Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet Vols 1 and 2

Tsubaki Chou Lonely Planet Volumes 1 and 2 by Mika Yamamori

I enjoyed Yamamori’s Daytime Shooting Star, even though I spent many volumes deeply concerned about the resolution of the age-gap romance in the manga. I can experience those feelings all over again, as the heroine in Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet seems to be headed in that direction as well. Will the charming character designs and humor in this title cause me to tamp down my uneasy feelings about power dynamics in shoujo manga? Quite possibly!

Parents in manga have a lot to answer for, what with their habits of abruptly marrying people who come burdened with incredibly cute and charismatic new step-siblings, or their tendency of suddenly abandoning their children for endless overseas trips, or manifesting total financial instability that causes their high-school age children to get a job to fend off terrible loan sharks.

Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet

In the first few panels of Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet thrifty and responsible Fumi Ohno learns that her father is shipping off to sea to become a fisherman in order to pay off the aforementioned loan sharks. She’s being kicked out of her apartment, right when she was on the verge of being able to buy a new vacuum with the money she’s been saving from stretching the household grocery budget! She concludes that her only option is to become a live-in housekeeper to an author. Dazzled by the thought of free room and board, Fumi shows up at her new workplace only to discover that instead of the bespectacled old man with a mustache she’s imagining, her new boss is a floppy-haired young man who seems to be in the habit of passing out in his front hallway. Akatsuki Kibikino writes historical novels and lives in an incredibly untidy house. He’s not happy that a young girl showed up to clean and make his meals (he thought only grandmas were named Fumi) but after hearing that she’s totally alone in the world, he decides that maybe having a clean house and homemade meals would be a good idea after all. Akatsuki informs her that if she’s his housekeeper, it is also his duty to protect her, and he follows up on this promise.

A new transfer student shows up at Fumi’s school and makes a point of singling her out. However Isshin Imamura is harboring a decade-long grudge because Fumi beat him in a race in elementary school. Fumi begins struggling with her feelings towards her employer, and they become a bit closer just with their daily interactions. They have fateful encounters like going grocery shopping for rice. Fumi tends to be a bit naive about the world, throwing herself into some potentially unsavory situations when she hears that her father is having money troubles again, but Akatsuki has a tendency to show up just in time to rescue her. Isshin also becomes more sympathetic and has some blunt assessments about Fumi’s emotions that cause her to reflect on her feelings.

There’s plenty of humor in this series, mainly due to Fumi’s genuine skill and enthusiasm for homemaking pursuits like cooking, maintaining a coupon book, and being willing to battle it out at grocery stores for discounted vegetables. Akatsuki is grumpy and doesn’t take care of himself at all, but when he senses that something’s amiss he springs into action to help Fumi, even if it might take him a little while to realize what’s happening. Yamamori’s art is engaging, highlighting the occasional moments of emotional revelation that occur as the characters get to know each other better. After reading the first couple volumes, I’m invested in seeing how Fumi is going to make her way in the world, and I hope for the best for her. Fans of Daytime Shooting Star will find plenty to like about Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet

Honey Lemon Soda Vol 1 by Mayu Murata

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 by Mayu Murata

I was aware that there was a great deal of anticipation when Honey Lemon Soda was licensed, and the first volume lived up to the hype! Popular boy inexplicably adopting an incredibly awkward girl is a familiar plot in most shoujo manga, but Honey Lemon Soda takes this premise and runs with it, making the reader feel instantly sympathetic with the introverted heroine in question. Uka Ishimori’s gets in the way of an errant blast of lemon soda wielded by Kai Miura. She freezes up and is unable to respond to his friends’ expressions of concern and she runs away when Miura apologizes to her. His friends comment “It’s kinda like she’s living out a different genre than the rest of us” which is a good way of summarizing how disconnected Uka is from people her own age.

