Yona of the Dawn, Vol 27

Yona of the Dawn Volume 27 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I’ve been eagerly waiting for this volume of Yona of the Dawn since Hak came forward with an actual love confession in the previous volume. One of the things I love about this long-series is the fact that it can still surprise me. Instead of any drawn-out angst, in the aftermath of the love confession Hak totally oversleeps, unburdened by worries while Yona is the one who has been tossing and turning all night. This volume serves as a transition from one storyline to another as the Four Dragon Warriors need to recuperate closer to Hiryuu Palace. There’s some adorable awkwardness between Yona and Hak, and he decides to take up training with her again in an attempt to make things a bit more normal. Kusanagi’s illustrations show Yona progressively more embarrassed and overcome with emotion as Hak no longer has any hesitancy about telling her exactly how he feels.

While I enjoy the sweeping action and more complicated political plots as Yona roams around trying to make the lives of her people better, I find these more character-focused quiet volumes in between the larger story arcs a great way to reset and reflect, setting me up to look forward to the next complex storyline. Of course, this wouldn’t be shoujo manga without additional emotional complications, and Hak speculates that while Yona might be able to move on with her feelings about Su-Won, he is still dedicated to nurturing his hatred.

This volume also provides an opportunity to check in on other beloved characters such as Riri and Tae-Jun, who are dealing with the aftermath of the averted war with Xing in their own ways. There’s a skirmish happening and Yona and her warriors come to Tae-Jun’s aid. While Yona’s been able to be somewhat undercover for awhile, more and more people are beginning to realize that she’s not dead after all. As it turns out, Yona’s growing notoriety and the legend of the Four Dragon Warriors might be the cause of upcoming conflicts

Love Me, Love Me Not Vols 4 and 5

Love Me, Love Me Not Volumes 4 and 5 by Io Sakisaka

With the conclusion of Ao Haru Ride, I’m glad that the Shojo Beat imprint has another Sakisaka series running with Love Me, Love Me Not. This series doesn’t quite have the layers of meaning I was finding in Ao Haru Ride, as the love quadrangle in this series lends itself more to more of a chill teen soap opera feeling with plenty of slice-of-life elements that makes this a soothing series to read, even as the protagonists deal with plenty of romantic complications.

In the fourth volume, there’s the fallout of Rio kissing Akari to deal with. While Akari has been dedicated to putting up emotional walls since they became step-siblings, Rio hasn’t been able to detach from his previous feelings so easily. Along the way Akari has to deal with a boy at school who has a crush on her who turns hostile after she turns him down. Inui is around to help her deal with things, but Akari wonders just how much he understands about her situation. Akari gets self-conscious and starts avoiding Yuna, who is dealing with her own feelings for Rio. Really, the tangled relationships ensure that there’s plenty of drama to come. However, one of the reasons why Love Me, Love Me Not remains interesting is that the characters actually talk about what’s bothering them and evolve and change. Yuna calls out Rio for his actions and points out that he’s not being considerate of Akari, and she then messages Akari so they can have a chat as well. Being active in her friendships and talking to the boy that she has a crush on show how much Yuna has evolved from the shy and self-contained girl she was in the first volume of the series. Rio even comments to her that Yuna is “growing into the person you want to be” while he hasn’t progressed much beyond the person he was in junior high.

The fifth volume features that staple of shoujo romance, a festival! Rio is haunted by the fact that he had a dream about Yuna, which makes him finally start to be interested in her romantically. Akari continues to be intrigued by Inui, and she and Yuna engineer a double date to the festival. Out of all the main characters, Inui has been a bit of a cipher, occasionally dropping by to make enigmatically mature pronouncements and then moving on. I was happy that this volume featured a little more of his self-reflective moments, making it clear that he’s only steering clear of Akari because he doesn’t want to hurt Rio. I really like the way some of Sakisaka’s illustrations shifted to reflect the characters’ feelings in this volume. Yuna has a few panels of looking absolutely adorable, because Sakisaka is showing her from Rio’s point of view as he appreciates her more and more. It is particularly fun to see Rio in a somewhat tortured state throughout this volume as he struggles with his new feelings, since he was originally introduced with such a self-assured, flirtatious personality that was all on the surface. While the characters are all suffering through the foibles of teenage romance, there’s no question in my mind that there will eventually be a happy ending, which makes this a great comforting manga to read when I feel the need to de-stress a little bit.

