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The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms

Hiroshima, 1955. Ten years after the city was consumed by a scorching flash of light, the soul of Minami Hirano is still deeply shaken by the earth-shattering explosion that devastated her home and changed her life forever. To the weak, the victims, what did the war mean? What pieces of certainty changed and broke that morning, when the sky lit up with a fire like a thousand suns? A controversial story of the aftermath of disaster, long after conflict is over and the dead are long buried.

Town of Evening CalmBy Fumiyo Kouno
Publisher: Jmanga
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Slice of Life
Price: $4.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

This isn’t the first time The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms has been published in English. Last Gasp first published it in print in 2007. Jmanga then got a hold of it and used it as one of its launch titles. It was well received originally, but it took me until the last days to get it and read it. It is a story that deserves every once of praise it received.

The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms, is essentially the story of one family over 3 generations. It follows the Hirano family, starting 10 years after the bombs fell with older sister Minami. She and her mother are survivors of the bomb, and live in a shanty town in Hiroshima. Minami works and takes care of her mother. Uchikoshi is a boy who works in the same office and comes to check on her when she doesn’t come in one day. He likes Minami, but she chases him away. Minami has memories of that day the bomb were dropped, and they haunt her. Survivor’s guilt gnaws at her, and just as she seems to ask forgiveness for living, she succumbs to radiation sickness.

This first chapter, The Town of Evening Calm, was incredibly powerful. Minami seems okay as she goes to her job and helps out her mother at home. But the memories that haunt her, of the burnt bodies everywhere, the desperation to find family members, it was all burned into her mind, making her think the world after, the one where she lived wasn’t the one where she belonged. But more powerful than that was her slow death from radiation poisoning. Much of it is shown from Minami’s perspective, as she loses her energy, coughs up black blood and then loses her sight. All of her observations from this point are heart-wrenching, and it gave me a cold feeling in my stomach when she asked if the people who had dropped the bomb were glad she was dying. If there was ever needed a short story about why atomic bombs should never be used again, this is it.

The Country of Cherry Blossoms follows Minami’s younger brother Asahi, who wasn’t in Hiroshima at the time and was spared the devastation. It starts 30 years later, with Asahi’s children, Nanami and Nagio, and their next door neighbor Toko. Nagio is in the hospital with asthma and Nanami and Toko bring cherry blossoms to cheer him up. The second chapter is another 20 years after the first with Nanami and Toko following Nanami’s father as he visits people around Hiroshima, and how he and Nanami’s mother met.

This second half of the volume didn’t have the punch the first half did. The memory of the bomb is faint now for Nanami and Nagio. But the stigma of being a survivor or related to a survivor remains. Asahi, who after being adopted by his Aunt and Uncle, returns to help his mother, and meets Kyo, a girl who lives nearby and helps out his mother. Asahi watches Kyo grow up and eventually falls in love with her. Kyo, as a survivor, suffers some prejudice at school as her slow learning is blamed on it. His mother, a survivor herself, is against Asahi marrying her at first, because she doesn’t want to see anymore loved ones taken because of the bomb. Later in a letter to Toko from Nagio, Nagio implies that his asthma might be because his mother was an atomic bomb victim, and gives it as a reason why they can’t be together. Nanami has a good answer to that.

Taken as a whole, The Town of Evening Calm, The Country of Cherry Blossoms is a wonderful generational story of a very dark moment in human history. Toko’s reaction to seeing the Peace Museum for the first time is a very real and visceral feeling, even 60 years later. Kouno’s art is simple and cute, contrasting against the darker, heavier story. Minami’s story is a reason why it should never happen again, and Nanami and Toko’s story reminds us why we should never forget.  I highly recommend it.

King’s Moon: The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide

The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide ― Oda Nobunaga ruled the nation with a scorching force like that of the Sun. In his shadow was his faithful retainer, Akechi, who continued his unwavering service to him. Once sharing the same vision for the future, a change of heart sets their paths forever apart. What conclusion did Mitsuhide reach following the events at Hongan-ji? From a great author, comes a beautifully illustrated historical drama full of intensity!

