Antique Bakery Volumes 1-4

Fumi Yoshinaga is a mangaka that I’ve heard a lot about but didn’t have a lot of opportunity to read her non-BL work. When the opportunity did present itself, I decided to take the chance and started with this short series.

By Fumi Yoshinaga
Publsiher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★½
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Antique Bakery is a slice of life story that follows the lives and relationships of the four men who work in a bakery called Antique. Keisuke Tachibana is the owner. He’s a success in every career he tries, except he can’t keep a girlfriend. Yusuke Ono is the pâtissier and a former classmate of Tachibana. He is gay,and is cursed with a “Demonic Charm” that can make any man, straight or gay, fall for him. Except Tachibana. Eiji Kanada is Ono’s assistant and student. He’s a former delinquent and boxer with a sweet tooth. Chikage Kobayaka is a waiter and childhood friend of Tachibana. He’s clumsy, and not very bright. Tachibana has to look after him. Over the four volumes, we see glimpses of not only their present lives, but also flashback of their past, showing how they became who they are now, as well as how they change by working at Antique.

One of the strengths of this series is the interaction between the characters. Even though they are all co-workers, and Tachibana is the boss, there’s a real bond of friendship between them. They can bicker with each other, as Tachibana and Eiji often do, with Eiji calling Tachibana “old man” (he’s only 32), but it rarely escalates beyond that. Tachibana is constantly complaining about the lack of respect he gets, and how difficult it to run the business, but he still shows he cares as both an employer and a friend. Ono is set in the role of peacemaker, always trying to keep Eiji and Tachibana calm and from getting into any more verbal fights. Everyone has to help Chikage because he is so clueless about everything. He doesn’t even realize that Ono is attracted to him. It’s fun to watch these characters. Each has an interesting back story in their own right, but bringing them together and seeing them interact is really entertaining.

Another strength of this series was seeing the characters grow. From volume 1 to volume 4, all of the characters slowly change and develop further into slightly different people. A couple even find some closure to issues that affected them deeply. Ono is able to not only get over his paralyzing fear of women, but he’s able to go home and face his family, and mother. Tachibana helps a boy who was kidnapped in a similar manner as he was when he was 5. Even though he is unable to face (or remember) his own kidnapper, helping the boy helps him move on. Eiji grows both as a pâtissier and as a person, and by the end is able to go off on his own some. Even Chikage makes a try of living on his own. It was very satisfying to see these characters develop and move on. Most shojo and shonen doesn’t do this.

The only thing I didn’t care for, and this is a personal thing only, was all the long and detailed descriptions of the pastries served at the bakery. I’m not interested in knowing what’s in a cake or pastry. It’s really boring to me, and I often just skimmed over the descriptions. I just don’t see this title being about the food, but about the characters. The bakery is just the reason to bring them together, not to expound the greatness of some pastry.

The art is wonderful to look at. All of the men are bishonen, but varied not only between each other, but also between their professional and personal lives. Ono the pâtissier looks very different from Ono the playboy. And Tachibana and his facial stubble is just plain funny. No one seems able to recognize him with it. Yoshinaga’s drawing is delicate, with fine lines and very detailed, something I think you could truly call art.

Ultimately, Antique Bakery hits all the right buttons for a good relaxing read. It’s a bit like it’s subject. It’s fun to read, but you wouldn’t want to gobble it down. It’s satisfying from the first bite, but it’s something to savored rather than shoveled in and looking for seconds. If you’re looking for a title with well written characters that develop and grow, definitely check this title out. The story will pull you in and the characters will leave you satisfied, like a good dessert.

Ask Manga Mom: The Raw Edition

Labo asks:

I’ve been wondering for a while now, but you say that you are learning Japanese characters to read more Japanese manga not yet translated for the public audience and I was wondering, that is you achieve that goal exactly how or where would you get the Japanese manga to put your skills to use. Seeing as few internet sites like Jbox.com offer a limited selection that are usually popular series, that have their own animes already.

Well Labo, I’m fortunate to live in an area of the US where I’m 45 minutes more or less to several Japanese bookstores, including, but not limited to, Kinokuniya and used bookstore Book Off. But as you note, their selection will be mostly for newer titles, and used bookstores inventory is always fluctuating. So to find some specific titles, I will have to go online.

