Bloody Mary, Vol 1

Bloody Mary Volume 1 by Akaza Samamiya

Vampires! There have been plenty of options available for the manga fan who enjoys vampires, and these series are obviously popular, because it seems like most publishers have at least one or two current series featuring those who walk the night. How is Bloody Mary different from all the other shoujo vampire series out there?

Bloody Mary is a bit different because there are no clumsy high school girls who unwittingly find themselves the target of a vampire’s affections. Instead in this series the reader gets a cranky and mysterious priest and a vampire with a death wish. Mary is a vampire who has been on a quest to find a priest who can actually kill him. Maria is a priest who is the target of vampires due to his family’s position as prominent exorcists. Maria knows how to brandish a mystical cross, but he doesn’t yet have the ability to combat vampires the same way his ancestors did.

Mary rescues Maria from a vampire attack and brings him home to the church. Maria promptly kicks him out, because he’s tired of vampires constantly showing up and demanding his delicious blood. Mary explains that he only wants Maria to kill him. Eventually the duo strike up an uneasy truce – Maria will give Mary blood, in return for protection against vampire attacks. When Maria is able to gain his true powers as an exorcist, he promises to put Mary out of his misery. While Mary is over 400 years old, he’s drawn as a mischievous teenager, skulking around in a cat-head hoodie. Maria is tall, blond, imposing, and has attitude issues. There are plenty of opportunities for odd couple shenanigans ahead.

There’s also plenty of mystery to explore. Mary has amnesia issues. He’s probably the vampire boogieman known as Bloody Mary, but he seems to have patchy memories of his past. He doesn’t have the same vulnerabilities that other vampires do. On Maria’s side, his lack of access to his family’s traditional power, and the knowledge that his hidden from him hint that he has the potential to become a destructive force in his own right as well.


This first volume packs a bunch of story elements in to just a few chapters, as Mary and Maria’s relationship is established, hints of everyone’s secret past are alluded to, and Maria also has to deal with a handsome student council president who knows more about exorcism than he initially lets on. The character designs are attractive, and the fatalistic humor combined with plenty of vampire angst makes Bloody Mary a solid addition to the Shojo Beat lineup.

Dawn of the Arcana Vols 11 and 12

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 11 by Rei Toma

Dawn of the Arcana is a series that I think is best experienced in mini bursts of 2 or 3 volumes, simply due to the deliberate pace of the storytelling in the manga, as well as the fact that it sometimes takes a half volume or so for my brain to kick in with my memories about what happened in the previous volume due to all the relationships developing and the shifting nature of the geopolitical situations happening in Toma’s world. Usually I’m far too impatient to let the volumes pile up like this though!

After 10 volumes, the new status quo for red haired socially outcast with alarming powers of precognition Princess Nakaba and formerly arrogant but really a nice guy who has a social conscience inspired by the power of love Prince Caesar is to be separated. Nakaba has returned to Senan, determined to do some ruling in her own right, and Caesar is back in his home country of Belquat, dealing with his evil family. This volume shows the emotional impact of Nakaba’s power, the Arcana of Time, as she is determined to save the outcast child of a village that is in the direct path of an avalanche. This becomes a story that further explores the position of the humanoid animal hybrid race called ajin, as Lala the child with bunny ears is actually the product of a human/ajin encounter, leading to her abandonment. Lala has one human friend, and Nakaba’s ever present ajin protector Loki is there to save the day as always.

Loki always seems to have a new revelation every few volumes, either about his emotions or background, and a secret is revealed in this volume that shows that he and Nakaba have even more in common than I previously thought. While there’s the more conventional romantic storyline with Caesar and Nakaba, I actually find Nakaba’s relationship with Loki much more interesting, as they trade off protector duties in unexpected ways. Nakaba decides to take power in her home country, and her choices are largely driven by wanting to prevent Loki from going too far for her.

