Neighborhood Story Vol. 1 By Ai Yazawa

Neighborhood Story Volume 1 by Ai Yazawa

Neighborhood Story is a manga I’ve been aware of for a long time, because the characters drop in on Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, but I never thought it would actually be translated into English! I’m glad that Viz has licensed this shoujo classic. Mikako is an aspiring fashion designer who has a ton of personality packed into her tiny body. Tsutomo is the boy next door. They’ve been constant childhood companions, and many of their surrounding family and friends seem to expect that they’ll end up together.

Neighborhood Story Volume 1

Mikako is a little suspicious about Tsutomo’s inadvertent womanizing ways, as his similarity to a pop idol causes him to be fascinating to random girls. Tsutomo wonders if he and Mikako are so close that they aren’t ever really going to experience life without some time apart. They seem obviously perfect for each other and yet sometimes oblivious to their own emotions in ways that are utterly realistic for teenagers experiencing the first stirrings of something that might be love. Mikako is a force to be reckoned with, and as their extended group of friends start gathering together to pursue their creative dreams, I’m looking forward to experiencing again that combination of love story and artistic ambition that Ai Yazawa writes so well.

While the art isn’t as polished as Yazawa’s later series, her spindly characters and their fashion forward style contribute to the creative community that surrounds and supports Mikako and Tsutomo. Reading Neighborhood Story feels nostalgic in the best way, and I’m glad I finally have a chance to experience it.

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.

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.

Requiem of the Rose King, Vol 3

Requiem of the Rose King Volume 3 by Aya Kanno

This manga just keeps getting better and better as Kanno adds even more royal intrigue to her unique story of Richard III and the Wars of the Roses.

The second volume closed with Richard embodying a demonic spirit of vengeance when he discovered that his father was killed. The third volume opens with Richard’s older brother Edward, the new king, making questionable decisions about women. Edward is utterly captivated by the widow Elizabeth Woodville, who secretly detests the House of York. She maintains Edward’s interest by continually refusing him until he is desperate enough to make her his queen, going against the other alliances his court is arranging for him. Richard proves to be an unenthusiastic ally in Edward’s courtship, going along with his brother on hunting trips to provide cover for Edward’s visits to Elizabeth. When Edward is staying in a hunting cabin, he again meets the wayward Lancaster King Henry. Richard and Henry are drawn to each other, without fully knowing who each other are.

Henry’s dreamy outlook on life has made him one of the few people who relates to Richard as just Richard, without the “demon child” legend that has poisoned everyone against him. But Henry’s distance from his own family ensures that when his son Edward discovers the men together, his jealousy over his father’s relationship with Richard looks like it is going to have horrible consequences.

Kanno’s art continues to be both dark and lavish, fitting the settings and themes of this tragic story excellently. I’m always in awe of her facility with facial expressions and how it contributes so well to character development. Just a couple panels of Elizabeth Woodville’s gleefully staring eyes as she contemplates her plans for Edward establish that she’s up to no good. Henry’s abstracted expression show him to not fully live in the world, while Richard’s sensitivity and hesitancy in trusting Henry is clearly portrayed. This continues to be such a standout title in Viz’s current publishing lineup.

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Black Rose Alice Vol 2

Black Rose Alice Volume 2 by ´╗┐´╗┐Setona Mizushiro

If you had asked me where Black Rose Alice was headed after reading the first volume, I would not have replied “slice of life reverse harem story about vampires running a cafe” and yet that was what ended up happening in the second volume. I thought that after establishing Dimitri’s past and the troubled present lives of the teacher Azusa and her doomed relationship with her student Koya, I was expecting a bit more fallout after Azusa agreed to trade her soul to Dimitri in exchange for Koya’s life. There are a few hints of Azusa’s past feelings in the second volume, but the bulk of the story is spent establishing her new existence inhabiting Agnieszka’s body and what exactly happens when she wakes up as the object of affection for four vampires that all want to continue their species. Azusa takes on the name Alice in her new incarnation.

Dimitri has surrounded himself with vampire companions. There’s the twins Reiji and Kai, who are a bit young (for vampires) and naive. Leo, who is more sophisticated dedicates himself to waging a calculated campaign for Alice’s affections. In an interesting twist on the reverse harem scenario, Alice is going to be the only way for the young vampires to extend the life of their line, but it is up to her to make a choice about who she wants to end up with. Dimitri is determined to hold himself aloof from the new soul inhabiting Agnieeszka’s body, but he finds himself drawn to Alice despite himself.

While the first volume had more of a tumult of emotions, this second volume was much more even in tone and had some vampire-centric slice of life moments as Alice slowly gets used to her new identity. Alice has an imperious streak that comes out from her former habits of managing a classroom. There are still a few moments of the surreal body horror that made the first volume more distinctive, but not nearly as many random tarantulas spewing from a given vampire’s mouth. It isn’t often that I put down the second volume of manga feeling genuinely surprised about the direction and tone, but I finished up this volume feeling more intrigued than I did after reading the first. This series seems to be shaping up to be quite quirky and unique, which is just the type of thing that I’m currently most interested in reading.