Kings MoonBy Hiroki Kusumoto
Publisher: Jmanga
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Historical Drama
Price: $4.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I love historical dramas, so when Jmanga announced this title, that not only took place in the Warring States Era, but also featured bishonen historical figures in a historical setting without any fantasy elements, I bought it sight unseen. While I enjoyed the title in general, it didn’t really fulfill the “full of intensity” part promised in the description.

King’s Moon details the life of Akechi Mitsuhide, a loyal retainer to the famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. The story begins with Mitsuhide already a retainer to Asakura Yoshikage. The retainer to Ashikaga, Hosokawa Fuijtaka, has come to Asakura to ask him to champion Ashikaga in his bid to be Shogun, but Asakura waivers. Mitsuhide, who had spent many years on reconnaissance, believes another man would be a better champion; Oda Nobunaga. Being a cousin to Nobunaga’s wife, Mitsuhide gets an audience with him. Nobunaga agrees to the request, and with Mitsuhide as his retainer begins his quest to conquer Japan.

King’s Moon is described as a historical drama, but it felt more like a docudrama. The drama was interspersed with historical facts. Nobunaga will be talking about a strategy, and then there will be a couple of pages of “And then this battle happened, these people were killed/committed suicide, and Nobunaga took over this area.” Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing necessarily, but it did reduce the “intensity.” The dramatic scenes themselves weren’t all that “intense” either. They were mostly of Nobunaga and Mitsuhide, or Mitsuhide and Fujitaka talking. There were nearly no battle scenes shown. While I do enjoy documentaries like this, even I found this title to be rather dry.

There isn’t any character development to speak of. You are expected to know who most of the people are, but since it was written for a Japanese audience about historical Japanese figures, I really can’t fault the title for that assumption. While the title is “The Life of Akechi Mitsuhide”, it really only covers his time with Nobunaga. The two men are compared as the sun and the moon, hence the title. Nobunage is fiery and direct with his ambitions. Mitsuhide is more subtle, using Asakura, Ashikaga and even Nobunaga to see his ambitions. It’s here that the story seems to drift into the realm of speculation. Kusumoto portrays Mitsuhide as a man looking for someone to bring peace to Japan, and he believes Nobunaga is that man. But the more Nobunaga expands, the more he is shown to be someone who enjoys the killing. Mitsuhide calls him the “God of Death” at one point in the story. It’s at this point that Mitsuhide starts to have his doubts about Nobunaga bringing peace, but what tips him over into betrayal is when Nobunaga gives his castle, Sakamoto to another retainer. There is a definite disconnect between what Mitsuhide expected from Nobunaga and visa versa.

The art is very well done. All the men, and it is all men shown in volume, are bishonen. Nobunaga has a devilish look to him with his wispy mustache and goatee and piercing eyes. Mitsuhide is much more the hero-type, with the long hair and rounder, more reflective eyes. I must admit, all the pretty boys is one of the reasons I chose to check this title out.

King’s Moon is an interesting title if you’re a history buff like me. It gives a quick run through of the Nobunaga years leading up to the beginning of the Tokugawa period. It is all military victories and defeats broken up by bits of personal reflection. For the historical information, this title was great. As entertainment, not so much. There was drama, mostly with Mitsuhide, as he struggles with his choices and following Nobunaga, and the chapters had some nice closing, but overall it was too dry to really be called intense. The history geek in me loved it.

Grand Guignol Orchestra Vol 1-5: Manga Movable Feast

In a world infected with a deadly virus that turns its victims into zombie-like dolls call Guignols, a traveling band of musicians, known as the Grand Orchestra, wander the world, and bringing music to the uninfected. For the right price they will perform any song and maybe even a miracle. Led by Lucille, the beautiful singer, the Orchestra searches for the legendary Black Oratorio, which is said to hold the answer to ending the Guignol Virus.

GrandGuignolOrchestra_GN01_coverBy Kaori Yuki
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Horror/Romance
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

Grand Guignol Orchestra is latest Kaori Yuki title to be released in English. It is a Gothic horror,  that puts a different twist on the zombie phenomena. I’ve enjoyed Yuki’s work since I first read Godchild, and was looking forward to reading her take on zombies. I wasn’t disappointed. The interesting characters, mixture of music and zombies, and a story with lots of twists and turns all wrapped up in a fairy tale-like setting made this a fun read.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 2Right from the beginning I liked the characters. Lucille, the beautiful, gender-ambiguous leader of the Orchestra starts as rather capricious and a little sinister. But after seeing the “Divine Lightning” in action, a more serious and grim side to him is shown. His motives aren’t revealed at first, and a lot of doubt is cast on him as being good or trustworthy. But as the story progresses, the truth is revealed, and we see that not only Lucille but his sister were manipulated into their circumstances, but Lucille had the strength and courage to find a way out for them.

