Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Vol 1

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End Volume 1 by Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe

I’m always curious about new Shonen Sunday titles since some of the series that I’ve enjoyed from the magazine just end up having more emotional and narrative depth than the more formulaic series in Shonen Jump. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is a deliberately paced fantasy story that examines the question of what happens next after a group of heroes succeeds in their ultimate mission. The party of friends on the verge of retirement includes character types that would not be out of place in any DnD campaign: Frieren, an elven mage, Himmel the Hero, Heiter the priest, and Eisen, a dwarf warrior.

The manga opens as the companions have completed their ten year quest to defeat the Demon King. The group splits up, with Frieren not quite understanding how time is going to pass much more quickly for her companions. She promises to check back with everyone in 50 years with the air of someone who’s going to drop by again next month, and leaves to continue her journey doing magical research. When she does return she finds Himmel transformed into a bald old man with an impressive white beard. When Himmel dies shortly after their reunion, Frieren finds herself more interested in reexamining her memories and trying to think the way humans do. She begins to retrace her party’s previous path and finds some low key magical adventures along the way as she starts to engage more with the idea of time passing for humans. Heiter tricks Frieren into taking on a human apprentice mage named Fern, so Frieren has a new companion along as she begins to come to terms with her past.

There’s a slow and gentle quality to the pacing of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End. I think it would appeal to anyone who also enjoys Snow White with the Red Hair. There’s also plenty of humor as Frieren attempts to get better at understanding emotions and the human pace of the world. The art is attractive, capably portraying the medieval fantasy settings and capturing the emotional dynamic between the characters. I found reading this first volume both diverting and relaxing.

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.

Fist of the North Star, Vol. 1

Fist of the North Star, Volume 1 by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara

Here’s a flashback for you and a demonstration of my advanced age, Fist of the North Star as it was produced back in 1989 as a flipped monthly comic and the new hardcover edition. I was curious what it would be like to read a whole volume of Fist of the North Star, after all the idea of a delayed attack (“You’re already dead!”) that results in blood explosions is pretty much a shonen cliche at this point, but what’s the source material like? While I did read the first chapter way back in the day I’d never read more of the story although I’ve read plenty of references and jokes about Fist of the North Star since then.

Fist of the North Star

Fist of the North Star takes place in the future after a cataclysmic event in the late 1990s has produced a world where water is scarce and people attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape of city-states. The enigmatic Ken travels from town to town, demonstrating is extreme stoicism and manliness as a practitioner of the martial art Hokuto Shinken. I was immediately struck by how much Fist of the North Star reminded me of the Mad Max series due to the roaming bands of motorcycle gangs. As the story opens a motorcycle gang called the Zeed discovers that their scouts have been killed with some sort of localized explosions coming from inside their bodies, and a parched Ken gets caught in a trap as he approaches a town. A young girl approaches his cage to give him water, and when another prisoner grabs her Ken fends him off easily in his weakened condition. Ken soon finds himself battling the Zeed for the town that captured him. The action scenes are dynamic and gory, with the lack of expression on Ken’s face contrasting with the horror and surprise of his enemies as they find vital parts of their bodies exploding. I enjoy all of Ken’s calm proclamations as he informs his enemies of his impending demise by naming martial arts techniques and flatly declaring “Scum like you cannot possibly kill me.” The art often plays with perspective, with Ken fighting enemies that appear to be two or three times his size, which creates a little bit of dramatic tension in the battles even though Ken’s victory is always assured.

Ken sets out on further adventures, accompanied by the young former prisoner named Bat, who provides ongoing amazement and commentary on Ken’s martial arts feats. As he approaches the city of the Southern Cross, he has to deal with confronting his past and the reader learns more about the pain and trauma that lead Ken to be the master of martial arts who still stops to protect the weak throughout the dystopic remains of human civilization. This volume packs in so much origin story I’m curious to see if the rest of the series is more episodic, or if even more of Ken’s past is revealed in future volumes. This is a great hardcover edition that historic shonen collectors should appreciate that will look nice on a bookshelf with the other recent deluxe volumes Viz has been producing.

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.