Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Vol 1

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Volume 1 by Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe

I’m always curious about new Shonen Sunday titles since some of the series that I’ve enjoyed from the magazine just end up having more emotional and narrative depth than the more formulaic series in Shonen Jump. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is a deliberately paced fantasy story that examines the question of what happens next after a group of heroes succeeds in their ultimate mission. The party of friends on the verge of retirement includes character types that would not be out of place in any DnD campaign: Frieren, an elven mage, Himmel the Hero, Heiter the priest, and Eisen, a dwarf warrior.

The manga opens as the companions have completed their ten year quest to defeat the Demon King. The group splits up, with Frieren not quite understanding how time is going to pass much more quickly for her companions. She promises to check back with everyone in 50 years with the air of someone who’s going to drop by again next month, and leaves to continue her journey doing magical research. When she does return she finds Himmel transformed into a bald old man with an impressive white beard. When Himmel dies shortly after their reunion, Frieren finds herself more interested in reexamining her memories and trying to think the way humans do. She begins to retrace her party’s previous path and finds some low key magical adventures along the way as she starts to engage more with the idea of time passing for humans. Heiter tricks Frieren into taking on a human apprentice mage named Fern, so Frieren has a new companion along as she begins to come to terms with her past.

There’s a slow and gentle quality to the pacing of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End. I think it would appeal to anyone who also enjoys Snow White with the Red Hair. There’s also plenty of humor as Frieren attempts to get better at understanding emotions and the human pace of the world. The art is attractive, capably portraying the medieval fantasy settings and capturing the emotional dynamic between the characters. I found reading this first volume both diverting and relaxing.

Rosen Blood, Vol 1

Rosen Blood Volume 1 by Kachiru Ishizue

The phrase “gothic reverse harem vampire shoujo manga,” is jam-packed with many plot tropes and Rosen Blood certainly manages to be all of those things. I might wish for slightly more character development, but I found myself sufficiently diverted by all the vibes this manga serves up. The manga opens with heroine Stella Violetta waking up in a luxurious bed with a handsome man with slightly outsized canines introduces himself as her host, Levi-Ruin. Stella was on the way to take up a position as a maid after her sister died and she’s completely destitute. She begs Levi-Ruin to let her work in his mansion and he promptly takes her on a tour.

Levi-Ruin’s house is inhabited by a number of men with outsized canines. There’s Friederich, who is flirty and a bit handsy, the exceptionally pretty Yoel, and the nearly psychotic Gilbert. Levi-Ruin warns Stella that she can’t go outside because the estate is surrounded by a forest of thorns, and she’s not supposed to go into the basement. It takes Stella quite a bit of time to figure out what might be happening, even with Gilbert exclaiming over her “elegant, pulsing veins…” But I suppose most gothic heroines wouldn’t automatically assume the worst when they head into a life of servitude in a creepy yet luxurious mansion. The art in this series is delicate and well-executed to produce plenty of surreal and emotionally overwrought scenes as Levi-Ruin and his companions struggle with having a human in their midst. If you enjoy spooky romances, Rosen Blood packs plenty of atmosphere into one volume. I’d like to see a bit more complexity in Stella’s personality, but I enjoyed the first volume and I’m curious to see where the story goes.

Knight of the Ice, Vol 7

Knight of the Ice Volume 7 by Yayoi Ogawa

We don’t get a ton of josei series translated, so I do cherish the ones that come out in print like Knight of the Ice which has a winning combination of figure skating drama combined with Ogawa’s quirky sense of humor. While many of the plot points of the series center around Kokoro’s difficulties training and winning competitions, this volume opens with Chitose dealing with her heart condition. Kokoro’s hard-nosed manager Moriyama visits Chitose in the hospital, and it is great to see how much she cares even though she goes to great lengths to hide her emotions. Chitose doesn’t want to derail Kokoro’s concentration by having him worry about her, so she decides to both postpone having surgery and wants to keep her condition a secret.

Knight of the Ice 7

For the rest of the volume, Kokoro is vaguely uneasy as he trains for his latest competitions, as he can tell that Chitose is hiding something but he isn’t sure what it is. He’s dealing with his ongoing issues of pushing his technical abilities but sometimes struggling to be artistic and expressive enough in his skating. “Yayoi Ogawa” shows up to dash off a sketch for an inspiring new costume. Ogawa’s dynamic and expressive art makes the skating competitions compelling, as all the skaters are dealing with their own struggles. Kokoro has some triumphs and setbacks, and has still not yet reached his full potential. I’m enjoying seeing the story in Knight of the Ice unfold.