Lucille’s companions in the Orchestra, Kohaku and Gwindell also have their sinister sides. It is revealed at the beginning, that they are convicted criminals, and travel with Lucille in order to pay down their bail. Kohaku plays the violin, and loves his guns. He is also able to hide and infinite number of weapons on his person. Gwindell, the cellist, is the strong but silent type. He drives the hearse they travel in and carries a hedgehog with him, a memento of his daughter. Both of them claim to not like Lucille, that they are forced to be with them, but when push comes to shove, they do come to his aid. They backgrounds are revealed toward the end, and like Lucille, they are not as bad as they were made out to be.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 3The final member of the Orchestra is Eles/Celes. She is masquerading as her twin brother after her piano playing accidentally sends the surrounding guignols into a frenzy, infecting or killing the rest of the children in town, as well as several of the townspeople. At her father’s behest, she joins Lucille to find a reason to live as herself. She is the sane member of the Orchestra, trying to make sense of the insanity around her. She is also the one person all the members of the Orchestra care enough about to truly want to protect.

The story moves at a brisk pace, as there is only one story to introduce the characters before diving headlong into the plot. No chapter after the first is really a stand alone, as each revelation adds another piece to the puzzle that is finally put together in the final chapters. The twists the story takes, from who and what Lucille really is, to Gwindell’s past, to the final reveal of the true villain made for a great ride. I did like how Le Senat, who seemed to be the villains at the beginning, are slowly revealed to be more than they seemed, and even honorable enough to stop one of their own, and allowing Lucille to complete his mission. I also really liked how all the seeming supernatural elements, such as the Queen’s divine lightning, were explain scientifically. Sadly, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the world ended up that way, or that one man’s obsession could cause such a world-wide catastrophe.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 4Now, I’m not a big fan of blood and gore, so zombie stories don’t tend to be something I enjoy. This title is a definite exception. Yuki’s zombies are different from the usual rotting, meandering creatures with their flesh falling off. They are more like wooden dolls, with hardened skin and joints, and frozen expressions. I think having them like dolls is much more scary, since dolls are real things, and can be scary on their own in the right circumstances. The “clankity” sounds they make are really creepy. They aren’t completely mindless. Under certain circumstances they can regain their selves, making them less like monsters and more something to be pitied. Music is one of those circumstances.

Music is an important element in this series. The guignols respond to it for some reason, whether its Celes’ piano playing, Lucille’s voice or even a single tone, music can drive the guignols to attack, become themselves for a few moments, or break some control over them. Music is also the way the Queen controls her divine lightning and even some guignols. Ultimately, it is music, a song from the Black Oratorio that finally ends the terror of the guignols. And with the shadows of the original Queen and the King that created her gone as well, the series can reach a happy finale.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 5I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It wasn’t as dramatic or angsty as Yuki’s earlier titles such as Angel Sanctuary or Godchild. Considering what those protagonists had to go through, Lucille had it pretty easy. He still had a lot of difficult obstacles to get through, but he never gave up, no matter how hopeless the situation seemed. That is one of the things I love about Yuki’s protagonists. I was also really happy to see the series had a definitive happy ending, and we are not left to wonder what happened to the Orchestra. Though, Lucille’s face is left in shadow, so we don’t know what effect the destroying of the guignol virus had on him. But then, some things are best left unsolved.

I didn’t have any real issues with this series, other than it felt rushed. I would have liked a few more stories of the Orchestra helping other towns before plowing into the main plot. A little more of Lucille, Gwindell and Kohaku arguing and fighting guignols would have been nice, but not having doesn’t diminish the series any.

Grand Guignol Orchestra ended shy of half a volume, so one of Yuki’s short stories, Camelot Garden was used to fill it out. This is another story that mixes fantasy with science to good effect. It’s premise is similar to Grand Guignol Orchestra with a father determined to keep his daughter to himself though it uses the poem ‘Lady of Shalott’ by the English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson as it’s core. I really enjoy stories that do this, weaving the story and pictures around a poem or song.

