About Anna N

Anna Neatrour is a librarian with too much manga in her house. She started blogging at TangognaT in 2003 about libraries, books, manga, and comics. She created Manga Report to focus only on manga reviews in 2010. Anna is a member of the writing collective known as The Bureau Chiefs, authors of FakeAPStylebook and the book Write More Good. Anna contributed the Bringing the Drama column to Manga Bookshelf before joining the team in Nov 2012. When not reading, Anna can be found knitting or wrangling small children.

Sakura, Saku Vols 1 and 2

Sakkura, Saku Volumes 1 and 2 by Io Sakisaka

I feel like Io Sakisaka is a great go-to author for heartfelt shoujo stories that reaffirm one’s faith in humanity and young love. Sakura, Saku might not be terribly surprising, but it delivers all the feels that one would want from a shoujo romance. Saku Fujigaya was rescued on a train when she was feeling faint by a mysterious stranger, and she is so inspired by this kindly act that she decides to devote herself to helping others. She rescues dropped train passes, shares umbrellas, carries extra pencils in case someone needs to borrow one, and takes on extra chores at school. When people comment on her being a “goody-two-shoes” she is delighted that she is succeeding in her new life mission.

Sakura, Saku

One of Saku’s biggest regrets is that she wasn’t able to thank her rescuer. She had a note with his name on it, but when she tried to contact him she wasn’t able to locate him. She’s surprised when she hears a familiar last name – Sakura. Her classmate Haruki Sakura’s older brother is potentially her original rescuer who changed the direction of her life. She asks Haruki to deliver a letter to his brother for her, and he immediately refuses. As they cross paths more often he begins to see that she’s not the typical girl that tries to go through him to confess to his brother, and Saku begins to form more ties with her classmates.

Saku’s tendency to throw herself into helping people, and Haruki’s somewhat diffident but forthright personality make them unusual allies in navigating the emotional currents of high school even while they try to figure out their own feelings for each other. Saku’s habit of contemplating Haruki’s shoulders at inopportune times is a great example of the awkwardness that comes with a first crush. Sakisaka’s art is attractive and expressive, and the while first couple of volumes so far step through some typical plot points and situations, the characters are engaging and it fills a niche for anyone wanting some relatively angst-free contemporary shoujo.

Neighborhood Story Vol. 1 By Ai Yazawa

Neighborhood Story Volume 1 by Ai Yazawa

Neighborhood Story is a manga I’ve been aware of for a long time, because the characters drop in on Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, but I never thought it would actually be translated into English! I’m glad that Viz has licensed this shoujo classic. Mikako is an aspiring fashion designer who has a ton of personality packed into her tiny body. Tsutomo is the boy next door. They’ve been constant childhood companions, and many of their surrounding family and friends seem to expect that they’ll end up together.

Neighborhood Story Volume 1

Mikako is a little suspicious about Tsutomo’s inadvertent womanizing ways, as his similarity to a pop idol causes him to be fascinating to random girls. Tsutomo wonders if he and Mikako are so close that they aren’t ever really going to experience life without some time apart. They seem obviously perfect for each other and yet sometimes oblivious to their own emotions in ways that are utterly realistic for teenagers experiencing the first stirrings of something that might be love. Mikako is a force to be reckoned with, and as their extended group of friends start gathering together to pursue their creative dreams, I’m looking forward to experiencing again that combination of love story and artistic ambition that Ai Yazawa writes so well.

While the art isn’t as polished as Yazawa’s later series, her spindly characters and their fashion forward style contribute to the creative community that surrounds and supports Mikako and Tsutomo. Reading Neighborhood Story feels nostalgic in the best way, and I’m glad I finally have a chance to experience it.

The Ice Guy and the Cool Girl, Vol 1

The Ice Guy and the Cool Girl, Volume 1 by Miyuki Tonogaya

I was curious about this manga, because I’ve heard good things about the anime, which I have not watched yet. The premise of a man descended from snow spirits and his evolving relationship with his work colleague sounded amusing. This series started off being serialized online, and that definitely shows in the episodic nature of the early chapters and the same humorous situation being repeated multiple times. Fortunately, I enjoy scenes of people being overcome with emotions over and over again. I think pacing out reading the first volume over a period of a few days would make for a less repetitive reading experience, and it certainly was pleasant to dip in and out of this manga.

