Requiem of the Rose King, Vol 3

Requiem of the Rose King Volume 3 by Aya Kanno

This manga just keeps getting better and better as Kanno adds even more royal intrigue to her unique story of Richard III and the Wars of the Roses.

The second volume closed with Richard embodying a demonic spirit of vengeance when he discovered that his father was killed. The third volume opens with Richard’s older brother Edward, the new king, making questionable decisions about women. Edward is utterly captivated by the widow Elizabeth Woodville, who secretly detests the House of York. She maintains Edward’s interest by continually refusing him until he is desperate enough to make her his queen, going against the other alliances his court is arranging for him. Richard proves to be an unenthusiastic ally in Edward’s courtship, going along with his brother on hunting trips to provide cover for Edward’s visits to Elizabeth. When Edward is staying in a hunting cabin, he again meets the wayward Lancaster King Henry. Richard and Henry are drawn to each other, without fully knowing who each other are.

Henry’s dreamy outlook on life has made him one of the few people who relates to Richard as just Richard, without the “demon child” legend that has poisoned everyone against him. But Henry’s distance from his own family ensures that when his son Edward discovers the men together, his jealousy over his father’s relationship with Richard looks like it is going to have horrible consequences.

Kanno’s art continues to be both dark and lavish, fitting the settings and themes of this tragic story excellently. I’m always in awe of her facility with facial expressions and how it contributes so well to character development. Just a couple panels of Elizabeth Woodville’s gleefully staring eyes as she contemplates her plans for Edward establish that she’s up to no good. Henry’s abstracted expression show him to not fully live in the world, while Richard’s sensitivity and hesitancy in trusting Henry is clearly portrayed. This continues to be such a standout title in Viz’s current publishing lineup.

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Black Rose Alice Vol 2

Black Rose Alice Volume 2 by ´╗┐´╗┐Setona Mizushiro

If you had asked me where Black Rose Alice was headed after reading the first volume, I would not have replied “slice of life reverse harem story about vampires running a cafe” and yet that was what ended up happening in the second volume. I thought that after establishing Dimitri’s past and the troubled present lives of the teacher Azusa and her doomed relationship with her student Koya, I was expecting a bit more fallout after Azusa agreed to trade her soul to Dimitri in exchange for Koya’s life. There are a few hints of Azusa’s past feelings in the second volume, but the bulk of the story is spent establishing her new existence inhabiting Agnieszka’s body and what exactly happens when she wakes up as the object of affection for four vampires that all want to continue their species. Azusa takes on the name Alice in her new incarnation.

Dimitri has surrounded himself with vampire companions. There’s the twins Reiji and Kai, who are a bit young (for vampires) and naive. Leo, who is more sophisticated dedicates himself to waging a calculated campaign for Alice’s affections. In an interesting twist on the reverse harem scenario, Alice is going to be the only way for the young vampires to extend the life of their line, but it is up to her to make a choice about who she wants to end up with. Dimitri is determined to hold himself aloof from the new soul inhabiting Agnieeszka’s body, but he finds himself drawn to Alice despite himself.

While the first volume had more of a tumult of emotions, this second volume was much more even in tone and had some vampire-centric slice of life moments as Alice slowly gets used to her new identity. Alice has an imperious streak that comes out from her former habits of managing a classroom. There are still a few moments of the surreal body horror that made the first volume more distinctive, but not nearly as many random tarantulas spewing from a given vampire’s mouth. It isn’t often that I put down the second volume of manga feeling genuinely surprised about the direction and tone, but I finished up this volume feeling more intrigued than I did after reading the first. This series seems to be shaping up to be quite quirky and unique, which is just the type of thing that I’m currently most interested in reading.

Skip Beat! Volume 28

Skip Beat! Volume 28 by Yoshiki Nakumura

I always enjoy a new volume of Skip Beat! but I’m enjoying the most recent story arc even more than usual because there’s more emotional payoff with Kyoko and Ren being forced into more contact with each other as they prepare for their reality-tv like roles as the gothed-out Cain siblings. They still have to wrap up their current projects though, and things get dicey when Ren has a near miss with a potential accident when he is rehearsing some stunt driving. The experience puts him in a bit of a fugue state, where he relives a dramatic accident in his past before he became “Ren Tsuruga.” Kyoko is filming nearby and rushes to Ren’s set and she is the only person that he responds to after the accident. Later on, Ren indulges in an odd psychological ritual where he cooks a horrible omurice and eats it as an act of endurance. Kyoko comes along to help him out and witnesses Ren putting himself together again, despite the unfortunate specter of Death that hovers nearby as they consume their dinner.

Kyoko and Ren were really both destined to be actors because with their pasts, traumatic in different ways, inhabiting a role becomes a refuge. I think in this next story arc we’ll see how much of “Ren Tsuruga” is a role and how much is actually Ren. Kyoko’s on the verge of a change too. Everyone that she meets seems struck by the sense that she’s matured, and as she spends more time with Ren when he’s at his most vulnerable it seems like she might finally be on the verge of acknowledging her feelings. Overall, this was a very satisfying volume of Skip Beat!

Review copy provided by the publisher

Manga Moveable Feast: Viz Signature Edition personal archive

The Manga Moveable Feast this month focuses on the Viz Signature Imprint and is hosted at Manga Critic.
I hope to be able to participate with some new reviews, but I thought I’d do a mini-round up of reviews for Viz Signature titles I’ve done in the past and list some of my favorites.