I really enjoyed Grand Guignol Orchestra. It has the perfect balance of humor, drama, action, romance and a happy ending. It’s hard enough to get this in any series, let alone a Kaori Yuki manga. This series is rather atypical of most Yuki titles, so while I do recommend it for readers looking to get into her work, be warned that the warm and fuzzies from this series aren’t translated to a lot of her other works. Pick it up in print or in digital on Vizmanga.com.

Manga Dome Podcast Episode 2: Knights of Sidonia

Well, what do you know? I’ve managed to record a podcast two weeks in a row, and get them posted! This week I look at some of the manga that is available in digital legally. This will most likely be a weekly segment, or mostly weekly at least. I also review the sci-fi title Knights of Sidonia from Vertical, Inc. Disclaimer-Review copy provided by publisher.

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Show Notes:

Viz Manga: From Far Away, Please Save My Earth, Red River
Viz on the Nook
Yen Press on the Nook and Google Play
Square Enix: Just don’t go there
Knights of Sidonia

Music courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech

A Bride’s Story Volume 3-4: Manga Movable Feast

Researcher Mr. Smith has left the Eihon family and is on his way to Ankara. As he awaits his guide in a village, he meets the widow Talas, but his honorable intentions toward her are not seen that way by her uncle who has his own plans for her, and lands the Englishman in jail. Rescued by some familiar faces, his journey takes him through a fishing village along the Aral Sea, where a pair of twins are plotting to land themselves some rich, healthy brothers as husbands.

BRIDESSTORY_3By Kaoru Mori
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Historical/Slice of Life
Price: $16.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-21034-8/978-0-316-23203-6
Rating: ★★★★☆

These two volumes of A Bride’s Story leaves Amir, Karluk and the Eihon family behind, and follows Mr. Smith as he travels across the desert on his way to Ankara, where a colleague waits for him with an item he’s been searching for. We meet two different kinds of brides in these volumes, the five-time widowed Talas and the over-eager twins Laila and Leily. While I still enjoyed these volumes, the new characters didn’t grow on my as much as the Eihons did in the first two volumes.

Mr. Smith gets the spotlight in volume 3. After arriving in the village where he is to meet his guide, he meets a young woman, Talas. She offers to put him up until his guide arrives. She and her mother-in-law have been alone for a while, after the death of five sons and the father. Talas thinks having Mr. Smith stay will make her mother happy. I liked Talas. She was quiet and unassuming; the  opposite of Amir in a lot of ways. She’s had a hard life, going through so many husbands so quickly without ever producing an heir, but she bears it all with a quiet strength. Her mother is much the same, having lost 5 sons and her own husband, she continues on alone, thinking only of Talas’ happiness.

Mr. Smith becomes caught in the middle of this, as the mother tries to get him to take her as his bride. It’s interesting to see him struggle with what to do. He doesn’t have a wide emotional range, and often has a bewildered look on his face, except when he has learned some new cultural aspect. When he finally comes to a decision, the circumstances change on him. The change shows how different betrothal and marriage is treated between Europeans and the Western Asians, and the importance of a father in a woman’s life. Even when it is explained to him, he doesn’t seem to fully get it. He doesn’t show any emotion about it until he is alone, and a single act shows his disappointment.

Brides story 4In volume 4 we don’t see much of Mr. Smith, as his arrival in the seaside town causes a stir when his cover story of being a doctor has him overwhelmed with patients from all over the area. This leaves the story open for trouble-making twins Laila and Leily. The two girls are determined to get husbands, and spent most of the volume plotting ways to get them. I really didn’t care much for the twins. They bordered on obnoxious for me. But their story gave an excuse to concentrate on the women’s side again. Laila and Leily were recounted with stories from the older women of how they found their husbands and the tricks they used to land them. And when husbands are found for the girls, their mother has to give them whirlwind lessons in being proper wives, teaching them cooking, cleaning and sewing.