My Love Mix-Up! Vol 1

My Love Mix-Up Volume 1 by Wataru Hinekure and Aruko

I was curious about My Love Mix-Up since I’m always up for a new shoujo series and Aruko illustrated the astoundingly good My Love Story!!. While this new series doesn’t have the innate hilarity of My Love Story!!, it is a light, warm-hearted unconventional love triangle with protagonists who are all kind to each other.

Aoki has a long-term crush on Hashimoto, the girl who sits next to him in class. On a fateful day he borrows her eraser and sees the name of another boy, Ida, with a heart symbol next to it. When Aoki drops the eraser and Ida picks it up, Ida assumes that Aoki has a crush on him. Aoki plays along with this assumption because he doesn’t want to reveal Hashimoto’s secret. Ida’s reaction to all of this is thoughtful consideration. Ida’s never dated anyone before, so he doesn’t immediately reject Aoki, even though Aoki is encouraging him to! As Aoki gets to know Ida better he starts realizing what a cool guy Ida is. While there is less opportunity for Aruko to engage in the more broad caricature work of My Love Story!!, there are a few great scenes where Aoki looks like a haunted zombie due to the depths of his teenage embarrassment about the confounding situation that he finds himself in.

There’s a similar sort of love triangle in Blue Flag, and My Love-Mix! up looks like it is going to cover the same territory but without the emotional depth. I don’t think that every series needs to have that degree of pathos, sometimes a relatively angst free love triangle is the perfect diversion. There’s a cliffhanger at the end that promises plenty of more romantic mix-ups ahead.

Fist of the North Star, Vol. 1

Fist of the North Star, Volume 1 by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara

Here’s a flashback for you and a demonstration of my advanced age, Fist of the North Star as it was produced back in 1989 as a flipped monthly comic and the new hardcover edition. I was curious what it would be like to read a whole volume of Fist of the North Star, after all the idea of a delayed attack (“You’re already dead!”) that results in blood explosions is pretty much a shonen cliche at this point, but what’s the source material like? While I did read the first chapter way back in the day I’d never read more of the story although I’ve read plenty of references and jokes about Fist of the North Star since then.

Fist of the North Star

Fist of the North Star takes place in the future after a cataclysmic event in the late 1990s has produced a world where water is scarce and people attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape of city-states. The enigmatic Ken travels from town to town, demonstrating is extreme stoicism and manliness as a practitioner of the martial art Hokuto Shinken. I was immediately struck by how much Fist of the North Star reminded me of the Mad Max series due to the roaming bands of motorcycle gangs. As the story opens a motorcycle gang called the Zeed discovers that their scouts have been killed with some sort of localized explosions coming from inside their bodies, and a parched Ken gets caught in a trap as he approaches a town. A young girl approaches his cage to give him water, and when another prisoner grabs her Ken fends him off easily in his weakened condition. Ken soon finds himself battling the Zeed for the town that captured him. The action scenes are dynamic and gory, with the lack of expression on Ken’s face contrasting with the horror and surprise of his enemies as they find vital parts of their bodies exploding. I enjoy all of Ken’s calm proclamations as he informs his enemies of his impending demise by naming martial arts techniques and flatly declaring “Scum like you cannot possibly kill me.” The art often plays with perspective, with Ken fighting enemies that appear to be two or three times his size, which creates a little bit of dramatic tension in the battles even though Ken’s victory is always assured.

Ken sets out on further adventures, accompanied by the young former prisoner named Bat, who provides ongoing amazement and commentary on Ken’s martial arts feats. As he approaches the city of the Southern Cross, he has to deal with confronting his past and the reader learns more about the pain and trauma that lead Ken to be the master of martial arts who still stops to protect the weak throughout the dystopic remains of human civilization. This volume packs in so much origin story I’m curious to see if the rest of the series is more episodic, or if even more of Ken’s past is revealed in future volumes. This is a great hardcover edition that historic shonen collectors should appreciate that will look nice on a bookshelf with the other recent deluxe volumes Viz has been producing.