There are several online bookstores, the most obvious being Amazon.co.jp, the Japanese arm of Amazon.com. A query of the hive mind that is Twitter got me several other suggestions. Kinokuniya also has an online book store. It has stores in both the US and Japan. The Japanese store probably has a better selection.  BK1 is an online store that sells manga, cds and dvds and is located in Japan.  Yesasia came up as an option as well, as did Yahoo Actions using a proxy, but those can get expensive. I used one once, and that was just to replace a CD that had been stolen from my brother, and I couldn’t get it anywhere else. I wouldn’t recommend those. Ebay can also be a source, but like used bookstores, the selection is hit or miss. beNippon seems to be a new online store that has lots of Japanese manga, though I don’t know anyone who’s tried it.

Another option that will be growing (hopefully) is reading manga online, in Japanese. CDJapan has an e-book rental section that allows you to read manga online, all in Japanese. I think this would be the ideal version for me. I just don’t have room for more manga! They already have quite a selection in all demographics, and even one title I really want to read! And it’s just a $1.00 for 48 hours for 1 volume. Now that’s a deal!

This Week in Manga: 7/3-7/8/10

Anime Expo Con’t

Anime Expo continued on Saturday and Sunday, but there was only one panel the rest of the weekend of interest to manga readers. Viz Media held their panel on Saturday. Most of their news was just reiterations of previously confirmed titles through sightings on Amazon, but they did have some new titles, all from already known and published mangaka here in the US. Deb Aoki has the run down about the panel and new licenses.  She also takes a closer look at DMP’s new titles. Also announced at Viz’s panel was the streaming of a new anime series, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. It’s published in Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan. Any bets on this being a new license to be announced at SDCC? Maybe it will be serialized in Shonen Jump magazine, and there will be something worth reading other than just One Piece! Am I just dreaming now? Probably.

AX’s Manga Evolution

Over at Robot6, Brigid Alverson takes a look at the evolution of manga publishers and their announcements at AX over the last 5-6 years. It’s an interesting bell curve, as you can see publisher attendance and announcements seem to wax and wane with the market. It’s a good history lesson, so go check it out.  I’ll wait.  What would be really interesting is to look at this trend and compare it to manga publishers at San Diego Comic Con. Does SDCC follow the same trend? Or would it show a different kind of graph? I think the announcements line would go up for SDCC, but publishers attending would go down. It takes money to exhibit at SDCC, and not everyone can make it every year.

THE Manga Database

Matt Blind, the Charles Schwab of the manga world, spent the holiday weekend putting together what must the definitive list of manga published in english since 2000. If you followed him on twitter, you would know of his trials of updating the list, and having enough beer. But what he created is truly wonderous. You won’t find a more comprehensive list anywhere else. And, being the generous man that he is, he has made it available for free in several different formats. If you’ve ever wondered just how many titles and/or volumes of manga have been published in english, this where you start. And it will make an AWESOME checklist, for those of us OCD enough to keep one.

Another Home Run for Manga

UK manga blogger Kimi-chan has an endorsement for manga as an aid for getting reluctant readers to pick up a book. Her son is lot like my youngest daughter. She would sit and read the video game manuals, but getting her to read prose books could be a chore. Kimi-chan’s manga of choice was Ninja Baseball Kyuma, an all ages title from Udon Entertainment. If you’re a teacher, librarian or parent, definitely read about her experience with her son and manga. One thing I found rather humorous, was her worrying about her son knowing about baseball. It’s obviously not as popular in the UK as it is in the US and Japan. Is there a cricket manga, do you think?

