Category Archives: Reviews

Goong: The Royal Palace Volume 9-10

Yul continues his machinations against Shin, determined to get both Chae-Kyung and the title Crown Prince. His mother only cares about him becoming prince, and even sets him up in an engagement with the daughter of a powerful business man who is possibly more horrible that her. Shin and Chae-Kyung’s relationship continues down a rocky road as they alternate between loving and alienating each other, and causing the royal family public humiliation. Add to that the King who won’t show his feeling for his own son and royal baby on the way that could just complicate things further, and  you have just another day at the Royal Palace.

Goong: The Royal Palace Volume 9-10
Goong 9By SoHee Park
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $18.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

The drama continues to crank up, as if that’s possible, in these two volumes. The soapiness just froths over like a wrongly loaded washing machine from a sitcom. The power plays and political intrigues start coming to the forefront, while Shin and Chae-Kyung’s relationship hit more bumps than smooth patches. While I still find Goong a compelling read, it isn’t as satisfying as it once was.

The main problem I have had with these two volumes is that everyone has become unlikable. Chae-Kyung spends all of her time whining about not wanting to be in the Palace while still pining for Shin. She is so completely selfish that she falls for Yul’s manipulations and betrays Shin even after he tells her it’s what he fears most. This isn’t how you’re suppose to treat someone you claim to like. Shin isn’t blameless in any of this though. His big mouth and bigger pride keeps him from actually showing Chae-Kyung his true feelings, which leads in part to her betrayal. So much of their problems come from their inability and/or unwillingness to talk to each other. It’s become more frustrating than entertaining at this point.

I really disliked Yul for using Chae-Kyung against Shin, despite his claims to love her. You don’t win someone’s love by hurting the person they love, even if it the hot-and-cold relationship Shin and Chae-Kyung have. And then he has the gal to think Shin manipulated Chae-Kyung for not telling her about her grandfather, after all he’s done to try to sabotage her and Shin’s relationship? As much as I hated Mi-Roo Oh, Yul’s chosen fiance, she is exactly who Yul and the Daebi-mama deserve for their manipulations. The King isn’t much better, with the way he keeps favoring Yul over Shin for so many personal reasons and none of them good. Whether it’s because of his feeling for the Daebi-mama, the promise he made to his older brother or some of reason we haven’t heard yet, none of them are excuses for ignoring the good of the country, which putting Yul and Daebi-mama in charge may jeopardize. Hyo-Rin proves she’s on the same level as Daebi-mama, as she manipulates Shin by first exposing the truth of Shin and Chae-Kyung’s engagement, then pleading with Shin to divorce Chae-Kyung for her own good. Despite her situation, she isn’t someone I feel sympathy for.

Goong 10The only people who I still have any respect for are the Queen and the Queen-Mother. They are the only two without any secret agendas, who actually care about others and aren’t afraid to admit their feelings. The Queen has to plead with the King to allow Shin and Chae-Kyung to move to Changduck palace not as the Queen but as Shin’s mother. They are the only two who think to investigate the Daebi-mama as a possible suspect in her own arson. Honestly, I think they are the two smartest in the series and the Queen should be leading instead. She dealing with a difficult pregnancy and is still the most rational person in court at the moment.

I’d really like to see more political intrigue than relationship drama. Shin’s position as Crown Prince has been iffy at best for most of the series, but as soon as decides to take his duties seriously, is when the King seems to really turn against him. Most of the time the problems come from Chae-Kyung. The mention of divorce on National TV and the revelation of their engagement pushes the King to seriously consider demoting Shin. Yul and his mother want to push for a stronger monarchy which doesn’t make them very popular with many in the National Assembly, giving Shin more support. It is going to be tough to get any support for Yul to become Crown Prince. I hope this will be explored more in future volumes.

While these two volumes of Goong didn’t leave a favorable impression on me over all, I did still enjoy reading them. Soaps are supposed to have characters you love to hate, but I don’t think you’re suppose to hate everyone. Hopefully future volumes will change this and give me someone to sympathize with and root for. I still love all the costumes and the detail Park puts into them. I also really like the different fashions Chae-Kyung gets when she’s in everyday clothes. Even though I’ve grown weary of the miscommunication and manipulation in the personal relationships. I will keep reading. It’s like the train wreck you can’t look away from.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Missions of Love Volume 9

After coming to the realization that Kirishima-sensei was her first love, Yukina goes to face him on her own to finally know the love that she’s been seeking all this time. Meanwhile, Shigure hears a rumor that reveals Kirishima-sensei’s dark past and rushes off to tell Yukina, but before he can catch up with her, Yukina is whisked away by Kirishima-sensei in his car. Can Shigure reach them in time before Kirishima-sensei repeats an action from his sordid past?