Honey lemon soda 1

In middle school, Uka was bullied, with classmates calling her “Rocky” due to her last name and stony expression. She’s determined to make friends and change in high school, and picked a school to go to based on its more laid back and flashy reputation instead of going to a school where people are devoted to studying. Every possible social interaction has Uka caught up in her anxious thoughts, as she has to force herself to offer to help a classmate with the answer to a question. Miura starts taking an interest, coaching Uka through some basic greetings. When she actually calls on him for help, he leaps in and defends her from some of her former middle school bullies. Uka starts expressing herself more often, although sometimes she’s so tense about communicating with others that her thoughts come out more like yelling accidentally.

Miura might look super cool with his effervescent blond hair, but he also seems to have more compassion than is typical in a shoujo hero, and he keeps dropping comments designed to help Uka become more comfortable with herself. Murata’s character designs are attractive, and there are plenty of dynamic panel layouts as the characters make their way through emotionally fraught situations. After reading the first volume, I am eager to see how Uka changes on her journey to break out of her shell and express herself more.

Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love, Vols 1 and 2

Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love Volumes 1 and 2 by Ayuko Hatta

In today’s stressful times, reading determinedly uncomplicated romance can be quite soothing, which is why I’m enjoying the angst free and sometimes silly series Ima Koi. Satomi was too shy to confess her feelings to a crush in middle school, so she’s determined to be different in high school and seize her next chance for love. When stoic, incredibly tall Yagyu saves her from a train groper and she finds out that he goes to her school she follows through on her vow and asks him out. He says yes, and thus their romance begins.

Ima Koi

Satomi is cute, with her quick entry into dating she’s fulfilled her main goal, but she’s still figuring out what to do now that she’s in a relationship. Yagyu is a bit more enigmatic, but he’s won over by Satomi’s forthright nature and her tendency to fling herself on top of him from the subway stairs. He’s interested in getting to know her, and they soon start dating. They deal with complications that beset any new couple as Satomi has to navigate around Yagyu’s suspicious best friend and his obsessed younger sister. While this manga doesn’t reach the hilarity of My Love Story!! there are plenty of funny situations, such as when Yagyu and Satomi go on a date to the zoo and his younger sister Juri tags along. Juri becomes more and more enraged as Satomi keeps not reacting to her attempts to undermine the date, until she transforms into a menacing side character from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Ima Koi is a fun escape, and the way most issues get resolved by the end of every volume makes for a relaxing shoujo series.

Lovesick Ellie, Vol 1

Lovesick Ellie Volume 1 by Fujimomo

I picked this up on a whim, and I knew I was in for something a little out of the ordinary when I saw the title of the first chapter, “#HoorayforPervs!” The Lovesick Ellie in question is a fantasy twitter account run by Eriko Ichimura, a girl who remains largely invisible to her classmates. She’s decided to dedicate herself to living her best life in her imagination and pretends to be secretly dating the most handsome and popular boy in school, Ohmi.

Lovesick Ellie Volume 1

One day Eriko overhears Ohmi talking in a casual way to one of their teachers, and she discovers that he’s nothing like the smiling polite facade he maintains around everyone else. He’s actually not all that happy about being singled out for so much attention. Eriko is discovered and she promptly runs away, leaving her cell phone behind! Ohmi picks it up and reads her tweets and finds them hilarious. All of this happens in the first few pages of the manga, and the rest of the volume shows Eriko and Ohmi striking up an unlikely friendship. Eriko gradually realizes that Ohmi’s actually lonely. He encourages Eriko to befriend another girl who is as obsessed with costuming as Eriko is with over the top fake date narratives. Eriko’s tweets appear here and there to contrast reality with fantasy. There’s plenty of blushing and over the top emotions in the art, but Eriko isn’t really believable as an invisible plain girl because all the character designs are generally attractive.

Eriko’s twitter asides are genuinely hilarious, as she will take a small detail like a misplaced jersey and spin it out into paragraphs of slightly perverted situations. For Ohmi, it seems like Eriko is one of the few people he can actually be himself around, and while he takes a certain delight in teasing her, he’s actually having some difficulties navigating his own emotions as their relationship develops. For a manga with such a goofy premise, it actually ends up being rather heartfelt. I found myself smiling multiple times reading Lovesick Ellie, which is a great shoujo title for anyone wanting something funny and romantic.

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.