Peach Heaven Vol. 1

So far, I’m having a mixed experience with Kodansha’s digital line. I like Chihayafuru and The Full-Time Wife Escapist (review of that coming soon), but I am not thrilled with A Springtime With Ninjas or Peach Heaven. In a way this is good, because I’m not having to set aside funds for so many digital series!

Peach Heaven treads familiar ground as the hapless heroine Momoko is blackmailed into being a slave to an evil male model – is there any other type of model in shoujo manga? Momoko has taken over her father’s writing persona and is cranking out erotica books in order to support her sick mother and younger brother. She toils on her writing all night, only to fall asleep in school the next day. Her friends think she’s hopelessly addicted to online gaming. Through a series of events that I no longer remember, Ranmaru the male model finds out about her double life and starts blackmailing her. Momoko is forced to bring Ranmaru lunch every day at school, and he continues to berate her for her life choices and makes fun of her for being a virgin.

Of course, various situations come up when Ranmaru has to rescue or intervene in Momoko’s life, indicating that he might be not so terrible after all. There isn’t really any suspense or dramatic tension in this manga. While I generally enjoy trashy romance manga, that’s usually only in cases where there’s a bit of a sense of humor or some over the top soap opera element to the storylines, and I don’t see anyone in Peach Heaven, say, abruptly deciding to become a priest or dealing with the aftereffects of personality-changing hypnotism. I was hoping that Peach Heaven would be another fun guilty pleasure manga, but it is just not very interesting. The rote plotting isn’t really complimented by the art, which is competent but doesn’t exhibit any individual sense of style.

Say I Love You, Vols 1 and 2

Say I Love You Volume 1 by Kanae Hazuki

Say I Love You
has a premise that is shared among plenty of shoujo series, as it details an improbable romance between a misfit girl and the most popular boy in school, but it has interesting combination of humor and some grittier than usual plot points, resulting an a series that is more entertaining for being slightly quirky.

Mei Tachibana goes throughout life without having any friends. She doesn’t say much to her classmates, and it is easy to understand why, since she’s been singled out as a target for bullies from an early age. Yamato Kurosawa is extremely handsome, and is one of the most popular boys at school. He’s pleasant, but not very interested in girls who are overly interested in him. Mei captures his attention when one of his friends trips her. Later on, his friend grabs the hem of her skirt and she responds with a silent but deadly roundhouse kick, nailing Kurosawa in the face. Yamato laughs as he’s recovering from the blow and proclaims that Mei is interesting. Yamato asks Mei to be friends and while she doesn’t respond, she calls Yamato later when she is in trouble with no one else to turn to.

Mei decides that even though Yamato is a “nonsensical guy” she’s beginning to trust him a little bit. Her classmates begin to treat her differently when they notice Yamato saying “Hi” to her at school. Gradually they start to get to know each other better, through a series of slight misadventures where Yamato proves himself as steadfast and emotionally intelligent. Mei continues to be feisty and a bit withdrawn, but her lack of caring what other people think comes into play when she defends a girl named Asami after hearing the other girls gossip about her. One of the things I like about this series is that it doesn’t focus only on the slowly developing romance between Mei and Yamato. The first volume shifts over to showing how Asami and Nakanishi get together, with some surprisingly insightful advice from Mei prompting Nakanishi to actually express his feelings.

The art in the first volume is a bit rough. The poses of the characters are stiff, the proportions are sometimes a bit wonky even by manga standards, and the paneling and backgrounds aren’t that interesting or detailed. But I found myself charmed anyway, just because Hazuki draws such cute faces! The art is something I’d expect to improve a bit as the series continued, and I thought that towards the end of the first volume and start of the second it was starting to look a bit smoother.

Say I Love You Volume 2 by Kanae Hazuki

One of the things that makes Say I Love You a little different from many of the other shoujo series that are translated into English, is that it is a bit more forthright when dealing with issues centering around sex. Asami is bullied because she has a well-developed figure. Aiko has a jealous crush on Yamato, and tries to drive off Mei by pointing out that she’s already slept with him. In some shoujo series this revelation would result in Mei and Yamato being kept apart for a couple chapters at least, but Mei asks him if it is true shortly after she finds out. Yamato explains the circumstances behind his encounter with Aiko as something that he regrets, and they are able to move on.

