Shortcake Cake, Vol 7

Shortcake Cake Volume 7 by suu Morishita

As I was picking up this volume of Shortcake Cake, I started thinking about how genuinely fond of many of the current Shojo Beat titles. It is quite an accomplishment to develop a line of manga that inspires the feeling that you are seeing a friend again when you get a new volume of a series in your hands, but so many of the current Shojo Beat lineup invoke that feeling for me. Shortcake Cake continues to explore the classic romantic tradition of a love triangle (or possibly quadrangle) as Ten now realizes that she has feelings for Riku after she originally rejected him. In a great scene that takes full advantage of the iconic setting of stairs leading up to a shrine, Riku asks Ten if she likes him, and after a few beats of silence and slightly shifting facial expressions, Ten breaks the tension by balling up her fists and punching herself on either side of her face. Riku grabs her wrists to ask what she’s doing, and she blurts out “I like you.” Morishita’s cinematic approach to paneling switches from character to character, incorporating silent reaction shots coupled with blushes and awkward glances that makes this love confession iconic.

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One of the things I like about this series is the way it switches easily between emotional scenes and more comedic aspects of teenage life. Ten continues her confession by saying that she hopes she can make Riku like her back, and asks him to give her some time to win his affection. He says he’ll wait, and Ten thinks that she needs to make up for how she made Riku feel in the past. Ten decides that she’s going to actually attempt to be feminine, and what follows is a crash course in skin care and makeup application from Ageha. Ten also attempts to mirror Riku’s body language to deepen their connection in a hilarious scene. While Ten flits around trying out random advice from friends, Riku seems fairly patient and low key, except when he has to deal with an attempt to clear the air from Chiaki. In settings that recall the places where they’ve spoken in the past, Ten and Riku are open with their feelings and embark on an actual relationship.

With the way this series is developing, I’m not expecting the love confessions in this volume to be the last ones, which is a good thing because Morishita executes them so well. It is pretty adorable seeing Ten and Riku together and on the same page, but I’m very curious to see what happens when Rei figures out what is going on. Rei is largely absent from this volume, except for a single vignette after the main story, so I’m expecting him to show up soon. Shortcake Cake presents teen romance with a depth and emotional resonance that sets it apart from many other series. I’m still unsure who Ten is going to end up with, and that continues to keep me intrigued as a reader.

Jujutsu Kaisen, Vol. 1

Jujutsu Kaisen Volume 1 by Gege Akutami

Fending off supernatural threats is a shonen staple, so how does Jujutsu Kaisen stack up? It very much felt like an early effort from a mangaka, which it is, but the first volume has a few flashes of humor and a central premise that is both disgusting and entertaining.

jujutsu kaisen volume 1

Yuji Itadori is a teenager who enjoys hanging out with the occult club despite his superhuman strength and speed. He’s being targeted for his athletic abilities by the track coach, but manages to maintain his new supernatural hobby by winning a bet about his shot put abilities. Megumi Fushiguro, a student from another school with actual occult abilities, is investigating the presence of a cursed object when he encounters Yuji and his new friends. It turns out that the occult club has gotten their hands on an artifact that is actually quite cursed, and Yuji and Megumi have to team up to save his friends from demonic destruction. Along the way, Yuji casually eats a demonic finger in order to get cursed energy to fend off the evil spirits. This ends up giving Yuji a semi-manageable case of spirit possession, but also makes him useful to demon hunters because he’s basically a walking container for cursed objects, as long as he eats them. There’s a particular demon who is the source of the cursed digits, and Yuji is going to join a team hunting down the relics of the evil Sakuna.

The art throughout this volume is serviceable but a bit rough, there’s little mobility in the characters’ facial expressions and while the action scenes are easy to follow they’d be a lot more entertaining with some shifts in perspective or more dynamic paneling. I’m curious to see if the art improves more as the series continues to develop. The demons do look appropriately freaky and scary.

Yuji’s motivations for fighting demons are introduced with a lack of subtly. Then again, I guess one does not expect delicately and subtle plot points from a Shonen Jump manga. There were a few moments that I thought were hilarious enough to be engaging. When Yuji is figuring out how many digits he is going to have to consume, the total number is high due to a surprising reason which is tossed off in casual conversation. I also enjoyed Yuji’s low-key approach to performing dramatic physical feats. The end of the volume sets up the new occult fighting team and their sparsely populated high school that has a curriculum dedicated to fighting evil, and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. Ultimately this first volume reminded me that sometimes one has to give a manga two volumes before deciding to follow a series or not, and that is what I’ll be doing with Jujutsu Kaisen.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol. 4

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 4 by Mika Yamamori

This volume of Daytime Shooting Star is focused on summer vacation. I really like the way the matte cover sets off the powdery pink blossoms used in the cover illustration for this volume. I’m so curious as to how this student-teacher romance manga will conclude, I’m guessing a giant time skip picking up with the high school characters post-college graduation. The volume opens as Suzume uses her intense knowledge of fish and extra cash to help out a strange but somewhat familiar man in the grocery store who has difficulty both shopping for seafood and remembering his wallet. When she drops by his house to get repaid for his groceries, she realizes that he’s Mamura’s father! Suzume gets a glimpse of Mamura’s very loud little brother, and she and Mamura are able to talk to each other again like friends.