Missions of Love Volume 9
Missions of Love 9By Ema Toyama
Publisher: Kodansha
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Romance
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I liked the first two volumes of Missions of Love that I read, so when I was given the opportunity to read more, I couldn’t wait. But after two volumes, it seemed that little had changed, and I was bored with seeing Yukina still being completely clueless, Shigure still as cagey about his feelings for her, Akira is still plotting against Shigure and Mami is still holding out hope that Shigure would love her back.

Honestly, I don’t know what exactly I was hoping for, but this volume wasn’t it. I just felt frustrated at the complete lack of movement with the characters. Everything felt the same as it had back in volume 6. I guess I had hoped for something to have changed in those two intervening volumes, but it really felt like nothing had. What frustrated me most was Yukina. She’s had all these “missions” with Shigure and it seems like she hasn’t learned a thing. After eight volumes you would think something would have sunk in, but she’s still as oblivious to feelings of love as she was at the beginning. She makes big proclamations, but when she finally gets some true feelings she still can’t figure it out? Seriously? I also didn’t care for the cheap shot of using her teacher to set up a seduction when all he really wanted was to find out if she was being bullied or abused by Shigure. The set up was too obvious.

Fortunately there was some character development, but it seemed to be all reserved for Shigure. I liked that he was against Yukina going off with Kirishima to learn “what love really is.” Considering his feelings for her, it’s natural that he wanted to be the one to show her that. Akira agreeing to let Yukina go felt fake, like he was trying to rack up points with her. Shigure also took several steps forward in admitting his feelings for her. He told Mami that he could see her as a friend, not a girlfriend, and he told Yukina that for her, he would stop acting fake. It was a relief to see someone in this series acknowledge their changing feelings and actually act on them.

It’s also about time the story looped back around the cell phone novel plot that the whole “missions” are supposed to be helping her with. She’s supposed to be applying what she’s learned to her novels to make them better. Considering her rankings, she hasn’t been doing that, or even writing at all. Hopefully contact from her rival will change that, and that by applying what she’s learned in her novel it will finally get through to her as well.

I started out liking Missions of Love, but too much of the same can really kill the fun. There has to be some development in the characters, otherwise, what’s the point in reading about them? Unless Yukina is revealed to be a robot, I’m having a hard time buying her continued inability to understand the emotion love, especially now that Shigure is stepping up his game. Toyama needs to step her game too, otherwise this title will really stagnate. I’m not looking for the proverbial lightbulb, just a few connecting the dots.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Your Lie in April Volume 1

Kosei Arima was a piano prodigy until his cruel taskmaster of a mother died suddenly, changing his life forever. Driven by his pain to abandon piano, Kosei now lives in a monotonous, colorless world. Having resigned himself to a bland life, he is surprised when he meets Kaori Miyazono, a violinist with an unorthodox style. Can she bring Kosei back to music, and back to life?

Your Lie in April Volume 1
Your Lie in April 1By Naoshi Arakawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★½

I knew nothing about Your Lie in April when it was first announced other than it was a musical title that was often compared to Nodame Cantible, a musical title that featured a straight-laced violist/pianist as the male lead, and a highly unorthodox pianist as the female lead. Having now read Your Lie in April, the fact that the two leads are a violist and pianist with one being straight-laced and the other unorthodox, the two stories really have nothing to do with each other.

Playing the piano was everything to Kosei Arima. He lived and breathed playing to please his mother, who was determined he would become the great pianist she was. But when she died, in a way, so did Kosei. Her dream was his dream. Without her, he had no reason to live. No dream of his own. He has been stuck, marking time, unable to move forward. Kosei is haunted by the piano. He can no long hear himself playing, but he also can’t move on from it. His life is the same, day in and day out.

Then he meets Kaori Miyazono. She is the classmate of his childhood friend Tsubaki. Kaori wants to meet their mutual friend Watari, and Tsubaki gets Kosei to tag along. Kaori is the opposite of Kosei in many ways. She is full of life, always smiling and energetic. She performs in much the same way. She participates in a competition, but plays the assigned piece her own way, ignoring the tempo and even her own accompanist. She isn’t playing to impress the judges, but to entertain the audience and have fun all at the same time.

I really liked both Kosei and Kaori. They don’t get off on the best foot at first, but Kaori ends up making a big impression on Kosei. Her performance is the opposite of everything his mother told him it should be like, and he has a hard time processing it. Kaori becomes kind of obsessed with Kosei, determined to make him her accompanist for the next round of the competition. I really liked that she didn’t feel sorry for Kosei when he told her about how he can no longer hear the piano. Her reaction was great, and pretty much the same as mine. I also liked that Kosei didn’t automatically assume the feelings he was starting to have for Kaori was love, but instead thought there were inspiration.

Tsubaki and Watari, their friends, make good supporting characters. They both support Kosei in their own ways. Tsubaki cares for Kosei like a little brother, and just wants to help him move on with his life, in whatever direction it takes him. I loved the way she plotted with Kaori to try to convince him to be her accompanist. Watari, despite being a bit of a playboy, has some insightful things to say to Kosei about life and specifically girls. His words have a surprising impact on Kosei.