I enjoyed the bit of backstory Hazuki introduces to explain Mei and Yamato’s personalities. He has direct experience with bullying, when one of his friends was harassed so much that he transferred schools. Mei’s withdrawn nature is a bit more understandable when we see her relationship with her overprotective father, who tragically died young.

Mei slowly begins to transform a bit, growing her hair longer and meeting Yamato’s friend Kakeru, who unlike Yamato uses his popularity to sleep around with as many girls as possible. Aiko convinces him to make a pass at Mei, with predictably disastrous results. Mei abruptly leaves the restaurant, leaving food behind and Yamato immediately knows that Kakeru made a pass at her because her habit is to clean her plate every time she eats at a restaurant. Instead of Kakeru immediately becoming a sleazy villain, the next chapter explores more of his world, and the unending and undemanding devotion of his childhood friend Chiharu who actually appreciates him for reasons that go beyond his superficial popularity.

Overall, I really enjoyed the structure of the plot in Say I Love You, since the extended cast seems to be just as interesting as the main couple. With Kimi Ni Todoke wrapping up, I think Say I Love You would appeal to readers wanting something a little bit similar, but different enough to still be interesting. I bought these volumes on my kindle, and I can see myself investing in more e-book versions of this title as it comes out, for sure.

Vinland Saga, Vol 2

Vinland Saga Volume 2 by Makoto Yukimura

It says a lot about the quality of writing in Vinland Saga that the most memorable moments in the manga for me aren’t the Viking battle scenes but instead quiet moments that reveal more about the characters in the story. The clash of wills between determined young warrior Thorfinn and the conniving Askeladd becomes even more intriguing with the plot development in this volume. The story opens with a bit of a flashback to Thorfinn’s early adventures in infiltration for Askeladd, when he is taken in by an English family who he ends up having to betray. Thorfinn attempts to tell them to run before the Viking invasion is about to crush their village, and his concern turns to resignation as he sees the destruction coming at the hands of the Vikings.

Thorfinn has an encounter with a crazed Viking commander named Thorkell. Thorkell’s glee in battle contrasts with Askeladd’s more cerebral and cynical approach. Thorfinn is defeated, but Thorkell cheerfully waves goodbye with the stumps of the fingers that Thorfinn sliced off, saying of the fight “I enjoyed our battle! We should do it again!” The name of Thorfinn’s father still functions as an element of protection, because Thors was such a legendary warrior that Thorfinn’s Viking opponents are immediately curious about his capabilities.

Askeladd has his own agenda to execute as his band begins to march across the English countryside. They encounter the timid Prince Canute, and Askeladd strikes an unusual bargain with the Welsh. There’s an element of impending doom referenced multiple times, as Askeladd references a prophesied end of the world. The clash of religions between Christianity and paganism is also explored, as is the absolute brutality of the Vikings as they plunder a village in the winter. Yukimura’s art is always strong, and I appreciate the clarity of the battle scenes, as well as the attention to detail with the characters’ emotions as they react to the events on their journey.

While Thorfinn fits in with the traditional model of a hero, I’m finding myself more intrigued by Askeladd, simply because he’s such an unreliable narrator. I’m not sure if his stated reasons for acting are the truth, which creates quite a bit of dramatic tension in the story. The deluxe production for these volumes is always a treat, and I’m looking forward to the next volume of this saga continuing.

Attack on Titan, Vol 1

Attack on Titan Vol 1 by Hajime Isayama

At this point, given the ubiquity of Attack on Titan on manga best seller lists, reviewing it is a bit like reviewing the air, but I decided to finally get around to reading this series when Mangablog alerted me to the crazy deal for the kindle edition of the first volume that was running recently. Sometimes I have no trouble reading manga on my Kindle Paperwhite, but I had more difficulty figuring out what was going on with the art with the reduced size, and quickly switched over to reading this manga on my iPad instead.

