, the master/servant relationship in the manga might have seemed a bit off-putting or odd, but here it just seems like a way for two people to slowly discover how much they care about each other.