I still enjoyed this series. The cultural aspects shown in every volume are fascinating. In these two volumes we see the importance of being generous and hospitable, as an impromptu meal becomes an event to be shared with. We also get a glimpse on being a groom, as Mr. Smith’s guide, Ali, explains why he took the job even though it was dangerous. He wants to take a bride, but has to come up with the betrothal money himself since his family is poor. So far, we have only been seeing that the bride’s family has to do, and haven’t heard much about what the groom must do as well. Information on the wedding preparations start to get more in-depth as Laila and Leily’s wedding approaches which of course, will delay Mr. Smith who will want to stay and see an actual wedding.

While my enthusiasm cooled a little over these volumes, volume 4 mostly, I still love it. The cultural details that Mori is able to present in the story without it feeling like a lesson is great. This series could easily be used as a teaching aid for the time period. And of course her meticulous art continues to delight. The different costumes she used for the different regions are just beautiful. I’ll continue to give this series my highest recommendation, because, personal feelings or no, this is still one of the best series you will ever read.

Emma Volume 1: Manga Movable Feast

In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.

Emma 1By Kaoru Mori
Publsiher: CMX (OOP)
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Historical/Drama
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1132-5
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

I didn’t expect to like Emma. I have a split track record with Kaoru Mori’s work. I loved A Bride’s Story, but wasn’t impressed with her short story collection Say Something and Anything, especially the maid stories. But as I started reading, I couldn’t help being enchanted by the charming characters she populates the series with, and sets up so simple an obstacle, but it still seems just as insurmountable.

Emma starts with the unceremonious meeting of Emma and William, the former student of Kelly Stownar, who was William’s governess, and is Emma’s employer. William is immediately smitten with Emma, which Kelly picks up on, while Emma seems not to notice. But William is not the first or only man to be drawn to her, as the pile of love letters she receives shows. Even Prince Hakim, William’s friend from India is taken by her charms at first glance. This first volume introduces these main players, and gives a little insight into who they are.

I absolutely loved every character in this volume. There isn’t a single one that I found annoying or dislikable. William is wonderfully nervous around Kelly, and a little over-excitable when he’s around Emma. Emma herself comes off rather innocent, or naive. While she is able to turn down most of her would-be suitors, William elicits a blush from her. I loved Kelly, who seemed to take great joy in making William feel uncomfortable with her memories of his childhood, but didn’t discourage his interest in Emma. Hakim brought a lot of comedy, with his elephants marching through London, or his motorcar whizzing around the inside William’s house. I also loved his Indian women attendants. Their expressions never change, whether they are draped over Hakim or driving the motorcar, they are always straight-faced, almost bored-looking.

The introduction of William’s father, Mr. Smith, also introduces the main conflict of the story. In order for William and Emma to be together, they must not only overcome class distinctions, but also the attitudes of the people around them. Kelly doesn’t have a problem with Emma marrying up obviously. She seems to be encouraging their relationship. It’s William’s father, and his other family and friends that will be the biggest obstacle to their budding relationship. Mr. Smith makes his feelings very clear at the end of the volume about the relationships between classes, describing them like people from two different countries who just happen to speak the same language.

Because of Karou Mori’s obsession with Victorian England, this title is filled with historical details. From the fireplaces and wallpaper in the homes to the clothing of both the men and women, reading Emma is like watching a BBC historical drama. I’ve never been a fan of the Victorian era, but I love Mori’s depiction of it. The men in their suits and hats and the women with their hair done up and their long dresses and ball gowns, I love the look of them all. But most important was the attitudes and beliefs of the people at them. Mori really gets these, from the working class grocer who doesn’t see the worth in his daughter going to school and learning when she will just get married, to Mr. Smith’s constant harping on William about proper manners. Social etiquette was a big deal to the upper class, as they saw it as one of the things that separated themselves from the lower classes. Having good social graces was just as important as one’s family and blood line. Mori really seems to get this, and isn’t just using stereo types to portray the classes.

This first volume of Emma was an engrossing read that just makes me want to read more. I’m really glad this MMF gave me an excuse to read it. Of course, the problem with reading the first volume of a hard-to-find OOP series is that if you turn out enjoying it, that means finding  the rest of the series will be like pulling teeth. The volumes will tend to be difficult to find or worse, very expense. An incomplete set of the series just recently sold on eBay for $135.00! This is probably the only bad thing about the entire volume that I could find. And with Jmanga ending their service, the chances of seeing this series in print again is very unlikely. Unless Yen Press, who has published two of Mori’s other titles, sees some worth in. Though Yen Press has done some license rescues lately, I’m not holding breath for this one, which is really a shame.

