Kiss of the Rose Princess Vol. 4

Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 4 by Aya Shouto

This series continues to be a ridiculous fantasy reverse harem manga, and I enjoyed this volume mostly because it features evil idol singers.

The first half of this story delved more into the very Cardcaptor Sakura-like plot where Anise and her Rose Knights have to capture Arcana cards in order to reinforce the seal to the underworld and defeat the demon lord, as you do. Of course, the only way to do this is to enter an all boys idol competition at school, where Anise ends up cross-dressing as a boy, because the arcana card is second prize and their group is in danger of winning it all if the cutest Rose Knight Seiran enters the contest. In keeping with the long-cherished shoujo tradition of male models or idols being secretly evil, the duo Rhodecia are revealed to be artificial Rose Knights created by Anise’s evil (but HOW evil?) father. The battle for school supremacy involves magic tricks, even more cross dressing, and a horribly awkward comedy act.

While all of this is going on, the Black Rose Mutsuki is struggling with some dark emotions stirred up by a mysterious outside influence. Anise makes a new acquaintance at school named Mikage who asks Anise to set up a date between her and Kaede, which Anise does because she is an idiot who is absolutely unaware that Kaede is in love with her. The date ends up taking place at a Gothic carnival, where Anise and the other Rose Knights tag along in order to sleuth out the location of another arcana card.

Kiss of the Rose Princess is a super silly shoujo manga, but it is really just the thing if you happen to be in the mood for light entertainment. The art continues to be attractive, with all the cool poses one would expect from a reverse harem manga. I’m intrigued by the hints of psychological struggle that Mutsuki is starting to exhibit, which does create a bit more interest than the more typical “gotta catch them all” arcana card collecting plot that is currently developing.

Master Keaton, Vol 2

Master Keaton Volume 2 by Naoki Urasawa

I enjoyed the first volume of this series a lot, but I was hoping that the second volume would be a bit more consistent, without some of the pacing issues that I noted in the first volume. My expectations were met, as the stories in the second volume had a good balance of mystery of the week, background on Keaton, and just enough crazy wilderness badassery.

The pacing of the chapters in this volume was more episodic, and I enjoyed the faster pace as Keaton moved from case to case. He investigates a stolen Olympic medal only to uncover a complicated friendship between two champion runners, then moves on to investigating an insurance case that manages to touch on the legend of William Tell. “Red Moon” features more of a medical mystery, and the male equivalent of a Black Widow. Keaton’s personal life is touched on as well. The second volume feels more settled, without needing to frantically introduce both his academic and military background. The fallout of Keaton’s tendency to travel instead of teach is followed up on, with him losing his previous position. He’s now serving as a guest lecturer in another university that is about to close its doors, but he manages to convey his passion for education and reconnect with a long-lost mentor.

Keaton’s military background is showcased in a couple stories. In “Black Forest” he helps the object of a manhunt by building improvised weapons drawing upon his knowledge of archaeology and in “Little Big Man” he crosses paths with a group of bounty hunters, only to singlehandedly deal with his job and expose them as amateurs. There are a couple scenes showing more of Keaton’s family, as his daughter shows up to visit for one story, and an entire chapter is devoted to Keaton’s father solving a case of a missing rare dog.

Overall, this volume just felt more self-assured in the storytelling throughout the manga, with the pacing and variety of the stories just right in terms of exploring the variety of situations Keaton can find himself in. With chapters exploring murder, survival, the value of higher education, and the strained relationships among the folks who end up as the subject of an insurance investigation, the second volume of Master Keaton made me more interested in picking up the rest of the series.

Gangsta Vols 4 and 5

As I embarked on getting caught up on Gangsta, I found myself very grateful for the character bios and plot summaries in front of the volumes. The first couple volumes focused on the slightly more intimate lives of Alex as she meets and is taken in by the Handymen Worick and Nic inter cut with various scenes of violence, but the series is now headed into a full on gang war, and it is useful to be reminded of just who is who in the ever expanding cast of characters.

Gangsta Volume 4 by Kohske

The fourth volume deals with the personal problems of the characters as well as introducing more members of the sprawling underworld in the city of Ergastulum. The handymen are cleaning up after an attack, and Alex is distracted with memories of her younger brother. After shaking the dependency on the drugs she was previously addicted to, more of her normal memories are starting to come back, but she’s not yet able to recall the details of her past life. One of the things I like about this series is the artful way Kohske portrays her action scenes. Alex goes on an errand for the Handymen, and when she happens on a scene where another woman is being attacked, she grabs a stray piece of lumber and rushes in to defend a stranger without thinking of her own safety. Alex is about to get attacked herself, when on the next page a single panel of Nic in motion, mid-leap behind her attacker shows that the problem is being taken care of with almost frightening efficiency.

Alex and the Handymen go to a party thrown by the Cristiano Family, one of the weakest mafia families who is also the most charitable when it comes to taking care of Twilights who would otherwise not have a place to claim sanctuary. The head of the family is a tiny young girl named Loretta, who pragmatically surrounds herself with skilled bodyguards. An equally young twilight hunter shows up at the party and sets off a bloodbath. Another hunter names Erica appears, and while the Handymen and their allies manage to fight off the attack, they sustain huge losses in the process.

