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.

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.

Yakuza Lover, Vol 1

Yakuza Lover Volume 1 by Nozomi Mino

I’m glad that Shojo Beat remains committed to bringing out one mature title at a time, so with An Incurable Case of Love ending, Yakuza Lover rotates in. Yuri is a 20 year old college student who capably fends off the overtures of sketchy men, loudly proclaiming “I want a guy who loves me for me!” Her desire for a boyfriend takes an unconventional turn when she ends up in the wrong party room and needs to defend herself from some criminals through the application of a handy side table and her previous experience as a high school athlete. Local yakuza boss Toshiomi Oya comes in to check up on her and gives her his coat as well as his business card, which he says can be used as a shield if she ever finds herself in a similar situation.

Yakuza Lover Volume 1

While Oya says farewell, Yuri can’t stop thinking about him and seeks him out to return his coat. Oya promptly confesses his feelings of affection for Yuri and she’s fascinated by him. They start dating, but each time Oya leaves he references his criminal lifestyle, saying “I’ll call you again if I’m still alive.” Like a Mayu Shinjo hero, Oya’s main personality trait is extreme possessiveness. However, he is happy to indulge Yuri’s whims, like dressing up in traditional clothing while playing tourist. Yuri is still trying to find a better part-time job and not all that invested in material things, although it remains to be seen if some of the complications of dating a crime lord are going to test the relationship.

This first volume was over the top and entertaining, and I enjoyed the elements of dark humor like Oya repeatedly referring to the potential of his impending death. As much as I enjoy a good shoujo trope, I do sometimes want to read a series that doesn’t feature school festivals and sports days all the time, and it seems like dodging bullets and dealing with rival crime lords will be plenty entertaining in Yakuza Lover.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vols 11 and 12

Daytime Shooting Star Volumes 11 and 12 by Mika Yamamori

There are so many Shojo Beat series wrapping up! I’m trying to catch up on my reading and get myself psyched for new series. Daytime Shooting Star is by far the most anxiety-provoking Shojo Beat series for me, just due to the situation where Suzume falls in love with her teacher Mr. Shishio. From the first volume, the thing I was most dreading was a “10 years later” epilogue ending where Suzume is out of college, meets Shishio again and they live happily ever after. In this case my worry was unfounded and my expectations built on years of shoujo plot tropes might have made me worry needlessly. It is a testament to Yamamori’s storytelling abilities that this series was regularly on the top of my to-read pile and I was so invested in the story that I kept reading despite my worries.

Daytime Shoting Star 11

I’ve been on team Mamura all along, and it was great seeing Suzume and Mamura actually start tentatively dating. Of course Shishio has an incredibly immature reaction to Suzume moving along is to reel her back in with a confession of his feelings. One of the reasons why I’m so invested in the Mamura/Suzume relationship is that Mamura is unusually insightful, and willing call out Suzume a bit when she’s pretending that everything is ok when something is clearly bothering her. Mamura is putting her peace of mind in getting some sort of resolution over his own desire to move ahead with their relationship. There’s a great and touching scene where Suzume just leans her head into Mamura’s chest to calm herself, thinking “I feel like he’s putting my heart back where it belongs”. What follows is a sports day full of emotional confrontation and drama, as Mamura and Shishio compete in a relay race, Suzume gets injured in her dogged pursuit of bread, and she and Shishio have another emotionally charged talk.

Daytime Shooting Star 12

As the final volume opens, Suzume and Mamura go on a trip to Okinawa with friends, but he pushes her to resolve her feelings for Mr. Shishio. Shishio’s evolution from charming but slightly sketchy to selfish and incredibly immature over the twelve volumes has been something fascinating to see. Yamamori manages to make all her characters charming no matter what emotional issues they’re dealing with, and by the time I finished this volume I was convinced that all the teenage characters were exhibiting a maturity of character and psychological insight that far outpaced any of their adult counterparts in this manga. Suzume has been a charming and irrepressible heroine who has been plagued by self-doubt as she struggled to make sense of her emotions. By the end of this volume, she has clarity and is truly happy, which was wonderful to see. Daytime Shooting Star featured some great humor, stylish character design, and characters who grew and changed, becoming more secure in themselves as the series concluded. Daytime Shooting Star was an extremely satisfying series to read.

An Incurable Case of Love, Vol 7

An Incurable Case of Love Volume 7 by Maki Enjoji

Especially in these pandemic times, sometimes I just want to read something light and fairly predictable. I don’t want surprise plot twists or social commentary, but seeing a couple work through and resolve all the impediments to their romance and end up with a happy ending is often just the diversion that I’m looking for. The Shojo Beat “stealth josei” titles like An Incurable Case of Love tend to be limited, with only one or two coming out at a time but I really enjoy them.

An Incurable Case of Love Volume 7

This is the final volume of An Incurable Case of Love! I’ve been feeling like the past couple volumes have been stretching out the story a little too much, this would probably have been a very tight 5 volume series as opposed to a slightly meandering 7 volume series, but I very much enjoyed it overall. I’m a sucker for repeated plot tropes and anything in shoujo manga that reminds me of a k-drama, so I was delighted when there was a time skip involved when Dr. Tendo had to study abroad for a number of years only to finally reunite with Nanase at the end. I do not feel like I’m even revealing any major spoilers as all of this has been telegraphed to the reader all along. Still, by the end of the manga the Dark Lord and the Valiant One have become an adorable couple and it is nice to see Nanase win in her steadfast goal of bagging the one doctor that she feel in love with at first sight so many years ago. For fans of predictable workplace romance, An Incurable Case of Love absolutely delivers. I’m hoping to get some more josei titles that are set in places beyond offices, because this series was amusing and the medical setting gave the author plenty of opportunities to explore extra drama.