Your Lie in April vol 1 was a really fun read. The art is well done. The characters were all portrayed very playfully. Kaori was always playful. I loved when she knocked Kosei away from the cat he was feeding so she could pet it. Tsubaki had some good moments with trying to get Kosei to lighten up and Watari was funny when he got a text from another girl. The final scene of the manga, with the four friends rushing off to the competition was another wonderful scene, filled with exuberance. It was a strong ending to a strong first volume. I can’t wait to read more.

 

Let’s Dance a Waltz Volume 1

Homely and shy, Himé is burdened by the name her mother gave her, “Princess.” Wanting nothing more than to be unnoticed and live a modest life, Himé gets a jolt of inspiration when she tries a dance class where she meets Tango. her teacher/dance partner, Tango happens to also be her classmate at school. Unfortunately, Tango is desperate to keep his ballroom dancing a secret, believing it will ruin his cool image if anyone at school finds out. Will Tango quit teaching Himé in order to keep his secret or will he be the partner Himé believe he is destined to be?

Let’s Dance a Waltz Volume 1
Let's Dance a Waltz 1By Natsumi Ando
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romance/Dance
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

I haven’t read a Natsumi Ando series before. It’s not like I haven’t had the chance. I’ve had her series Zodiac P.I. in a to-read pile for ages, but have always had some reason to pass it up. The start of this new series is the perfect opportunity for me to stop procrastinating and finally read one. Let’s Dance a Waltz is about competitive ballroom dancing, a subject you wouldn’t think would be all that interesting, but Ando makes it so with engaging characters and an almost shonen take on dance.

Four characters make up the core of this first volume. Himé Makimura is the protagonist. She is shy and rather mousey in looks and personality. She comes to the Minami Dance School to try out dancing after the owner encourages her by telling her she could become a princess. Tango Minami is the son of said owner, who used to ballroom dance competitively, but has since given up. He works at the dance studio to make extra money. He prefers dancing on his own, and is considered good-looking and cool at school. Yusei and Sumiré are the star dance couple at the studio. They are also Tango’s childhood friends. They both want Tango to start dancing competitively again, and see Himé as the chance they’ve been waiting for.

I really liked this first volume. I wasn’t too thrilled by the emphasis on body image and conforming to societal expectations, but Himé’s hangup about her looks and living up to what she thinks is her mother’s expectation is completely believable. I actually liked Himé with her round face, and fuller figure. I also liked that other than one jerk boy, no one criticized Himé’s size or appearance. Even Tango was more worried about his reputation being ruined than Himé’s appearance when he first dances with her. Sumiré admired Himé’s muscle structure and both Yusei and Sumiré were supportive of Himé’s abilities with little concern for her weight. This made the reveal at the end more believable and easier to take.

The relationships were handled very well. I especially liked Tango’s and Himé’s up-and-down relationship. Himé just wants to dance with Tango, but he ignores her, for fear their schoolmates will find out, but when she starts avoiding him to keep her practices with Yusei a secret, Tango is suddenly bothered by the loss of her attention. Sumiré was a bit of a trap too. Just when it seems like she might be jealous of Himé, she turns out to actually be very supportive of her wanting to dance, and dance with Tango.

I also liked how Ando portrayed the ballroom dancing. Instead of just showing the couple dancing around a dance floor, she likened Himé’s partners to a different experience. When she first dances with Tango, she feels like she is a princess, but when she dances with Yusei, it is like she at a fancy 8-course dinner. These scenes reminded me a lot of The Drops of God, where wines are described in wild and far out ways. While it’s exciting to see to talented dancer at work, the addition of these other sensations adds to the experience.

Let’s Dance a Waltz Volume 1 was a really fun read. The characters are very engaging and the story has sparked my interest. Ando’s art is superb. The characters are varied in appearance and dress. The dancing was well done as well, with some of the ballroom gowns looking gorgeous. I can’t wait to see what a dance competition will be like, and what new experiences Himé will have on the dance floor.

 

Pandora Hearts Volume 12-20

The truth behind the tragedy of Sablier, and the identities of Jack Vessalius, Glen Baskerville, Oz, and Alice are all finally revealed in these 9 volumes. But the path to these truths is filled with twists and turns, and danger hides around every corner where friends become foes, allies fall, and hope seems completely lost at times.

Pandora Hearts Volume 12-20
PandoraHeartsV12_TPBy Jun Mochizuki
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $13.00
Rating: ★★★★☆

Reading these nine volumes of Pandora Hearts was a lot like eating potato chips; you can’t read just one. I had let this series pile up, which in retrospect was probably a good thing. I ended up binge reading these volumes. So much was revealed in each volume, that I had to keep going. Things start with the calm before the storm; a tea party for Oz and his friends, and Oz’s society debut at the mysterious Isla Yura’s residence in a neighboring state. Things pretty much go down hill from there, rolling like a snowball, growing in size and showing no sign of stopping.