A Bride’s Story Volume 1-2: Manga Movable Feast

Along the nineteenth-century Silk Road, Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe, is betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive family, and her birth family, who now wish to see her wed to another, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.

BRIDE_1By Kaoru Mori
Publsiher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Historical/Slice of Life
ISBN: 978-0-316-18099-3/978-0-316-19446-4
Price: $16.99/ea
Rating: ★★★★★

I remember when this title was first announced and how excited people were to get a new Karou Mori title. Having not read anything by her at the time, I didn’t see what the excitement was about. But after hearing some discussion of the title, I decided to check out the first volume. I absolutely loved it, and had to buy volumes 2 and 3 immediately afterward. The charming characters and immersion into 19th century Central Asia was a delight to read.

These volumes start by introducing Amir and her young husband, Karluk Eihon. They first meet on their wedding day, and while both seem surprised at seeing the other, both also accept each other. Many of the chapters show their everyday life, with Amir showing Karluk’s family, now her family, her way of doing things, while she learns theirs. There are also stories about other members of the Eihon family, and the Eihon’s nomadic relatives. Also introduced almost immediately is the stirring trouble with Amir’s birth family, who have decided they need her back since her younger sister, who was married off to another tribe, died and they will lose the grazing land they got in the deal. This leads to an armed conflict between the two families, as well as some between Amir and Karluk.

I absolutely loved Amir and Karluk from their first introduction. I adore Amir and her enthusiastic and earnest personality. She can be impulsive, such as when she jumps up to hunt rabbits immediately when she learns the Eihon family hasn’t had rabbit stew before. When given a gift, she feels the need to return the favor and proceeds to shoot down a bird to exchange. She is dedicated to Karluk and treats him like an equal and not a child. Karluk in turn tries to be a husband to her, but still has some problems with being intimate with her. When they are sleeping together in the Yurat while visiting Karluk’s Uncle, he feels more like a child with his mother than man and wife. He proves himself though when he defends Amir from her own father when the Halgal family try to take Amir back by force. He takes his duties as husband seriously, trying to protect her from danger. They make a really cute couple.

The supporting characters are great too. Seleke, Karluk’s older sister, tries to be strick with her four children, but ends up doting more. Their parents are kind and supportive. I loved Balkirsh, the grandmother and matriarch of the family. She doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other family members, but will step in when necessary. She diffused the confrontation between Amir’s brother and her grandson-in-law, and was able to get Amir to rest while Karluk was sick with a cold. She’s feisty, and doesn’t mince her words. And then there’s Mr. Smith, an Englishman living with the Eihons. He is an anthropologist, studying the life and culture of Western Asia. He is constantly asking questions about customs in the village, or for help with translating documents he has found. He is played a lot for comedy relief.

Bride's story 2Mr. Smith and to some extent Amir, is also used to show the culture and customs of the area. Amir, who has come from a semi-nomadic tribe, has a lot to learn about town living. One of the biggest is that the townspeople are much more modest. Amir is constantly causing a stir, such as when she misunderstands Mother and thinks she must clean her clothes and runs out in her underwear. Amir’s hunting skills fascinate the townsfolk, as she hunts rabbits from horseback and brings back deer. The children become fascinated by her bow, and soon she is teaching them how to use it. Through Mr. Smith, more general cultural elements are explained. The importance of embroidery and cloth for dowry is shown in detail, as is entertaining. The townsfolk try to compete to entertain the messenger who bring letters for Mr. Smith.

Because this is “A Bride’s Story”, a lot of focus is put on the women. There is the impression that women are seen as nothing more than property, especially when Amir’s family tries to reclaim her, and the Eihons counter that they have no claim. But it’s not like the women are treated poorly or without rights. Balkirsh commands a lot of respect, even from Amir’s brother when he first comes to reclaim Amir. And as is shown with Amir, they can be hunters and herders, and not limited to the household. I don’t see the arranged marriages as a way to control women, but as part of the complex social structure passed down through the generations. Compared to European women of the time, the women of western Asia had a lot more personal freedom.