Daytime Shooting Star Vol. 9

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 9 by Mika Yamamori

At last! I could tell by the cover that this was going to be a Mamura-focused volume and I wasn’t disappointed. I tend to always root for the second lead guy in Korean dramas, and if Daytime Shooting Star was a K-Drama, Mamura would likely be the second lead, but in many ways he’s so much better than Suzume’s alternate romantic option of dating her teacher Shishio. While Suzume’s been rejected (good!) by Shishio, she’s attempting to move on with her life, however she becomes distracted due to the fact that in their second year of high school, Mamura is being targeted by throngs of first-year girls. With Mamura’s innate allergy to female contact, this creates a very awkward situation.

Daytime Shooting Star 9

Yuyuka decides to take matters into her own hands in order to defend Mamura’s honor and proposes a plan where Suzume will pose as Mamura’s girlfriend. He rejects the idea, but Suzume becomes more and more irritated about the girls that are following him around, prompting Yuyuka to propose the idea of Suzume posing as Mamura’s girlfriend in order to get rid of the throngs of girls following him around. Mamura turns down the idea. When Suzume sees Shishio for the first time in weeks though, Mamura happens upon the scene and declares that they’re dating! when he sees Suzume being distressed when she runs into Shishio for the first time since he rejected her, he declares that they’re dating!

I was pretty delighted by this turn of events, with this faux relationship that might turn real. Mamura is clearly devoted to Suzume, and he does call her out when she’s dwelling too much on the past. I’m hoping that things move forward and she can actually experience a more normal high school romantic relationship? But I’m not holding my breath because the second lead guy rarely gets the girl. I enjoy Yamamori’s stylish illustrations in each volume, and the prospect of non-Shishio romance for Suzume makes me feel less of a general sense of creeping dread about the ending. In any case, Daytime Shooting Star continues to be an extremely engaging high school soap opera.

Ao Haru Ride, Vol. 13

Ao Haru Ride Volume 13 by Io Sakisaka

I have this issue sometimes when I really like a series and the final volume comes out, I tend to procrastinate reading it a little bit just because I don’t want the series to end. So the last volume of Ao Haru Ride has been sitting in my house for a couple weeks now before I decided to read it. This was a very satisfying concluding volume that showed the main characters settled into a relationship in a very adorable way that contrasts nicely with all the sadness and difficulty that they faced along the way.

Ao Haru Ride 13

Futuba and Kou are now firmly a couple and dealing with new issues, such as her wanting more reassurance about his feelings for her, and figuring out that while he might not verbalize his feelings as much he cares for her a great deal. As a couple with an established relationship they can even help out with Kominato’s extremely transparent plan to confess to Murao by agreeing to go on a double date that just coincidentally is happening on Valentine’s Day. While Futuba and Kou are plenty adorable with each other, the pain of the past isn’t forgotten, as seen in a misunderstanding when Futuba can’t find Kou at on the first day of school and is frightened that he’s disappeared again the way he did in the past. There were enough chapters showing Kou and Futuba in their new lives as a couple that felt like they were settled down with each other but looking forward to the future in the best way possible. The volume concluded with a surprise Strobe Edge bonus story, and it was a real treat to see those characters again. Ao Haru Ride dealt with teen romance in a complex way, layered with themes of loss and nostalgia that made it much more meaningful than the typical shoujo romance.

Prince Freya, Vol 3

Prince Freya Volume 3 by Keiko Ishihara

In three volumes Prince Freya has evolved into an enjoyable fantasy potboiler of a manga, with plenty of cliffhangers to keep the reader’s interest as well as a tendency to kill off sympathetic supporting characters. The story ratchets up the suspense because it seems clear that no one is safe from medieval mayhem in this story of a simple girl forced to masquerade as the charismatic Prince Edvard. As the manga opens, Freya is displaying her characteristic tendency to put herself in danger in order to save anyone in her near vicinity as she tries to rally the soldiers in a small fort against an enemy invasion.

The White Knight Julius is now Freya’s main protector after the deaths of her childhood companions Alek and Aaron. Does Julius start experiencing conflicting emotions about his new charge? Does one even have to ask when this is shoujo manga that we’re talking about??? Freya’s actions show her motivating her soldiers with a different type of charisma than the late Prince Edvard as she makes a point to get to know all of the men in the fort who are trying to defend her. She’s not afraid to take part in tactical maneuvers in order to confuse the enemy, and while the extent to which she is willing to sacrifice herself might seem extreme, when balanced at all the family and friends she’s lost in her life the reader can see why she’s resistant to seeing anyone die unnecessarily. There’s medieval battle scenes galore and an enemy soldier making fun of Julius for being a pretty boy, so there’s plenty to enjoy in this volume, which ends on an incredible cliffhanger that promises plenty of angst in the next volume. This manga isn’t particularly deep, but it does serve up plenty of gender-swapped shoujo medieval action which I am finding to be delightfully distracting in these current times.