Ice Guy and the Cool Girl

Himuro is the decedent of a snow spirit, and his heritage causes him to have incidents where he inadvertently chills or freezes things in his environment. Fuyutsuki is pretty self-contained, but she does notice Himuro’s challenges and tries to come up with ways to make his life easier. She brings in straw that he can use to insulate the flowers he likes so they won’t freeze over, and brings him cat whiskers as a good luck charm when she realizes that he can’t pet a real cat. Fuyutsuki’s deadpan expression and lack of awareness about her emerging crush provide a contrast to Himuro’s over the top realizations of his feelings for her, which usually involve being overcome with emotion and causing a blizzard in his immediate vicinity. Tonogaya’s art is expressive and the contrast between Himuro’s over the top reactions and Fuyutsuki’s self-contained demeanor is funny. I really liked the bonus story at the end, because it gave a bit more insight into Fuyutsuki’s internal thoughts. Overall, this is a pleasant manga to keep on the reading pile, flipping through a few pages now and then for a bit of cute romantic comedy whenever it is needed.

Honey Lemon Soda, Vol 2

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 2 by Mayu Murata

Shy girl in love with popular boy is a fairly common subgenre of shoujo manga, but with the second volume, I do think that Honey Lemon Soda is pulling it off better than most manga. Uka is still adjusting to her new school, and fighting through her instinctual reactions to situations and other kids that she developed when she was horribly bullied during middle school. Fortunately in her new environment she keeps being pleasantly surprised by her classmates, who are generally very kind. When she shows up in full hiking gear to a trip that everyone else knew was a low key walk in the woods, her classmates are perplexed, but not cruel. Kai, the object of her affections, finds her gaffe sort of adorable because Uka is showing up for events with everything she’s got.

Honey Lemon Soda 2

Uka ends up being a defacto leader of the group when they accidentally go off trail, and her giant hiking backpack has enough snacks to take care of everyone. She slowly starts trusting her classmates more, but she also starts getting a sense of Kai’s popularity. Murata’s art continues to be stylish and a little quirky. I especially liked the way she portrayed Uka and Kai’s smiles and attitudes towards each other as documented in other students’ photos of the hiking trip, it gave a little preview to how their relationship might eventually develop.

March Comes in Like a Lion, Vol 1

March Comes in Like a Lion Volume 1 by Chica Umino

March Comes in Like a Lion was one of the releases I was most anticipating this year, and it was so worth the wait. The opening panels show Rei Kiriyama waking up, getting ready, going to a shogi hall, playing a game against a man he knows. Throughout this introduction Rei says nothing, and the panels of the shogi game are intercut with scenes from Rei’s childhood. When Rei wins the game and his opponent gets up and mentions that he and his family members are worried for him, Rei waits until he’s alone to say “Liar.” Rei then heads home, just as isolated, but he’s interrupted by a flurry of texts and goes over to the Kawamoto sisters’ house, where he’s immediately enveloped in a warm family gathering.

March Comes in like a Lion

Umino balances portraying isolation, trauma, and depression with great skillfulness and moments of humor. She packs in so many slice of life character development vignettes into just a few panels. I appreciated the shonen battle stylings of Nikaido, who proclaims himself Rei’s rival and soon-to-become best friend. Rei goes to the hostess bar where Akari Kawamoto works with some other shogi players, and she cheerfully manipulates his companions into promising to look after Rei. Rei’s background is shown through a series of non-linear flashbacks, and while by the end of the first volume the reader has a sense of what has caused Rei to be so isolated, it is certain that there will be plenty more revelations ahead. One thing I really enjoyed is that the relationship between Rei and the Kawamoto sisters isn’t one sided – Rei also supports the sisters in his own quiet way.

Denpa’s production quality is excellent, with extras like french flaps and a color fold-out poster included at the start of the volume, which makes the manga feel like a bit more of a special collector’s edition. I also appreciated the essays about shogi that accompanied the story. I’m all in for this manga and seeing how Rei’s journey unfolds.