Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet Vols 1 and 2

Tsubaki Chou Lonely Planet Volumes 1 and 2 by Mika Yamamori

I enjoyed Yamamori’s Daytime Shooting Star, even though I spent many volumes deeply concerned about the resolution of the age-gap romance in the manga. I can experience those feelings all over again, as the heroine in Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet seems to be headed in that direction as well. Will the charming character designs and humor in this title cause me to tamp down my uneasy feelings about power dynamics in shoujo manga? Quite possibly!

Parents in manga have a lot to answer for, what with their habits of abruptly marrying people who come burdened with incredibly cute and charismatic new step-siblings, or their tendency of suddenly abandoning their children for endless overseas trips, or manifesting total financial instability that causes their high-school age children to get a job to fend off terrible loan sharks.

Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet

In the first few panels of Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet thrifty and responsible Fumi Ohno learns that her father is shipping off to sea to become a fisherman in order to pay off the aforementioned loan sharks. She’s being kicked out of her apartment, right when she was on the verge of being able to buy a new vacuum with the money she’s been saving from stretching the household grocery budget! She concludes that her only option is to become a live-in housekeeper to an author. Dazzled by the thought of free room and board, Fumi shows up at her new workplace only to discover that instead of the bespectacled old man with a mustache she’s imagining, her new boss is a floppy-haired young man who seems to be in the habit of passing out in his front hallway. Akatsuki Kibikino writes historical novels and lives in an incredibly untidy house. He’s not happy that a young girl showed up to clean and make his meals (he thought only grandmas were named Fumi) but after hearing that she’s totally alone in the world, he decides that maybe having a clean house and homemade meals would be a good idea after all. Akatsuki informs her that if she’s his housekeeper, it is also his duty to protect her, and he follows up on this promise.

A new transfer student shows up at Fumi’s school and makes a point of singling her out. However Isshin Imamura is harboring a decade-long grudge because Fumi beat him in a race in elementary school. Fumi begins struggling with her feelings towards her employer, and they become a bit closer just with their daily interactions. They have fateful encounters like going grocery shopping for rice. Fumi tends to be a bit naive about the world, throwing herself into some potentially unsavory situations when she hears that her father is having money troubles again, but Akatsuki has a tendency to show up just in time to rescue her. Isshin also becomes more sympathetic and has some blunt assessments about Fumi’s emotions that cause her to reflect on her feelings.

There’s plenty of humor in this series, mainly due to Fumi’s genuine skill and enthusiasm for homemaking pursuits like cooking, maintaining a coupon book, and being willing to battle it out at grocery stores for discounted vegetables. Akatsuki is grumpy and doesn’t take care of himself at all, but when he senses that something’s amiss he springs into action to help Fumi, even if it might take him a little while to realize what’s happening. Yamamori’s art is engaging, highlighting the occasional moments of emotional revelation that occur as the characters get to know each other better. After reading the first couple volumes, I’m invested in seeing how Fumi is going to make her way in the world, and I hope for the best for her. Fans of Daytime Shooting Star will find plenty to like about Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet

Honey Lemon Soda Vol 1 by Mayu Murata

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 by Mayu Murata

I was aware that there was a great deal of anticipation when Honey Lemon Soda was licensed, and the first volume lived up to the hype! Popular boy inexplicably adopting an incredibly awkward girl is a familiar plot in most shoujo manga, but Honey Lemon Soda takes this premise and runs with it, making the reader feel instantly sympathetic with the introverted heroine in question. Uka Ishimori’s gets in the way of an errant blast of lemon soda wielded by Kai Miura. She freezes up and is unable to respond to his friends’ expressions of concern and she runs away when Miura apologizes to her. His friends comment “It’s kinda like she’s living out a different genre than the rest of us” which is a good way of summarizing how disconnected Uka is from people her own age.

Honey lemon soda 1

In middle school, Uka was bullied, with classmates calling her “Rocky” due to her last name and stony expression. She’s determined to make friends and change in high school, and picked a school to go to based on its more laid back and flashy reputation instead of going to a school where people are devoted to studying. Every possible social interaction has Uka caught up in her anxious thoughts, as she has to force herself to offer to help a classmate with the answer to a question. Miura starts taking an interest, coaching Uka through some basic greetings. When she actually calls on him for help, he leaps in and defends her from some of her former middle school bullies. Uka starts expressing herself more often, although sometimes she’s so tense about communicating with others that her thoughts come out more like yelling accidentally.

Miura might look super cool with his effervescent blond hair, but he also seems to have more compassion than is typical in a shoujo hero, and he keeps dropping comments designed to help Uka become more comfortable with herself. Murata’s character designs are attractive, and there are plenty of dynamic panel layouts as the characters make their way through emotionally fraught situations. After reading the first volume, I am eager to see how Uka changes on her journey to break out of her shell and express herself more.

Penguin Gentlemen

Penguin Gentlemen by Kishi Ueno

The premise of this manga – penguins who happen to run a cafe where they are all very buff men wearing tuxedos – seemed so ridiculous I couldn’t help wanting to check it out. This single volume manga certainly gets the deluxe treatment, with a hardcover edition and plenty of color pages. Now and then I really enjoy a didactic manga, and that’s what Ueno delivers. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a storyline focusing on penguin cafe work, because I enjoy a good food manga as well, but for readers who want to dramatically up their knowledge of penguin behavior, species variants, and random facts about penguin habitats this is the book for you!