I’ve been reading a bunch of post-apocalyptic fiction recently, just because there are so many YA dystopian novels out there, and I’m also in the middle of reading Justin Cronin’s The Twelve. Attack on Titan is an interesting twist on the dystopian genre as many years into the future humanity has retreated into walled cities in order to protect themselves from the Titian, giant zombie-like humanoid creatures who enjoy eating human flesh. Eren is in many ways a fairly typical brash and opinionated shonen hero, whose close companion is a quieter and seemingly more pragmatic girl named Mikasa. Eren is worried about the complacency his town seems to be developing, as Titans haven’t attacked it for a long time.

Sure enough, a devastating attack on the town follows, as a Titan bigger than anyone has seen before easily breaches the wall, causing panic and confusion in the town where few humans are equipped to deal with a direct attack. Years later, Eren and Mikasa are ready to take their work assignments in the town, and they have to choose the safer duty of directly protecting the townspeople or joining up with the riskier survey corps. Eren wants to avenge his family, and Mikasa is quietly determined to follow him in order to protect him.

By far the weakest element of Attack on Titan is the art. The characters are drawn stiffly and not in proportion. For much of the time Eren and his comrades are yelling at each other, with facial expressions that don’t have very much variation. At the same time, the more detailed renderings of the Titans are plenty creepy, with their musculature visible on their bodies due to lack of skin, wide jaws, and shark-like rows of teeth. In contrast to the art, the worldbuilding in Attack on Titan is excellent, and it is clear that Isayama has spent plenty of time plotting out the events in his future history, thinking through the weapon systems and defenses the humans have constructed, and setting up the relationships between the characters in an interesting way. The first volume ended on a cliffhanger that was both shocking and weirdly refreshing from a manga plotting perspective, making me wonder a bit if Attack on Titan is going to be serving up a bit of metacommentary about manga plot cliches. Even though the art was fairly awkward, I was still able to follow along with the action sequences, and the Titans were genuinely unsettling, with their grimacing silence and habits of eating people in one gulp. I’m a little leery of taking on such a long series, but I can certainly see why Attack on Titan is so popular.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Volume 3

I’m always struck by how fast the pacing of the story is in Sailor Moon. The first part of this volume deals with the “my soulmate is evil” storyline as Tuxedo Mask has been possessed by the Dark Kingdom. They’re after the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal, and Sailor Moon has to call upon her friends and her own reserves of power in order to fight the evil Queen Metalia. Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask disappear and the Sailor Senshi promptly track them to the Arctic Ocean. Because that’s where evil lurks! Sailor Moon is filled with memories of the past life she and Tuxedo Mask shared as Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion. Sailor Moon has come a long way from the babyish little girl in the first volume. Even though she’s occasionally frightened, for the most part she tackles her new battles without hesitation. The Sailor Senshi give up their power in an ultimate attempt to save Sailor Moon. Tuxedo Mask is healed from his demonic possession, and gives her the support she needs to battle her strongest enemy so far.

There’s a dramatic reunion between Usagi and Mamoru after the battle, when they embrace possessing all the knowledge of their past lives and romance together. Their combined powers bring back all of the Sailor Senshi. After a cosmic struggle involving trips to the Arctic and to the moon, the next storyline focues on a more mundane setting. Sailor Mars finds herself caught up in fortuntelling for a school festival, where there seems to be some suspicious activity involving the paranormal and UFOs. Usagi’s life becomes more complicated when a little girl drops out of the sky, landing on Mamoru and interrupting a tender moment. The little girl says her name is Usagi and she has a similar hairstyle to our heroine. Chibi-Usa soon works her way into the affections of everybody except for Usagi, aided by some fancy hypnosis. Usagi reacts with suspicion and anger, while Mamoru thinks they should wait to see what the lost little girl has to reveal. Seeing the new menace introduced through Sailor Mars’ point of view is a nice contrast with the usual Sailor Moon-centric narration. While the new threat seems earthbound so far, I feel confident that things will grow more cosmic in the next volume. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon continues to be a fun action-filled magical girl series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story is going to go next now that all the major characters are introduced.