Most of the recent Viz Signature titles were featured on the Sigikki website, which doesn’t seem to be as current as it once was. Still, it was a nice experiment in online comics distribution, even though as more of these volumes are available in print format the free chapters still seem to be disappearing from the site.

Natsume Ono – I’m grateful for the Signature imprint for translating so much of Ono’s work. I enjoy her quirky art style and slice of life stories.

House of Five Leaves is one of my favorite Signature titles, and my favorite Natsume Ono Series. There’s something about this story of a hapless ronin slowly being drawn into a life of crime that I find absolutely gripping. Seeing the way the characters change each other as they go about their daily tasks while dealing with being in a kidnapping and ransom gang gives a bit of a contemporary feel to the historical setting of this series.

House of Five Leaves Volume 1

House of Five Leaves Volumes 4-6

I always enjoy it when manga creators let their personal interests inform their manga, and Ono’s affection for food, Italy, and men wearing glasses is clearly shown in her manga with contemporary settings that revolve around an Italian cafe.

Gente Volume 1
Gente Volume 3
Ristorante Paradiso Volume 1

One of the reasons why I like Ono so much is because she reminds me a bit of Fumi Yoshinaga. Both authors have worked in yaoi, both have an extremely individualistic drawing style, there’s a focus on slice of life stories in their work, and both seem to be serious foodies. I’ve enjoyed the Yoshinaga books put out by Viz Signature.

All My Darling Daughters – A great introduction to Yoshinaga since it is complete in one volume

Ooku focuses on an alternate history Japan with interesting gender dynamics.

Ooku Volume 1

Ooku Volume 2
Ooku Volume 5
Ooku Volume 6

One of the fun things about the Signature imprint is that it does sometimes bring manga to the US that is absolutely crazy. I am referring to Biomega, a title that almost doesn’t need a review, because you just need to ask yourself if you are the type of person who would enjoy a manga that has as a character a talking bear with a machine gun. If you don’t find bears with machine guns enjoyable, I’m not sure if I can be your friend. This reminds me, I need to pick up some of the middle volumes of this series!

Biomega Volume 1
Biomega Volumes 2 and 3

Some of the most personal and deeply affecting titles to come from the Signature line are by Inio Asano. His works focus on that time of life in early adulthood when people aren’t quite sure what they want to become. He blends everyday but surreal images into his manga, giving his stories a dream-like quality that still manages to feel gritty and realistic.

Solanin
What a Wonderful World Volume 1 – I think I only read the first volume of this title. (Unfortunately, this post is making me develop an extensive shopping list.)

Afterschool Charisma I am including in this list of favorites because I love Clone Freud so much. This series from Viz sometimes feels a bit like a high concept B-movie, due to the setting of a high school populated entirely by teenage clones of famous historical figures. Horrifically this series is now up to volume 5, which means that there is even more manga I need to order.

Afterschool Charisma Volume 1
Afterschool Charisma Volume 3

My personal shopping list after compiling this post: What a Wonderful World Volume 2, Biomega Volume 6, Afterschool Charisma Volumes 4 and 5, Ooku Volumes 3 and 4.

A Devil and Her Love Song Volume 2

I enjoyed the first volume of A Devil and Her Love Song, and was curious to see if the next volume lived up to the potential of the first one. Though there were some rough spots, I found myself still intrigued by this new shoujo manga.

Maria and Yusuke go to visit their classmate Tomoyo, who has been staying home from school. I was amused to see that Tomoyo, who goes out of her way to be bland and agreeable to everyone at school, is actually a closet goth. They just stay for a visit and don’t confront Tomoyo about her coming back to school, but Maria forces the issue when she shows up at Tomoyo’s house then next morning. She goads Tomoyo into saying what she really feels, then comments “That angry look isn’t flattering on you…but it isn’t half bad.” When Tomoyo goes back to school she finally speaks out and defends Maria against the group of popular girls who have been bullying her. Shin stops Maria from reacting when the situation in the classroom gets out of hand and Yusuke goes to confront their teacher about his hypocritical ways. Instead, the teacher decides to set Maria up as a scapegoat to cover for his lack of discipline in the classroom. He decides that Maria will be leading the class choral performance, and she has to scramble to put something together when she’s ostracized by her classmates. Yusuke is singled out as an ally of Maria’s and he says that he likes her in front of the class. Maria isn’t sure if he genuinely likes her, or if he’s trying to protect her. She pushes him away, telling him that if he defends her “it’s suffocating.”

Maria attempts to pull together a choral performance despite the fact that the entire class isn’t cooperating. It is fun to see the random friendship that she’s developed with Tomoyo, as they always seem to wind up in a corner of the school discussing the day’s events. Yusuke hovers around, determined to help. Yusuke drags Shin into the choral performance too, since he can play the piano. The class grows more and more tense, provoking even more of a confrontation between Maria’s allies and the classmates who have decided to hate her. Maria’s habit of blurting out whatever she’s thinking forces all of these conflicts into the open. Someone more socialized might put their head down and attempt to ignore everything, but Maria comments on what everybody is doing, making everyone confront their behavior and reactions. Things are getting pretty bad at school, so it is easy to see why Maria’s gotten kicked out of school so many times before. But the small core group of friends that she’s developing is something new for her, and she’s actually trying to engage with other people in a way she doesn’t quite seem capable of. This series continues to be very promising, I’m just hoping that there is more Shin in the next volume, since this one was more centered on Maria and Yusuke.

Review copy provided by the publisher