Pandora13_FINAL I loved all of the revelations that were made in these volumes. The truth of so many things is finally uncovered when Oz is able to see Jack’s memories. It all starts when Jack first meets Lacie as a young homeless boy. She gives him the encouragement he needs make something of himself, but he becomes obsessed with her, and that starts Jack down the path of destruction that leads straight to the Tragedy of Sablier. The memories also show the truth about the Baskervilles and their connection to the Abyss, as well as the origins of the B-Rabbit chain, and how Alice really died. Gilbert and Alice both gets their memories back as well, filling in a few more pieces. Finally seeing the whole picture of what lead of the tragedy of Sablier was the highlight of these volumes. Having only seen fragments so far, it was fascinating to finally see everything in order, as well as the twisted logic that led to it.

Pandora14_FINAL As I read these volumes, I started wondering if Mochizuki was a fan of either Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin, with the way characters, some I really liked, were being taken out. Yes, people die in these volumes. Some death are only of personality, others are mortally wounded. Some aren’t any real big loss, like Yura. Others fall to the mysterious head hunter. A few make you go “Noooo!!!” at their passing. The first big “no” moment is very well-built up. A second has had the previous 19 volumes that not only drives the knife in, but it twists it hard.

Pandora15_FINAL-198x300 The truth about Jack turns the world upside for a lot of people, with some who were one considered allies becoming foes, and Pandora turning on Oz/Jack. But while supposed allies turn, the true power of these volumes is in showing how important it is to connect with people. Every important choice made by many of the characters ends up being based on the importance of the others to them. Elliot is able to do what he must because of Leo. Oscar helps Oz because Oz, Gil, and Ada all saved him from his grief. Gil is able to reject his past role and embrace his new life because of Oz. Oz is able to accept who and what he is and choose to live because Elliot, Leo, Gil, Ada, Oscar and Alice all accepted him. It also give Oz the power to resist Jack, and maybe even defeat him.

These nine volumes of Pandora Hearts were a thrilling, gripping, heart wrenching ride. So many things make sense now, with most of the pieces of the puzzle put together, forming the true picture, but there is still more to learn. The Abyss and it’s center, The Intention are pieces yet to be fit in, and they are the most fascinating parts. The endgame is so close now, with only two volumes left to round things up. I will definitely be there to see the last pieces put into place.

Pandora16_TPPandora17_FINALPandora18_FINALPandoraV19_FINALPandora20_FINAL

 

 

 

 

 

Review copies provided by publisher.

Orange Junk Volume 2

The awkward feelings between Louise and Bruce are growing, though it seems like Louise will never realize what’s going on in Bruce’s head. But when Bruce’s family runs into even more financial trouble and he needs money fast, a modeling competition may be the best–and most embarrassing–way to solve all his problems at once.

Orange Junk Volume 2
orangejunk_vol2_ebookcover_finalBy Heldrad
Publisher: Chromatic Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $6.00/eBook – Free at Sparkler Monthly
Rating: ★★★★½

The second volume of Orange Junk starts a new arc that takes the characters out of school and into a modeling competition. The change of venue brings in new characters, including a rival for Louise’s affections, and plenty of new opportunities for comedy and drama.

I really enjoyed this second volume, possibly more than the first. While the series does use the shojo tropes well, all the time spent at school was starting to drag. This volume changes that as the characters move into new environments. Bruce’s mother has to be hospitalized, and as the bread-winner with no insurance, it’s up to him to try to find a way to cover everything. Enter the male modeling competition with a cash prize for 1st place. While Bruce is away, Drew and Louise spend more time at Bruce’s helping out with his siblings and being all domestic. Drew is really cute with the kerchief on his head, baby on his back and broom in his hand. While Louise isn’t much help domestically, it is a chance to get out of her house and away from the drama brewing there. While we don’t see it as much in this volume, there are subtle hints that things may be getting worse instead of better.

The modeling competition is really where all the fun and excitement is. Bruce’s change from tough guy to chic is amazing, though I do like his “hedgehog” hair better. It’s cute seeing how uncomfortable and vulnerable he was answering the personal questions, going through the makeover, and walking the runway in a speedo. A couple of new characters are also introduced. Ryan is one of modeling competitors, who Louise calls Flower Boy. He looks much younger than his stated 21 years, and isn’t really interesting in winning the competition. He becomes friends with Bruce. Miles Reagan, who Bruce’s sister Jenny calls “Refined Boy,” is the son of the man who cause Louise’s family to go bankrupt. He has feelings for Louise and thinks he can turn her around and get her to reciprocate them. The scene where he first talks to Louise with Ryan and Bruce is really funny and shows everyone’s level of comprehension of the situation. It was great.

Miles’ declaration to win Louise back is going to be a problem for Bruce and Louise as the pair have been slowly realizing their feeling for each other. Both spend a lot of time blushing as Bruce dreams of Louise, and through the competition, Louise sees a lot of more of Bruce’s body. It’s hard to imagine Miles having any kind of chance getting between them, but some things he says to Louise implies more was going on than she knows between their families. But he comes off so smarmy that I really don’t want to see him either win the competition or even Louise’s friendship.

