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.

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.

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.

Shortcake Cake Vols 9 and 10

Shortcake Cake Volumes 9 and 10 by suu Morishita

There’s around 5 volumes of revelations and drama packed into these two volumes of Shortcake Cake, but one of the advantages of finally finding out the truth about Riku and Rei’s relationship at last is that seeing the backstory and the emotional aftermath as Riku and his friends attempt to deal with their new reality inspires feelings of empathy in the reader. Morishita is adept at portraying a great deal of emotional nuance as the characters in Shortcake Cake start to puzzle out who they are and how their relationships are evolving.

The 9th volume opens with Shiraoka telling Ten and Chiaki the circumstances surrounding Riku’s past. It turns out that Rei’s mom, who was a teacher, adopted Riku after a student of hers left him as a baby in her classroom. Rei was a much-wanted child after a long struggle with infertility. While Rei’s parents tried to raise both boys with equal amounts of affection, Rei grew up attempting to establish his big brother bona fides even though Riku was only one month younger. Rei signed up for extra lessons in an unsuccessful attempt to get approval from his grandfather, who just seems flat-out emotionally abusive because he hates the fact that his daughter even got married in the first place. Rei’s resentment grew and grew, and when his parents died in a tragic car accident, he took the opportunity to kick Riku out. Shiraoka promptly took him in and raised him as an older brother. Aspects of Riku’s personality such as his sometimes ingratiating manner and desire to please but not actually get close to anyone are explained through the events in his past. When Riku’s long-lost older sister shows up at the boarding house he’s confronted with the choice of connecting to his biological family. The core of the story is how Ten and Chiaki are determined to continue to support Riku along with Shiraoka. While Rei has totally been a jerk, it is also clear that he’s lashing out in pain and unable to move on and find any kind of peace within himself.

One of the nice things about this volume is seeing Chiaki’s relentless overtures of friendship towards Riku and how he’s changed after hearing Riku’s story. Chiaki has avoided his overbearing older brother, but after seeing how Riku’s family broke down he’s decided to face his own family again. When Chiaki proclaims about Riku “I love him! He’s my one and only best friend!”, Riku says to himself that Chiaki is an idiot and Shiraoka responds “You’re pretty lucky to have met such a good idiot.” While Riku’s adoptive family might have been torn apart, he’s managing to put a found family together by finally allowing his friends to get to know him, and seeing this evolution take place over 10 volumes of Shortcake Cake is rewarding for the reader. While Riku goes on a visit to Chiaki’s family, Ten attempts to intervene with Rei. As this volume races towards a dramatic confrontation, I’m hoping that both Rei and Riku are able to find some sort of peace. Shortcake Cake‘s stories of found family combined with sibling estrangement make for a gripping story, and it is great to see how the core trio of Ten, Riku, and Chiaki have evolved together through their friendships.