Penguin Gentlemen

The character designs are one of the most amusing aspects of the book, as Ueno showcases differences in penguin markings and size into the hair styles and tuxedo uniforms of all the waiters. The main boss of the cafe is the King penguin, who is dwarfed in size by the stoic Emperor penguin who looms over everyone. The penguin gentlemen discuss their characteristics in the setting of the cafe, with plenty of comedic bits. The characters switch back and forth often between their anthropomorphic human forms and their natural states as penguins, but Ueno is great at rendering the heightened emotions of the characters even when they are in bird form. I read this book in several sittings, simply because I was not able to absorb all the information about penguin egg hatching, body language, and markings without a break here and there. The last section of the book that focuses on penguin courtship rituals is particularly hilarious. If someone wants to learn many scientific facts about penguins and be entertained along the way, Penguin Gentlemen certainly delivers.

Soulless: The Manga Vol. 1

Soulless: The Manga by Gail Carriger and Rem

I generally tend to steer clear of manga adaptations of books I’ve already read. I have read the first three books of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and then I stopped following it, because of plot element that I usually find extremely annoying in romance novels. I spotted this manga version recently at my local library and decided to give it a try.

Soulless the book is a witty take on the steampunk/paranormal/historical romance genre. Heroine Alexia Tarabotti is a bit of a black sheep in her own family due to her intelligence and looks taking after her father instead of her mother. She’s also a unique and rare specimen of supernatural being because she’s a preturnatural, someone born without a soul. This gives her immunity to vampires and werewolves, which comes in handy as Victorian era London is overrun by supernatural beings.

Alexia has an encounter with a rather stupid vampire after she ducks out of a party in an attempt to find something decent to eat. This doesn’t sit well with the overbearing werewolf Lord Conall Macon, who is working for the government. Alexia and Conall insult each other and stalk off, only to find themselves thrown together again as unusual things begin to happen with the local London vampires. As a heroine, Alexia is very entertaining. She doesn’t hesitate to rescue herself by staking the odd vampire, and her status as a spinster ensures that she’s going to speak her mind without much regard for social conventions. On the other hand she has a hard time believing that anyone, even a werewolf would be attracted to her, because she’s been the topic of frequent put-downs by her family.

It is difficult to adapt an almost 400 page book into a 225 page manga. A certain amount of world building and character development does get lost in the process. The book goes into much more depth with Alexia’s relationships with the foppish vampire Akeldama and Ivy, Alexia’s good friend with horrific taste in hats. Some of the details about what exactly a preturnatural is and the more steampunkish aspects of this particular London were glossed over. But the essential plot and the developing romance between Alexia and Conall was maintained, so overall I can’t really quibble with the adaptation choices.

The art by Rem is detailed and fluid, with distinct designs for each character. The occasional lapse into chibi/wolf puppy style when Conall was in the grips of werewolf emotion was funny, and overall the art was extremely appealing. The illustrations did a good job at portraying the humorous reactions the characters have to each other even while they are dealing with plenty of suspicious supernatural incidents. Overall, I thought that this adaptation was one that fans of the book would enjoy. It also reminded me of what I liked about the prose series, so I might give the fourth book a try now.

Alice in the Country of Hearts Omnibus Volume 3

I enjoyed the first few volumes of this mash-up of Alice in Wonderland. Here are my previous reviews of volume 1, 2, 3, and 4. I was glad that Yen Press picked this series up after Tokyopop imploded, and it seemed to me at the time fairly sensible since I believe many of the other volumes of this series ended up on the New York Times manga bestseller’s list. All along this mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and a Japanese dating game has been more interesting than I would expect from a dating game manga adaptation, but the final volume has some extra creepiness and an open-ended conclusion.

The Country of Hearts is about to have a grand ball, but Alice doesn’t know how to dance and doesn’t have anything to wear. Julius and Ace help her prepare, but she’s unable to avoid the Mad Hatter, Blood Dupre, at the ball. Alice is simultaneously repelled and curious about him, and she gradually learns a little more about the Hatter and how the system of chaotic government works in the Country of Hearts. This series has always been long on atmosphere and short on plot, with various hints that there’s a central mystery behind Alice’s journey away from the real world. This is solved somewhat by hints that suggest that Alice’s journey is really more of an unhealthy psychological defense mechanism, as she can’t deal with a specific event that took place in the real world. There’s also a suggestion about who the White Rabbit’s real world analogue is that makes his obsessive behavior seem even creepier, and I didn’t think that was possible.

Even though Alice in the Country of Hearts isn’t all that eventful, I did enjoy the series as a whole and was happy to read the final volumes. This manga is basically all about cute guys, random moments of homicide, occasional references to psychological issues, and awesome costuming. Even though the plot might not be all that detailed, it is much more interesting than any other manga that I’ve read that is based on a dating game, but perhaps I am just a sucker for random bullets flying in shoujo manga. Yen Press’ new omnibus editions will likely tempt fans to replace the old Tokyopop single volumes. I am too cheap to do this, but I did enjoy the larger size, character galleries, and color pages in this volume. I enjoyed this series enough that I’m planning on picking up the spin-off volumes from Seven Seas too.