This second volume of Orange Junk was very addicting, making it hard for to pull away. The competition should really start heating up now that Bruce has decided to get serious, and the stakes were raised by Miles. I love that it’s the guy that gets to be the model and objectified instead of the girl. This twist is part of what really made this volume fun for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the next volume, and am really glad Sparkler added it to the magazine, so I can get in monthly chunks.

Become a member and get Sparkler Monthly every month with a $5 monthly subscription, pay for a year for $50 and save $10, or become a VIP for $125 and get back downloads of serialized titles as well as Cherry Bomb adult stories.

Orange Junk Volume 1

When Louise’s wealthy family loses everything, she has to pull herself up by her bootstraps and start over in a new high school – where the smartest boy is the meanest, and the hottest boy is the weirdest. But Louise needs tutoring, so the three become a team…and it’s heaven, hell, and everything in-between.

Orange Junk Volume 1
orangejunk_vol1_ebookcoverBy Heldrad
Publisher: Chromatic Press
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $6.00/eBook – Free to read at Sparkler Monthly
Rating: ★★★★☆

In general, I don’t care for the riches-to-rags stories. I don’t find financial hardship to be funny no matter who is writing it, so I had my doubts about Orange Junk when it was announced as a new addition to Sparkler Monthly. But I have a terrible case of curiosity and decided to check the series out on my lunch break at work. I ended up reading all 7 available chapters over lunch and break. Orange Junk spins an engrossing story filled with appealing characters and a story that balances the humor and drama just right.

The protagonist of Orange Junk is Louise Barton. Her family used to be wealthy, but her father’s company went bankrupt and they lost everything. They move into a regular neighborhood where Louise has to go to the local public high school. It’s like a whole new world for her, but she does adjust and makes friends. Bruce Daniels starts out as Louise’s nemesis. He is quick to anger and is always getting into fights. He also hates rich people, so sees nothing good in her. Andrew Grey is the third member of the trio. He is a new student like Louise. He lost his parents and now lives with his Grandmother who spends a lot of time traveling. He is good-looking and a bit clumsy. The trio become friends when Bruce is forced to tutor Louise in math to keep their teacher Jack from telling his mother about his fighting and Drew lets the use his house when rumors start to fly at school.

I really like all three of these characters. I wasn’t sure I would like Bruce at first. He was so quick to judge and jump to conclusions about Louise. He is hyper-sensitive about his family’s financial situation, while Louise isn’t. She seems to have accepted the change in her lifestyle, though she does hold a bit of a grudge against her father’s partner who was responsible for the family’s downfall. For most of the first volume they spend a lot of time bickering. I loved that Louise called Bruce and hedgehog, and imagined him as a pineapple when his mother described him as tough on the outside but sweet on the inside. They do finally come to an understanding, mostly with the help of Drew. He starts to hang out with Louise and Bruce during their tutoring, and the reason why is not one you would expect. I thought is was a good twist.

The humor is strong emphasized in this first volume, but dramatic elements still get dropped in. The trios’ back story is revealed as well as glimpses into their family lives are shown. Bruce is tricked into revealing his when Louise opens up to him first. All three have very different homes to go to. Bruce’s is lively and happy. Louise’s is still filled with anger and resentment. You can’t see the bonds in Louise’s that you can in Bruce’s. Drew’s family quickly becomes Bruce and Louise since he is essentially alone, but he always has an upbeat attitude and smile.

The art of Orange Junk is charming. It has a shojo feel to it, while having a life of its own. Both Bruce and Drew are good-looking in their own way. Louise is comely, though I like her better with her hair down. I also really like Bruce’s hedgehog spikes. The characters also have their own fashion styles, and I enjoyed seeing them in different outfits.

Orange Junk is a fun series that delighted me, all the more since I wasn’t expecting it to. It has a lot of shojo manga tropes, but handles them in a way that they don’t feel old or tired. I was riveted as I torn through the pages, the story and characters growing on my with every chapter. If you are a fan of shojo manga or just good stories, check this series out.

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The Garden of Words

Words are powerful. Insults and rumors can derail a career; a bit of encouragement can give someone the strength to pursue their dreams. When a high school boy skipping class to sketch shoe designs and a taciturn woman drinking a morning beer meet in a Tokyo park, they say little, but the woman bids farewell with an ancient tanka poem. Will the boy figure out the poem’s meaning-and its corresponding response-before it’s too late?

The Garden of Words
Garden of WordsWritten by Makoto Shinkai; Art by Midori Motohashi
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½

The Garden of Words is based on an anime movie that was released in 2013. It takes place over a short period of time, just a few months in the summer, during Japan’s rainy season. But in that short period, two people find enough to say to give flight to the hopes and dreams for both of them.

