Knight of the Ice, Vol 11

Knight of the Ice Volume 11 by Yayoi Ogawa

I often feel a little wistful at the end of a series, especially one as consistently entertaining about Knight of the Ice, but the final volume concludes in a fashion that will satisfy readers, even though the outcomes were easy to foresee at the start of the series. As Kokoro prepares to take the ice at the Sochi Olympics, the field of skaters is shaken up by a dark horse contender with multiple quads from the United States. Kokoro also has to face a major competition without Chitose by his side to support him, since she’s recovering from necessary heart surgery. It is great to see the progression in Kokoro’s personality and how he’s able to make more decisions and assert himself as a skater, instead of drifting through life in an attempt to live up to his family’s expectations.

Ogawa nails the tension of Olympic ice skating as different skaters attempt to skate their best due to a variety of reasons, sometimes succeeding and sometimes having the small mistakes and spills that happen in competition. I always appreciate the paneling and action sequences of Knight of the Ice, which really serve to heighten the When Kokoro pops his quad lutz, readers are treated to a detailed discussion of scoring system issues, making the moments of Kokoro’s next decisions to modify his program on the fly even more dramatic. Even issues with Russian judges come into play as the final scores are tallied, making this manga enjoyable for a casual or more serious skating fan. One thing I really liked about this series was the way it developed all the supporting characters as well, and many of Kokoro’s compatriots get a sense of conclusion at the end of this volume as well.

One thing I appreciated was a bonus story that takes place before the first volume, which shows how Chitose and Kokoro reconnected after being close as childhood friends. It served as a nice way to think about how far they’ve both come as they’ve evolved over this series. I’m very glad that we’ve now gotten two Yayoi Ogawa series translated into English, but I have to say after reading both Kima wa Pet and Knight of the Ice, I feel a little greedy for more.

Dr. Stone, Vols 5 and 6

Dr. Stone Volumes 5 and 6 by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi

Dr. Stone’s science-infused shonen post-apocalyptic story continues to be amusing. The fifth volume works through the shonen staple of a tournament fight in order to decide the chieftain of the small village that Senku intends to use to build his Kingdom of Science. There are opportunities to expound on the benefits of optics in battle, both for improving eyesight and setting things on fire. The tournament doesn’t last overly long though, and Senku turns his attention back to manufacturing basic antibiotics in order to save the life of Kohaku’s sister.

Dr Stone 6

I was glad to see this series take more of a detour into the backstory of the event where everyone turned into stone, with an appearance by Senku’s father who was an astronaut. The decisions he made up in space during the event ended up ensuring that Senku would find allies once he woke up. The contrast between a crew of castaway astronauts living in Senku’s past and building the idea of oral traditions with Senku’s contemporary science-based approach was interesting. The looming possibility of conflict between Senku’s Kingdom of Science and Tsukasa’s growing empire continues, as a raiding party attacks and Senku’s allies narrowly escape. Boichi’s art is always dynamic, but I particularly enjoyed the scenes in this volume where a poisonous wind is portrayed as a terrifying giant looming over the landscape. Occasionally seeing the characters portrayed as tiny against the immense backdrop of nature just brings to home how difficult it is to cobble together a society with only a few resources.

I’m still getting more impatient for another appearance by Taiju, but I’m hoping as Senku and Tsubasa race towards an epic confrontation he shows up again. This is still a fun series because I never know what type of invention will be featured next, and Senku’s cerebral enthusiasm makes him an entertaining shonen protagonist for anyone wanting a slightly different slant on fight scenes.

Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, vol 2

Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, Volume 2 by Waco Ioka, Midori Yuma and Laruha

I found the first volume of this series pleasant enough, but I wasn’t sure how well it would measure up to the heights of other Shojo Beat series like Kamisama Kiss or Demon Prince of Momochi House. Reading the second volume of Kakuriyo reminded me that it is always good to give a manga series a couple volumes to settle into itself, and I found some of the mysteries being set up in the second volume broadened the world building a bit more to capture my interest.

Kakuriyo 2

The volume opens with Aoi stumbling across a Tengu in front of the abandoned cafe that she’s temporarily inhabiting in the spirit world. The elderly man reminds her of her grandfather, and she proceeds to feed him her extra food. As she introduces herself to Lord Matsuba, he realizes that she’s Shiro’s granddaughter and starts laughing with his recollections. He shares some of his memories and goes on his way. The next morning Aoi finds out that she’s stumbled into spirit world diplomatic relations, as Lord Matsuba is extremely powerful. He finds it outrageous that she’s sleeping in a storeroom and cooking, and offers to bring her to his mountain where she can be a bride for one of his sons. He also gifts her with a special fan. Aoi is determined to find her own path and declines his offer, but her worth in the spirit world has definitely increased.