Gangsta Volume 5 by Kohske

In this volume it seems clear that the mafia factions in Ergastulum are going to be headed into war. The team of Destroyers becomes more defined, and the situation for regular Twilights not affiliated with an organization is looking worse and worse. Alex has gained even more of her memories, remarking to Nic that she knew him before, only to not get a response. Worick is forced to use his sense for objects to identify corpses, and he and Nic are separated throughout most of this volume, with dangerous consequences. The Destroyers begin to tear through the city, and identify themselves as agents of the Corsica family. Still, even in the middle of a tidal wave of violence, there are quick scenes of normal daily life, when Nic hands Alex a mug as soon as she wakes up from some disturbing dreams of her past. Nic heads off to help out Loretta, and Worick is left to help fend off an attack at the Monroe family house. Things are looking fairly grim for the found family the Handymen have built for themselves. We’re starting to get more caught up with the Japanese release of Gangsta, and I know I’m going to start getting impatient as the wait between volumes grows longer.

While Gangsta does feature plenty of action and grim themes centered around drugs, class issues, and the mafia, the core story circling around Alex and her relationship with the Handymen ensures that the violence in the manga always seems to have a narrative purpose. Koshke’s narrative start small and builds up to a intercut scenes of a sprawling cast headed into some serious confrontations is building more and more suspense and tension as the series progresses. I’m also always impressed with the variety of character designs and defined looks as the manga includes more and more characters. I’m glad that Viz is continuing to give quality seinen some serious attention in the Signature Line with this title.

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol. 1 by Aya Kanno

I really admire the way Kanno moves from genre to genre, coming up with unique stories each time, at least with her series that have been translated into English. Blank Slate and Otomen are utterly unlike each other, and now with Requiem of the Rose King there’s an entirely different series to enjoy.

Requiem of the Rose King is a retelling of the story of Richard III, which is a topic I tend to enjoy exploring, going way back to when I first read the classic mystery Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey as a young teenager. So I was really interested in seeing how Kanno was going to tackle this story. It opens with the childhood of young Richard during the Wars of the Roses. Richard is a favorite of his father, but his mother views him as a damaged child due to his physical abnormalities. The introduction to Richard is framed with a reference to Joan of Arc’s sin of dressing like a man. Richard is cloaked, roaming through the forest alone after his mother abandoned him. One of his eyes is more prominent than the other, but his face is entirely in shadow. As Richard’s mother sits back in the castle thinking about how evil her own son is, he’s shown being trapped by vines. Richard’s older siblings are integrated into their mother’s affections, but when Richard’s father goes off to fight the Lancasters, he loses his main source of love and affection.

Richard appears to be intersex, or at least having some feminine characteristics while being raised as a boy. Richard sees visions of Joan of Arc tormenting him. He’s determined to be the best son possible for his father. I wasn’t sure exactly which gender to use to refer to him, but since in the first volume Richard clearly identifies as male, I was just going with that for the sake of this review. Richard accidentally strikes up a friendship with young prince Henry. He also meets a girl named Anne Neville. While Richard experiences battle in this volume on the sidelines, the fear and danger that he’s exposed to being left behind are very real. His mother grows even more hostile throughout the volume, which I didn’t even think was possible given how she was introduced initially.

Kanno’s art is great in this volume, and it seems like the subject matter has given her more room to be experimental. Richard’s visions of Joan of Arc keep popping up to make the events he’s experiencing even more unsettling, and there seem to be shadows about to attack lurking in the woods and in castle corners. Close up of eyes are used for dramatic effect often, showing fear, anger, and mental instability. I feel like with this series and Black Rose Alice, Viz is being a bit more adventurous with some of their current manga that might appeal to shoujo readers. While I enjoy a good romance as much as anyone, I am really happy to get a bit more variety on my shelves.

Meteor Prince, Vol 1

Meteor Prince Volume 1 by Meca Tanaka

Meteor Prince is a super cute shoujo series that is ideal to read if you need a break from the winter blahs. It is in some ways like a kinder, less manic version of Urusei Yatsura, because the heroine of the story Hako is cursed with an incredible run of bad luck. The latest incident occurs when a naked alien prince suddenly appears and announces that she’s his soulmate. The alien prince Io is a bit of a benign horndog, as he is constantly asking Hako if she is ready to mate, but at the same time he is always in the right place at the right time to protect her from all the accidents that seem to constantly happen in her vicinity. When Hako protests that she can’t have a relationship with someone she’s not in love with, Io promptly yells “Let’s fall in love!” and their courtship begins.

Hako has a supporting cast of friends in the form of the paranormal research club, who stick close to her despite her bad luck because they are so interested in exploring unexplained phenomena. They are also fascinated by the sudden appearance of the alien, but also want to look out for Hako. Despite Io’s initial approach of dropping out of the sky naked and asking teenage girls to be the mother of his children, he’s actually incredibly enthusiastic about the new environment he’s exposed to on Earth, and his devotion to Hako is absolute. Hako and Io actually end up striking a bit of a friendship, through the usual high school milestones that a reader would usually expect in a shoujo manga. There are plenty of funny hijinks, but what I enjoyed most about this title was the genuine warmth and caring shown in the unlikely romance between Hako and Io.

Tanaka’s art switches between slapstick humor and exaggerated emotions as Hako tries to dodge her bad luck with more contemplative moments like when Io sits and communes with birds for the first time. Her art is engaging, with Hako inspiring feelings of sympathy and Io managing to look both regal and occasionally bizarre, which is exactly what a reader might expect from an alien prince.

This is only a two volume series, and sometimes I’m a little hesitant to recommend such short series because often they seem a bit unfinished or partially developed. I felt satisfied as a reader after reading the first volume of Meteor Prince. I’d be happy if it had gone on for several volumes, but the core of the story was just delightful and entertaining. I expect that this is going to be one of the rare two volume series that gets a permanent place on my bookshelves. I’ve been hoarding Tanaka’s four volume series for Tokyopop, Pearl Pink, and now I’m much more motivated to read that too, since Meteor Prince seems so charming.