This story focuses on two people, Akizuki, a high school boy who dreams of being a shoe maker, and Yukino, a young woman who seems lost and without purpose. These two meet one rainy day under a gazebo in a Tokyo park, and continue to do so on rainy mornings where they begin to talk and open up to each other, but never introduce themselves. Things become complicated once their true identities are revealed, and feelings are confessed.

I liked Akizuki and Yukino. They are both sympathetic and likable leads. Akizuki’s determination to follow his dream no matter how silly it seems to others is cool. His hesitation to tell anyone his dream is reasonable for a teen who expects ridicule from his peers and discouragement from adults. He still works hard toward his goal, constantly drawing shoe designs and practicing working with leather. He spends his summer break working to earn money for tuition and supplies for a trade school. Yukino is just the opposite. She has an experience that turns her dream job into a nightmare, and worse, is practically bullied by those who should respect her for something she had no control over. It’s really sad what Yukino goes through, but Akizuki’s kindness is just what she needs to escape the mire she’s been trapped in.

The Garden of Words is the story of recovery and self-reliance. Akizuki and Yukino were drifting in their lives, knowing their dreams but having their doubts. Meeting each other in the garden, where they would support each other with just kindness and friendship, they both found their paths and could take them, even if they weren’t necessarily together. It is a beautiful story filled with emotion. Midori Motohashi’s art is delicate and expressive, displaying the characters feelings perfectly. In one volume, a sensitive story of life and love is cultivated to illustrate the redemptive side of the human condition.

Bring Em Back: Stolen Hearts

Over the years, a lot of titles have been licensed and started, but never finished due to various circumstances, mostly because the company that released them went out of business. One of these companies was CMX, an imprint of DC Comics. The imprint was dropped suddenly after a leadership change at DC. One of the titles cut off midstream was Stolen Hearts, a very cute rom-com.

Stolen Hearts v1Stolen Hearts is about high school student Shinobu Okuma, a girl small for her age and Miharu Koguma, the biggest, most intimidating boy at school. Okuma accidentally spills milk on an antique kimono Koguma is carrying for his grandmother, and he has her come to his grandmother’s kimono shop to make up for ruining it. Okuma is put to work wearing kimonos and walking around town handing out flyers about the shop. Not only does she have fun wearing all the cute, coordinated outfits, but she finds out that Koguma isn’t as scary as he seems.

I loved this series from the first volume. Koguma and Okuma make a cute if mismatched couple. Both are rather shy, and Koguma, with his unruly hair and love for small, cute things is a great male lead. Okuma is small and cute, can be rather blunt, but is always upbeat. After she learns how kind Koguma is, she tries to get her friends and classmates to see it too. Once they do though, she finds she might have competition for his affections.

But the character that steals this series is Fujiko Koguma, Koguma’s grandmother. She is the feisty, 76 year-old owner of the kimono shop. She loves money and has no problem smacking her grandson when she thinks he needs it. Even the local yakuza are intimidated by her. She steals practically every scene she’s in, and has no end of money-making schemes to put Koguma and Okuma through.

Stolen Hearts 2The second volume introduces the rest of Koguma’s family; his three older brothers and parents. Koguma’s brothers are as big and handsome as he is. His mother is funny, as she makes mountains of food to feed the big-appetited family, but also wants to treat Okuma as a surrogate daughter and dress her in kimonos. They are a tight family who love kimonos as much as the matriarch Fujiko. Oldest brother Miki even makes custom kimonos, and becomes part of another of Fujiko’s schemes to make made-to-order kimonos at her shop for taller women.

But it can’t be a rom-com without situations to get into. Okuma and Koguma get into plenty on their own between misunderstandings and Koguma’s reputation and shy personality. The introduction of the brothers brings in a rivalry between Koguma and Miki, who decides to tease his younger brother but takes it too far. The situations never get too serious, but provide enough drama to balance against the comedy.

This is a title that so deserves a license rescue. It’s six volumes total, though only two volumes made it to print in the US. This title falls into all the guideline most publishers have for manga licenses. It post 2000, and it’s short. It’s complete in 6 volumes. It didn’t get very far in publishing here, with both volumes out of print and difficult to find. It was published by Hakusensha in Japan, so it doesn’t have any associated publishers in the US, so it’s open to anyone. This series would be a good addition to Viz Media’s Viz Select line. It would fit in well with their other sweet Shojo Beat titles, if they wanted to go with print.

Also available in audio and video.

 

Bring Em Back: V.B. Rose

As I was pulling together titles for my post update on crafting manga, I remembered I had a couple of volumes of V.B. Rose. I won volume 7 from a blog a few years ago. I remember there being a lot of hype for the series back in the day, and being ever curious, wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. Then found volume 1 on Paperback Swap and snatched it up.

vb rose 1V.B. Rose is about high school student Ageha Shiroi. Her older sister Hibari, who she idolizes, is getting married and Ageha doesn’t approve. But, Ageha loves weddings and can’t resist when she is invited to see the dress design with Hibari at the boutique Velvet Blue Rose. The boutique is run by two men, Yukari Arisawa and Mitsuya Kuromine. Ageha gets off on the wrong foot with Yukari when she explodes over the wedding, and Yukari literally throws her out of the shop. Ageha, with the help of her friend Mamoru, realizes she did wrong and goes back to apologize. Things go awry again, and Mitsuya hurts his hand. Ageha volunteers to help out in Mitsuya’s place. Yukari balks at first, but Ageha is very crafty, and already know for the handmade purses she makes for Hibari and her friends, so he relents. It becomes a race to get the Hibari’s dress done on time as Ageha has to learn bead embroidery and how to deal with Yukari’s strict management and Mitsuya’s constant glomping.