The art is just exquisite. The detail that Mori puts into the clothes and rugs is amazing. The costumes are beautiful and varied, reflecting their different origins. It’s not just material that is so ornate. Wood carving and even the making of bread is shown to be decorated with beautiful designs, and their creators are shown to put great care into their craft. I loved the chapter with the carpenter, and the time he spends creating ornate doors and posts. I also love the wide-eyed expressions that both Amir and Karluk have. It makes Amir’s enthusiasm all that more infectious, and Karluk just looks cute, even when he’s trying to be heroic.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. I loved it from cover to cover, and it just gets better with every re-read. Amir’s story is funny, exciting, and touching. A Bride’s Story is one of the best series you will read, filled with great characters, fun slice of life moments and charming characters that you will never want to leave. It’s a great investment of both time and money.

Soul Eater Not Volume 1-2

Ding-Dong! Dead-Dong! Class is about to begin, and you don’t want to be late on your first day of school! Join Tsugumi Harudori in the “NOT” class at Death Weapon Meister Academy, a school dedicated to training transforming weapons like Tsugumi and the Meisters who will wield them. Many “NOT” (Normally Overcome Target) students aspire to join the elite “EAT” (Especially Advantaged Talent) class, but it may take Tsugumi some time to find her confidence — and a partner — at this crazy school!

SOULNOT_1By Atsushi Ohkubo
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Slice-of-Life/Fantasy/Action
Price: $11.99
Rating: ★★★½☆

Soul Eater NOT! is a spin-off series of another Yen Press title, Soul Eater. Soul Eater was a debut title for Yen’s manga magazine Yen Plus, starting its US serialization there. I didn’t care for Soul Eater, so I wasn’t sure what my reaction to Soul Eater NOT would be. I was pleasantly surprised by the slice-of-life story, that moved a slower pace and had some likable characters. Not interesting, just likable. If the characters weren’t used for mostly fan service, I would like this title a lot more.

Soul Eater NOT! starts by introducing Tsugumi Harudori. She is just starting at Death Weapon Meister Academy, in Death City, Nevada, United States of America. She has the ability to turn into a weapon, which is a genetic mutation one is born with. She has come to DWMA to learn to control her power and live a normal life. Tsugumi is a plain, rather dull, and indecisive girl. On her first day she meets two meisters; Meme who to say she has short-term memory problems would be an understatement and Anya, a upper-class European girl who wants to see what the “common people” are like. Both girls want to partner with Tsugumi, but she just can’t decide, so the three of them live and work together until a decision is made. Meanwhile, a witch is at work within DWMA, experimenting on people, and Tsugumi, Meme and Anya always seem to get involved with the situations some how.

The three main characters, Tsugumi, Meme, and Anya are all fairly likeable characters. At least, there’s nothing annoying about them. Tsugumi is an average teenage girl whose only remarkable trait is how unremarkable she is. She wants to become stronger, like Maka, a Weapons Meister who she meets on her first day, and is a main character from Soul Eater. Tsugumi puts her hair up in pigtails to emulate Maka, but the look doesn’t work for her. I liked Anya a lot. She tries to be so aloof, but really wants to be included in the things Tsugumi and Meme do. Her modesty over the cafe uniforms was cute. I didn’t like that she never got to pair with Tsugumi. She would make a better partner for Tsugumi, as she proves when she uses Tsugumi in fight. Meme is the closest to an annoying character this title has. Her inability to remember simple things gets annoying fast. She only seems able to fight efficiently when she is sleep walking. Her only real purpose seems to be for fan service. She has the largest chest of the three girls, and is always slipping into bed with Tsugumi. I really didn’t care for this aspect of the title at all.

Soul Eater Not 2I liked a lot of the supporting characters too. Eternal Feather is a year ahead of the girls and is very helpful and sympathetic to them when they become prey of the “witch of the girl’s dorm”, Kim. This makes what happens to her at the end of volume two really sad. I liked Kim too, with her tsundere ways. She acts tough, but really has a kind heart. I also really liked the Master of the Death’s Back Cafe where the girls work for money part time.I’m not sure what to think of the two boys in their class, Akane and Clay. Even though they are in the NOT class, they seem to be working to get into the EAT class. They are working with their teacher Sid to weed out witches which may be hiding at the academy.