Dawn of the Arcana Vol 12 by Rei Toma

Everything keeps zipping along, as now that Nakaba and Caesar are in power in their respective countries, they have a chance to finally see each other again, when Caesar is ordered to invade Senan. Nakaba’s been looking in on Caesar and remarks that he’s going to start a revolution, so she’s “Here to lend a hand.” Nakaba’s power also provides Toma with a great way of providing more backstory about her characters. Nakaba looks back at Caesar’s father when he was young, even though Loki warns her that it might be difficult for her to see because she’s “too kind”. Nakaba sees King Guran’s first meeting with his unconventional first queen, the commoner Sara. The unhappy ending of this romance provides a reason for why King Guran might have ended up so twisted and bitter, but it doesn’t prevent a confrontation that is sure to cause even more fallout to happen in the volumes ahead.

One of the things that I really like about the art in this series is that it is so clear and easy to read. Toma might not have the most intricate backgrounds or innovative approach to paneling, but I’m never left puzzled about action scenes or finding that I have to go back and reread a page to make sure I understand the sequencing. The wordless exchanges between Nakaba and Caesar and the sidelong glances between Loki and Caesar do more to express the tensions between the characters than several pages of dialog. Overall, these were two very solid volumes in a fantasy series that is always surprising me with unexpected depths. I’m looking forward to the next few volumes to see what will become of Nakaba, Caesar, and Loki (well, really mostly Loki).

Basara, Vols 13-16

Whenever I pick up and read a few volumes of Basara, I’m always struck by how much story and emotion Yumi Tamura is able to pack into a few pages. I’d started rereading Basara last year, but got distracted by having too many volumes of shiny new manga. The Manga Moveable Feast seemed like a great excuse to dig up these volumes again. These volumes cover Sarasa’s journey as she escapes from prison and wages war on the desert city of Suo, only to encounter the Red King. The battle doesn’t go the way either of them planned.

Sarasa is able to escape Abashiri prison with her comrades, but she doesn’t have time to settle back and appreciate freedom again. It is time to head south and take up the struggle to determine the fate of Japan. Ageha leaves Sarasa, saying that he can’t become a crutch to make things easier for her. She has to execute her plans on her own, based on her convictions. Shuri heads to his precious desert city of Suo, but things have changed there for the worse as the administrator there Momonoi attempts to remake it in the image of Kyoto by displacing the poor and blowing up buildings. Asagi prevents a reunion between Sarasa and Shuri in a southern market, because he thinks if they each find out the truth about each other now, it would be “too dull.” Sarasa and Shuri both head to Suo with drastically different purposes.

The struggle in Suo is portrayed in mental as well as physical terms. Sarasa meets up with Hozumi, Momonoi’s son who his a non-violent artist. His girlfriend Renko runs an underground newspaper in the city. Sarasa starts unsettling the city by plastering notices that “Tatara was here” on the walls, and even flying the message from a kite. Sarasa starts to reflect a bit about what it means to be both a strong and feminine woman after spending some time with Renko. Hozumi stages his own form of protest by painting elaborate pictures on the walls of buildings slated for destruction, so people hesitate to blow them apart.

When Shuri sees the wreckage of Suo, he’s angry at what it has become. Momonoi brutalizes both Hozumi and Renko. Sarasa and Shuri both go after Momonoi for different reasons. Sarasa is nervous about being in close proximity to the Red King, the man who destroyed her village. Shuri sees that he’s not welcomed as a savior in his treasured city, and begins to reflect that his previous philosophy about a good leader inspiring fear was mistaken. Sarasa’s reinforcements come, but her plan to use Momonoi’s own explosives to cut off the palace kills the water supply for the city. The Red King’s army executes a tricky sneak attack, and the star-crossed lovers seem like they are headed towards mutual destruction. Sarasa is devastated when she realizes that she’s bring more destruction to the people of Suo. A horrible sandstorm prevents the battle from progressing further, but rather than regroup with her comrades, Sarasa runs off and finds Shuri in the chaos.

It is a little unbelievable that Sarasa and Shuri have managed to keep their identities from each other for so long, especially considering the way they both tend to show up and meet each other right around the time that Tatara and the Red King have a skirmish. It is clear now that part of reason is that they honestly don’t care, and they are both blinded by love for each other so much that they aren’t going to stop and ask inconvenient questions when they could just enjoy each other’s company. This idyll is very short, and the Red King and Tatara’s army clash the next day and Shuri and Sarasa finally get a glimpse of each other from across the battlefield.