I read volume 7 first and at the time wasn’t too impressed. I passed on reviewing it since I didn’t have anything useful to say. For this re-read, I read volume 1 first and then volume 7 and found I liked the series a whole lot more. The first volume set up the characters and relationships really well,  so when I got to volume 7, it wasn’t difficult to see how they got there. I think when I first read volume 7, it just didn’t work as well without that context.

Ageha and Yukari are amusing characters. Ageha is rather hot-headed and speaks without thinking, or worse, saying things she doesn’t really mean. Yukari can be just as abrasive, saying exactly what he means, when he chooses to speak. He more often reacts first without full explaining why. This poor communication, or complete lack thereof, leads to misunderstandings between them. It’s not so bad at first, when the misunderstandings are Ageha getting the wrong impression about what Yukari thinks of her craftwork. When it gets into their budding relationship, it’s easy to see how this will only complicate things.

vb-rose-7Ageha and Yukari are the main couple, but Ageha seems to have plenty of suitors for Yukari to worry about. Mitsuya isn’t serious about his advances, but there are other men around who could be serious competition. Mamoru’s younger brother, Nagare has feelings for her and declares them over Christmas, while Ageha is talking to Yukari. His anxiety over Ageha being courted by other men is fun to watch. Ageha has her own things to worry about as she wonders if Yukari’s ex-girlfriend Kana, who he still works with, still has feelings for him.

Since the setting of this series is a wedding dress boutique, there are plenty of beautiful gowns. In volume 1, there is a gorgeous Chinese inspired gown I would have loved to have worn. The gown that Kana makes the corsage for in volume 7 is just elegant. Ageha’s handmade purses are both cute and useful. What I wouldn’t give for a friend that could make a custom bag.

V.B. Rose is a romantic comedy that is a lot of fun. Tokyopop originally licensed the series, and nearly published it complete. They released volume 13 the same month they shutdown, making this one of the most difficult volumes to find in English. The series was originally published by Hakusensha in Japan, a publisher that doesn’t have an established relationship with a US publisher. This title would be a perfect candidate for Viz Media’s Viz Select program. While I would prefer getting this series digitally, I do have to admit that Tokyopop’s early prints of the series were very nicely done with gold imprinting on the cover to make it extra sparkly! Viz Select has already picked up and published several of Tokyopop’s old titles digitally. V.B. Rose would be another great addition to this program. It is probably completely translated, and is a shojo title that would an ideal fit their Shojo Beat catalog.

Master Keaton Volume 1

Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, the son of a Japanese zoologist and a noble English woman, is an insurance investigator known for his successful and unorthodox methods of investigation. Educated in archaeology and a former member of the SAS, Master Keaton uses his knowledge and combat training to uncover buried secrets, thwart would-be villains, and pursue the truth… When a life insurance policy worth one million pounds takes Master Keaton to the Dodecanese islands of Greece, what will he discover amidst his scuffles with bloodthirsty thieves and assassins?

Master Keaton Volume 1
MasterKeaton-GN01-3DBy Naoki Urasawa; Story by Hokusei Katsushika, Takashi Nagasaki
Publisher: Viz Medial
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $19.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Master Keaton is one of those licenses that was always talked about but never dreamed it would become reality. Or maybe, dreaming was all fans of the series could do. A 24 episode anime was released here by Pioneer/Geneon back in 2003, but that was as much of the story as fans could hope to get. I was so thrilled when Viz Media announced it last year. It is one of the few titles I will pre-order, sight unseen.

I almost had my doubts at first. Urasawa has been hit and miss with me. I loved Pluto, but didn’t care for Monster or the latter half of 20th Century Boys. But I am happy to say I was not disappointed with Master Keaton. What initially drew me to the series was the title character, Taichi Hiraga-Keaton. He is both an archaeologist and an insurance investigator, combining to things I love; archaeology and mysteries. I really liked Keaton as the absent-minded professor type. He is easy-going, and a bit of a dreamer, but behind this non-threatening facade, is a keen eye and a sharp wit. Even though it is a convenient plot point, I love his quirk of taking seemingly random things that end up helping him get through his current adventure.