Tsubomi ends up blowing out of town leaving a tornado of emotional devastation in her wake, as she seems to think it is appropriate to leave a note for her ex-boyfriend Shishio with the teenage girl who has a crush on him. Susume can’t resist the impulse to deliver it, and when she meets Shishio again, they decide to go on a group outing with her classmates to the aquarium, since Tsubomi enclosed an aquarium gift certificate. Of course, the day of the outing no-one else shows up, so the student and teacher are on a full-on solo date where Suzume gets to indulge in all the fish trivia questions she has ever dreamed of. Shishio continues to be fairly inappropriate but not doing anything physical beyond resting his head on Suzume’s shoulder. Even though he rejected Suzume’s love confession, it is clear that he’s still looking out for Suzume at school and in general acting protective and awkward at various moments. Suzume sees all this happening and becomes confused yet again. Fortunately there’s the school festival coming up that will provide a welcome distraction from all these romantic foibles, or amp everything up even more?

I continue to enjoy Yamamori’s stylish character designs. Suzume’s moments of introspection and insight as she’s attempting to get a handle on the world around her keeps Daytime Shooting Star interesting. It is easy to see how she’ll eventually grow up to be a formidable adult.

An Incurable Case of Love, Vol. 2

An Incurable Case of Love, Volume 2 by Maki Enjoji

As with most romance manga I was totally expecting an additional antagonist to show up to further complicate the non-relationship between Dr. Tendo and nurse Nanase. Dr Kusagi is unfailingly smiling, with a focus on his outward demeanor that seems suspicious. Kusagi quickly keys in to the budding relationship between Nanase and Tendo and attempts to subvert it by plying Nanase with alcohol, even though after an earlier outburst and piggybacking episode with Dr Tendo, she is determined to cut down on her consumption.

Tendo immediately starts acting irrationally territorial, and if you enjoy grouchy and withholding heroes, this manga has plenty of scenes of Tendo attempting to object to things and then realizing that he has little standing to interfere in Nanase’s life. This doesn’t stop him though!

While the story is developing with a very familiar formula, Enjoji is executing it extremely well, with little touches that make the series unique. I continue to be amused by the workplace culture at the hospital, and the gang of nurses who continue on with their nicknames of “Valiant One” for Nanase and “Dark Lord” for Tendo. Their support of this unconventional mentoring relationship developing into a friendship is mainly because no one wants to be the target of the Dark Lord’s criticism, but it all still manages to seem like a relatively supportive and friendly workplace! The hospital setting also feels a bit fresh to me after reading plenty of manga series set in offices. Enjoji doesn’t have a ton of variation in her character designs, but she does draw with great expression as Nanase struggles to deal with her romantic life and move ahead with her goals as a new nurse.

Nanase and Tendo keep getting thrown together for various reasons, and the volume closes with a take on a serious situation that can befall any woman who might be easily targeted in a helping or service profession. The main workplace romance combined with side stories dealing with more serious topics seems like a promising way for this series to develop. I’m also enjoying Nanase’s personality, she’s young but still sometimes blunt about expressing what she wants, and I’m curious about how her character will develop as she becomes more comfortable with her new profession. We might only get one josei disguised as shoujo series being released at a time from Shojo Beat, but An Incurable Case of Love fits in well with the rest of the line, and I’m enjoying it while I wait for even more josei releases.

Takane & Hana, Vols 11 and 12

Takane & Hana, Volumes 11 and 12 by Yuki Shiwasu

Sometimes my interest tends to wane a bit at more long-running comedic series, but Takane and Hana is still going strong, even when some of the plot points tend to get repetitive. The main way this manga manages to actually get me rooting for a romance between an emotionally stunted businessman and a high school girl is the way it deliberately shies away from things progressing very far physically. As the 11th volume opens Takane and Hana are dealing with the emotional fallout from when Takane got carried away….and kissed Hana on the nose. The over-the-top angst combined with Shiwasu’s dynamic rendering of psychological turmoil makes the opening chapter extremely amusing. Things aren’t kept light for long, as Takane’s evil cousin Yakumo figures out the relationship between Takane and Hana and decides to kidnap her. I’m trying to remember if this is the second or third kidnapping in this series, but it does provide the opportunity for some impressive, action-movie heroics as Takane and Okamon attempt to rescue Hana.

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Volume 12 features my favorite cover so for this series, Takane’s twisted grin combined with heart hands captures the wacky appeal of this manga. Takane is recuperating from his dramatic rescue attempt, and Hana is determined to put more distance between them again because she doesn’t want their relationship to cause issues for Takane. This is circling back to a reset of their previous relationship dynamic, where Takane is bombarding Hana with an endless stream of unsuitable gifts and she’s growing more and more frustrated. Okamon ends up enlisting himself as Hana’s beard as he prevents Takane from grabbing Hana and carrying her out of a diner by proclaiming that he and Hana just recently started going out.

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Takane ends up getting relationship advice from Nicola on a speedboat, and his attempts to rehearse speaking to Hana as well as “chill out” feature the emotional anguish and hilariously tortured facial expressions that Shiwasu is so excellent at portraying. These two volumes continue doing what Takane & Hana does so well – set up over the top comedic situations combined with a core relationship that is actually very sweet.