What follows is one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the series, as Sarasa and Shuri react to this newfound knowledge in different ways. Sarasa slips into a fugue state, forcing out commands to kill the Red King, while Shuri mechanically tries to kill himself at the suggestion of his followers because his group is so clearly outnumbered by the rebel forces. Both armies flee the battle as King Ukon’s army approaches and Ageha takes Sarasa away in an attempt to bring back Tatara. Ageha thinks “Was he…that good? Why not just take me instead?” Ageha concludes that Sarasa isn’t his “woman worth dying for” and decides to leave. Sarasa ends up finding shelter with a local priest and his family, but her destiny isn’t going to let her sit back and do nothing.

Sarasa strikes up an odd friendship with Kikune, one of the White King’s spies. Sarasa and Kikune end up befriending Lady Purple, the Black King’s estranged wife. Lady Purple ends up being another type of mentor to Sarasa, but Sarasa’s emotional healing really begins when she’s reunited with her mother. In a very nurturing way, Sarasa’s mother asks her some pointed questions about the reasons why she was fighting and what she wants the future of Japan to be.

There’s some funny yet poignant exchanges happening as Asagi has rescued Shuri, who is undergoing his own emotional rehabilitation. Asagi is all but twirling his non-existent evil mustache in an attempt to get Shuri to have some sort of emotional reaction to him, but Shuri calmly accepts the prospect of being sold into slavery by his half-brother.

Overall, these volumes server as a great emotional climax to the first half of the series. The central mystery about what would happen if Sarasa and Shuri would find out about each other has been answered, and now they have to pick up the pieces of their lives yet again. While Ageha might have given up on Sarasa, it is clear that her destiny as Tatara will not allow her to just retire into the countryside and life out the rest of her life peacefully. Shuri has his own set of trials ahead, and it will be interesting to see how both of these powerful leaders manage to build a new Japan with such strong and well-connected enemies lining up against them. One of the strengths of Basara is the way Tamura will intersperse shorter, more personal adventures into the larger struggle with the extended cast. Having Sarasa and Shuri both on their own a little bit, without their customary support systems allows them to grow more as individuals, making the battles much more human. I’m glad I set aside the time to get back with my Basara rereading program, and I’ll likely finish up rereading the rest of the series outside of this week’s manga moveable feast.

Hana Kimi 3 in 1 Edition Volume 2

One of the fun things about these new omnibus editions is being able to go back and revisit some of my favorite series like Hana Kimi. This volume covers books 4-6 of the original manga, and by the end of this volume the love triangle between Mizuki, Sano, and Nakatsu is firmly established. Hana Kimi is a silly series, and the characters go through the typical events in a shojo manga such as school festivals and class trips. But there’s always an elements of humor and the dramatic that make the story enjoyable even when the reader is facing yet another volume of manga focused on school festival hijinks. One of the things that makes this series amusing is the absolutely ridiculous situations and supporting cast. The school festival ends up being a competition between dorms, so Mizuki’s sporty group is pitted against gangs of drama students and menacing karate practitioners. The tension is heightened due to the intense rivalry between the dorm leaders, so all the cultural exhibits and sporting events that take place at the school festival are filled with tension. Of course, this being an all boys school in Japan portrayed in a shoujo manga, there is a cross dressing event where Mizuki’s dorm hosts a cafe and she has to pretend to be a boy pretending to be a girl and almost gets too much attention because her feminine disguise is too good.

Even though Mizuki is in some ways a typical peppy shoujo heroine, it is nice to see that her track and field skills still come in handy. She’s targeted and bullied by other teams who see her as a strong competitor for her dorm, and that ends up bringing her and Sano closer when he starts to worry about what might happen to her. While the school festival took up a bunch of story space, Mizuki also has to deal with a reporter trying to ferret out the reasons behind Sano’s return to track and Nakatsu’s sudden public confession of love.

Hana Kimi is helped a bunch by Nakajo’s very confident art. She’s able to render all the action sequences of high jumping and the menacing dangers of random flowerpots with ease, but she does a great job at making all of her characters visually and emotionally appealing. With such a large cast it is only to be expected that a lot of effort goes into dramatizing the subtle moments between Sano and Mizuki that drive their romance forward, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in seeing Nanba’s facial expressions as he works through being confronted with a romance from his past and struggles with his RA leadership duties.