Most of the chapters are stand alone cases, with a few multi-chapter stories. Sometimes Keaton gets a case due to his knowledge of archaeology, but in almost every case his skills as a former S.A.S. member and survival skills trainer come into play. Both these skills mesh nicely in the two-part story “Hot Sands, Black and White” and “Qehriman of the Desert.” Not every chapter is a case. This volume also introduces Keaton’s daughter Yuriko and his father. These stories are more about his relationships with his family. He helps out Yuriko when she has problems with a teacher at school, and a girl who thinks his father is also her father. These chapters were just as enjoyable as the more action-oriented chapters. They give more insight to Keaton’s character. “Journey With a Lady” was another wonderful chapter where Keaton’s patience is tested, and ultimately rewarded.

This series is from 16 years ago, but the art is still very Urasawa. The characters are recognizable as his work, and match well with the story. Urasawa’s more technical skills are put to the test as he has to draw, old ruins and life-like statues to fit the archaeological side of the story, and he does it well. The backgrounds are very detailed too, giving the feeling of the place Keaton is in, whether it is England, Italy or the Taklamakan Desert.

Master Keaton is a great series. The stories are well written, and very engaging. I didn’t want to put it down once I started. The investigations are readily solved, with all the piece set in place before hand. There is plenty of action and mystery to keep fans of both happy. I certainly am. I highly recommend it.

Bloody Cross Volume 1-5

Tsukimiya is a cursed mixed blood. Half angel and half vampire, she is shunned by both angels and demons. The only way to rid herself of the curse is to drink the blood of a pure demon, but they are had to come by. Hinata is another mixed blood looking for the same cure. They finally find in it in Tsuzuki, a candidate for godhood and must collect God’s Relics during the current Crusade in order to attain it. Satsuki, a fallen angel, has the same goal. In between the two sides is the human organization Arcana, who has their own ideas about godhood. Tsukimiya finds herself tangled up in the web all these groups have woven, when all she wants is to live a long and normal life.

Bloody Cross Volume 1-5
Bloody Cross 1By Shiwo Komeyama
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I had my doubts about Bloody Cross. Considering the publisher, both here and in Japan, I feared this series might have a heavy male gaze aspect to the art. I wasn’t wrong. Sadly that isn’t this title’s worse problem. I decided to give it a try after seeing some positive comments about the banter between the two main characters, but that would only matter to me if I actually liked or cared about them.

Bloody Cross 2Tsukimiya is the protagonist of Bloody Cross. It’s her story that’s being played out as she encounters and has to deal with all the other characters she crosses paths with. She is desperate at the beginning. Her curse is nearly up. She has to find a pure demon to dispel it. She lets Hinata in, thinking he was an angel who would help her, not another mixed blood that would betray her. This seems to be her major weakness, especially with Hinata. She trusts the wrong people, or even if she doesn’t trust them, they still get the upper hand on her. This really shouldn’t be an issue. Trusting should be seen as something good in a character, but it doesn’t completely work for me with Tsukimiya. She’s a capable fighter and puts her talents to the best use, but she isn’t too smart, so her trust seems to come from just not knowing better. I found this really frustrating with her and Hinata, and her “attraction” to him just felt wrong.

Bloody Cross 3Betrayal seems to be the theme of this series, because that is what all the characters do to each other. The first time a character is introduced, it usually ends in someone getting stabbed in the back, sometimes literally. Every single character in this series has an agenda, and will use everyone else to reach it. Even the angel god candidate Tsuzuki betrays Tsukimiya and Hinata the first time he works with them. No one does anything out of some good will. There is always a hidden motive behind everything. As a reader, I found it very disturbing to not have someone I could put even an ounce of faith in. It’s hard to call anyone an antagonist, since everyone seems to be one. Arcana and its head Izumi, who plots to become god in the next crusade, is no better than Satsuki, the fallen angel, and even allies with him at first.

Bloody Cross 4Then there’s the overwhelming male gaze. Tsukimiya is only one of two females in the series, and she is of course very well endowed. And because she is usually the braun to Hinata’s magic, her clothes area always getting torn. Whether it’s to reveal her cursed mark on her breast, or just for some touching from a oogling Hinata, Tsukimiya has to have her shirt split down the middle, and it’s left that way for several chapters, until the next time.

Bloody Cross 5The art is very typical of a Square Enix title with the girls beautiful and big-breasted, while the men are hot and slim. The action isn’t so bad. Tsukimiya’s use of her vampiric powers is good as she uses it to sniff out lies (usually too late), and controls her blood like a remote blade. Hinata is at least competent with his magic, being useful even after he’s pulled another back-stabbing. If there was a character I could like, the closest would be Hanamura, the demon attendant of Tsuzuki. He’s very much the butler type, very polite, organized, and a great cook. But he only stands out because everyone else is so terrible.

I can’t find much good to say about Bloody Cross. I can’t really recommend it either. The story isn’t badly written or drawn. The characters are just so unlikable. The mangaka even said as much in one of the afterwards. I deal with enough unlikable people in real life. I don’t need them dominating my leisure as well. If you like constant betrayal and characters you can’t like or trust, then pick this one up, otherwise, just give it a pass.