The world building in this volume was also entertaining, as Aoi gets a chance to see the spirit world outside of the inn, and meets Suzuran, a geisha who is also the sister of the receptionist. It turns out that Kijin is much more protective towards the people who work for him than Aoi was assuming. She also gets a chance to win over one of her earlier enemies in this volume, again due to the power of her cooking tailored towards the individual. Seeing the world open up a little more in this second volume drew me into the story much more than the first, and I’m intrigued by the references to Aoi’s grandfather and her growing friendship with the fox spirit Ginji, who seems to remind Aoi of her grandfather in mysterious ways. Seeing Aoi’s human ways start to influence the existing relationships between the spirits is interesting, and I’m curious to see how she begins to wield more influence due to her cooking habits and approach to human-spirit world relationships.

I still wish the art for this series had a bit more of a unique twist to it, but I enjoyed seeing the airships of the spirit world, the faceless handmaidens who prepare Aoi for an outing, and the continued practices of wearing masks, as Aoi has to hide her human nature when she’s away from the relative safety of the inn. I think I’m starting to see more signs of a deeper story emerge in the second volume of Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, so I am curious to see how it unfolds.

Black Torch, Vol 1

Black Torch, Vol 1 by Tsuyoshi Takaki

I was surveying my stacks of manga and decided that I needed to make more of an effort to get into the Halloween spirit. I figured that Black Torch was an ideal candidate since it features supernatural beings and a black cat, who is also a supernatural being. Spooky!

Jiro is the plucky protagonist of this manga, who has some unique abilities. He has the ability to talk to animals and is descended from a long line of ninjas. He also has absolutely no tolerance for animal cruelty, as the opening scene in the manga shows him driving of a gang that was bugging a stray cat and raven. Jiro’s Grandfather seems to mainly enjoy yelling at his grandson about ninja traditions. Jiro finds out about a cat in distress and goes to rescue it. He finds Rago, a demon (or mononoke) trapped in the form of a black cat. Jiro learns that Rago was caught up in a demonic struggle, and doesn’t remember all the details of his past. Jiro is determined to help Rago, even though the demon attempts to leave Jiro, he is relentless in his desire to help. This is one of the more endearing aspects of Black Torch, even though Jiro ends up getting trapped in a deadly mononoke battle. Rago and Jiro end up being fused together, as Rago goes to help his reckless ninja friend. There are elements that are somewhat predictable in most shonen manga, like a supernatural protection agency and the hints that Rago and Jiro will soon join a team fighting evil.

Black Torch 1

The art in Black Torch has a slightly scratchy quality that I enjoyed. Rago’s surprised cat faces were hilarious, and when his mystical powers manifest in the form of swirling black tendrils surrounding his cat form, the effect is suitably dramatic and mystical. The action scenes are dynamic. While Black Torch doesn’t stray far from the typical shonen manga formula, Jiro’s devotion to animals, the odd couple relationship between him and Rago, and Rago’s hilarious cat expressions go pretty far in making it an enjoyable supernatural action manga.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol 8

Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 8 by Izumi Miyazono

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this series is the way Miyazono has weaved in a strong sense of impending doom as Askuka and Ryu get closer. Their ultimate goals are so opposed, there’s no way a long-term relationship will work out without one of them significantly changing. This adds an additional level of emotional complexity to this josei romance manga.

While Asuka and Ryu have moved in together, he then decides to accept a news posting in the United States. They embark on a long distance relationship where they occasionally see each other for a weekend, but keep spending more time on their careers. It is almost like the universe is conspiring to keep them separate. Asuka ends up suffering a pretty big career setback when someone hears her breezily discussing her ultimate goal of becoming a wife and homemaker, and Ryu continues to become more and more busy as a news reporter. As Asuka keeps getting disappointed by her relationship and her career, Kamiya is there to offer up some companionship while Ryu is overseas. Towards the end of the volume though, it is Asuka who finally gets herself together to start making some changes in a somewhat roundabout way. Everyone’s Getting Married is a josei series with a surprising amount of emotional depth. If a happy ending does happen for this couple, it will not be an easy path, and that’s why this series continues to be so interesting.