One thing that might be frustrating is that Hana Kimi is a manga that stretches out the volume count simply by characters not telling each other their feelings. Sano’s acting a bit like Mizuki is his girlfriend, but he doesn’t tell her that he knows her secret. Mizuki is happy to be platonic friends with Sano, because she thinks that’s the best she can hope for. The only person who is ridiculously honest is Nakatsu, and he’s always around to serve as the hyperactive comic relief. But this is a series that I generally reread every two years or so, and even though I’m probably on my third go around with these volumes, I’m still finding Hana Kimi plenty entertaining.

Basara Volumes 11 and 12 by Yumi Tamura

Getting back into my great reread of Basara, I’m going to tackle Volumes 11 and 12, where Sarasa finds herself in a very unpleasant prison in Hokkaido. When she discovers Hayato’s ship abandoned with curse markings that include splashed blood and voodoo dolls, she’s dismayed that he’s gone missing. Her concern for Hayato is taken over with her excitement when she discovers that the Red King is still alive “So I can kill him…with my own two hands!” Sarasa promptly decides to visit the Kazuno people who kidnapped her friend, hoping to get him back and recruit more allies she can use in her battle against the Red King. The Kazuno have an elaborate set of traps which Sarasa wins through with her usual resilience and personal integrity, but it isn’t enough to prevent her from being thrown into a horrible prison with Ageha and Asagi. One of the prison guards looks suspiciously like Shuri, and it turns out that the self proclaimed “King of the Northern Seas” aka “Wind Owl” is Shuri’s cousin.

When Ageha is away from Sarasa being secretive and snarky it is easy to forget just how much he cares for Sarasa and his role as Tatara. As soon as they wind up in prison he makes protecting Sarasa’s secret his first priority, offering up his body as a distraction so no one will suspect that Tatara is a girl. Sarasa is overcome with emotion at Ageha’s sacrifice and wonders if there’s anything she can do to make things better. Ageha tells her that he knew she was the child of destiny the first time he saw her in the desert, and if she can focus on rebuilding their country he’ll be happy. Even Asagi is now on watch to protect Sarasa in prison, but when she’s used as a canary in a prison mine, she’s taken away by the “King of the Northern Seas.” Seeing Sarasa and Ageha endure a horrible situation together after being parted for so long showed the strength of their relationship, and as horrible as Asagi would like to think he is, he’s gradually being changed just by being exposed to Tatara as well.

It is PRISON BREAK TIME in Volume 12! One of the ways that Tamura is such a pro in the way she presents this sprawling adventure with a large cast is that each character gets a moment that provides some insight into their personality, motivations, or relationships. When Shuri’s cousin discovers that Tatara is a woman, he immediately starts groping her, leading her to reflect that the terror she’s experiencing “reminds me of all the terror that women go through…reminds me that I’m a woman…even while I’m trying to live as a man!” Ageha rescues her, but not before they’re doused with icy water, and Sarasa takes care of him tenderly. Sarasa is beginning to wonder if Shuri is the Red King after her encounter with Wind Owl, but the ever sneaky Asagi assures her that they look nothing alike. Sarasa manages to find Hayato, and he undergoes his own trial as he fights against the drugs he’s been dosed with to warn Sarasa about the dangers that lie ahead in the prison. Asagi spends most of his time in prison commenting about how much he dislikes the events he’s experienced. One of my favorite moments occurred when Sarasa was distracted after learning the histories of the prison guards. She’s distracted and lost in her own thoughts, so Ageha promptly sweeps her off her feet and gives her a dramatic kiss before asking her what she needs as a leader. As always it is a combination of Sarasa’s confidence and insight and the help of her friends that lead her out of the prison. Old Kaku turns out to have been the only successful escapee from the prison, and he, Nakajin, and Asagi’s spy Muratake work to help as well. After the political intrigue and tropical idyll everyone experienced in Okinawa, the prison in the North provides a great contrast to the earlier story arc. This volume ends on a cliffhanger (literally) and I haven’t read these middle volumes of Basara recently at all, so I’m eagerly looking forward to the next volume!