And there is definitely one running around. This is more of a subplot to add some action to the otherwise slow-paced slice of life that Soul Eater Not usually is. The girls aren’t actively involved with hunting the witch, but they always seem to be around when the witch is making a move. While this part of the plot hasn’t taken over the story, I hope it stays that way. What I like most about Soul Eater Not is the slice of life stories following the girls around school and interacting with the other characters in their dorm and that they meet in town. As long as the story stays that way, and the witch plot stays in the background, I’ll be happy.

Soul Eater NOT is a better than average title, and while it does have some fan-service-y moments, they aren’t as bad as they could be. The characters are quirky enough to be likeable, but not really memorable. As long as the story stays on the lighter side, it will continue to be a fun title to read and enjoy.

Durarara!! Volume 3-4

After twenty years of searching, Celty, the headless black rider, has at last found her missing head bobbing through the streets of Ikebukuro on someone else’s neck! Though Celty prsues, the girl escapes on the arm of Mikado Ryuugamine, taking refuge in his apartment. Both the legendary rider and Yagiri Pharmaceuticals come bearing down on Mikado and the scarred girl. But when Yagiri crosses the line, the true leader of the Dollars steps forward to take command of the vast network of members at his disposal. though this unobtrusive boy holds a disturbing degree of power in the palm of his hand, Celty is preoccupied by the powers that still control her head. At the end of the day, will her search all have been for naught? Or has she found something even more precious along the way?

DURARARA_3Story by Ryohgo Narita; Art by Akiyo Satorigi; Character Design by Suzuhito Yasuda
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action/Supernatural/Romance
ISBN: 9780316209328; 9780316209335
Price: $12.99
Rating: ★★★★☆

With such a large cast, it’s hard to believe that these last two volumes of Durarara!! could tie everything up easily, but that’s precisely what it does. All of the relationships are resolved (for the moment), and characters’ secrets are revealed. Some are surprising while others aren’t so much.

There are at least three different relationships going on in Durarara!! We really get in the mind of Celty (can’t really say head), as she really starts to consider the ramifications of getting her head back. Fear of death, and her, a Dullahan, being in a relationship with Dr. Shinra, a human, really shake her confidence. Shinra, who is usually just being a jerk, is surprisingly understanding with Celty. He shows some real tenderness and affection for her, but also deserves the punch in the face she gives him. But, in the end, Celty is happy with her situation, and not so obsessed with finding her head. Which might not be such a good thing as well learn late on.

Durarara 4Seiji Yagiri gets what he deserves as the head he believes is his “soul mate” turns out to not be what he expected. He really needed the beat-down that Shizou gave him about it. His “pure love” proved to be nothing more than skin deep, making him easily fooled, and well deserved of the one who now has the face of his “soul mate.” I did enjoy the scene of them together at the end, pretending to like each other, but each still having their own agendas. Perhaps he really did find his soul mate. Even Mikado got a start on his relationship with Sonohara. They had the typical “too shy to admit their feelings” relationship throughout the series, but by the end, Mikado finally got up the courage to ask her out, but not before kicking Masaomi for trying to horn in on her first.

Most of the mysteries presented in the series were resolved by the end. Who started the Dollars and why is revealed, and its leader was a complete surprise to me. I was also surprised by Shizuo. I started out not really caring for him, but his actions in these last two volumes really warmed him up to me. His archenemy Orihara wasn’t so surprising his motives. He’s always seemed to be a dark character, but his true ambitions aren’t revealed until the end. They are quite grand, and involve Celty’s head. His theory about Dullahans is interesting, but his intend working from that theory isn’t good for Ikebukuro or its inhabitants.

While Durarara!! started out slow for me, I ended up really enjoying the series. What really helped is how the characters were developed over the four volumes, and became either people I liked or who got what they deserved. Durarara!! is based on a series of light novels, and I would love to see more manga adventures with these characters. There are 11 novels to pull from, and the manga ends really feeling like that could be more. And Yen Press has answered my unspoken prayer as Durarara!! Saika Arc is scheduled to begin in March. I can’t wait now! Durarara!! turned out to be a fun ride that is definitely worth reading, and might be worth keeping.