NYT Best Seller List

And now, on to the 10 manga list. Twilight on top of the Hardback Graphic Books? Check. Naurto #1 on the Manga list? Vol 48 Check! Vampire Knight vol 10 at #2? NO! WHAT?! The #2 spot is held by The Last Airbender, the graphic adaptation of the movie now out in theaters. This is probably better, shorter, and cheaper than the movie. Vampire Knight vol 10 has to settle for #3 with its new best friend Soul Eater vol 3 at #4. Can manga from two different publisher mingle like this? Black Butler vol 2 might have something to say about this as it leaps two to come in at #5. And what’s a butler without a maid? Maid-Sama vol 5 debuts at #6 to use some of that Bleach vol 31 which falls to #7. Proving that not all vampires are angsty is Hellsing vol 10 falls two to # 8, but hanging on for its 5th week. Who says manga is just for kids?! Naruto vol 47 reappears at #9, as does Yen Press’ most impressive butler, Black Butler vol 1, serving #10. Wow. All of Del Rey’s titles from last week got kicked, which in Fairy Tail‘s case is a crime. And speaking of crimes, two repeat offenders are two-timing the list! Can a butler beat a ninja? Stay tuned to find out.

Manga For Your Ears

Spiraken Manga Reviews

This Week at Manga Village

What I’m Reading

  • One Piece vol 41
  • One Piece vol 42
  • Vampire Hunter D vol 4
  • Culdcept vol 1
  • Gestalt vol 6

Shonen Jump August 2010

This month’s Shonen Jump is the thinnest issue I’ve received since the preview issue that came out at San Diego Comic Con back in 2002. 250 is quite a fall from the 400+ pages we were getting just a year ago. And yes, that is a $7.99 price on the picture. That not what showed up on the actual issue, and I think it’s kind of sloppy of Viz to have such a serious typo on the cover.  Anyway, on to the actual magazine.

It starts out with all the usual ads and anime on DVD/Streaming and video game promos. The manga to start out this month’s mag is One Piece. It’s all out war between White Beard’s pirates and the Navy. Luffy makes a grand entrance in his usual way of course. One of the things that makes Oda such a great mangaka, and One Piece a great manga is the way he incorporates back story scenes during a fight. I think his way of doing the flashbacks is what helps make these long fights so tolerable. The flashbacks aren’t long, but they are straight to the point, and make the impact of the outcome of each characters battle more poignant. Even when it’s a character you’ve only just meant, you care about him by the end. One Piece is still awesome.

Not so awesome is Ultimo.Yamato and Eco have a nice little talk as Eco presents his “third” option. It gets a little meta as Eco tries to help Musashi understand Yamato through manga, and Yamato then has a problem getting Ultimo back as Jealousy and his master Tomomitsu shows up. We learn a little more about who Musashi is and where he came from, but that’s about it for this chapter.

Naruto has Danzo and his men fighting Madara with lots of fancy jujitsu from the men that is completely ineffectual. We finally get to see what’s up with Danzo’s right arm, and then Sasuke appears to take on Danze himself. The angst is still running high, between Naruto agonizing over what to do about Sasuke, and Sasuke trying to get all his vengence. I’m ready to move on from the angst. If I were reading this in graphic novels only, I would have dropped it by now.

Bleach isn’t faring much better. The fight between Ichigo and Grimmjow is STILL going on, at least until espada #5, Noitora interrupts, deciding he wants to kill Ichigo now. The we get 2 pages of Renji and Uryu running in a circle and back to the espada they were fighting when Ichigo and Grimmjow’s battle first started. Bleach suffers from the same angst as Naruto it’s really killed the series for me.

Next issue Shaman King returns as a spotlight manga, but there are no new announcements for the magazine. This is the most disappointing issue so far. Viz had better do something. Their Naruto/Yu-Gi-Oh! card giveaways can only keep the magazine going so far. A price drop was announced at Anime Expo of $3.00 to make a year subscription $26.99 and the new title Genkaku Picasso will get a preview in September. But, I’m really hoping for a more permanent title. Kekkaishi might have been a  good addition, since the anime is showing on Cartoon Network right now, and that seems to be a prerequisite to be in the magazine anymore. Though, a new streaming anime they announced, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan does have potential of becoming a new addition. I’ll just have to wait to see what they announce at SDCC in two weeks.

Review: Itazura na Kiss Volume 1

High school senior Kotoko Aihara has had a crush on Naoki Irie since freshman year. Unfortunately, there a few things are discouraging her from to him: he’s a member of “Class A,” the top ranking class in school, whereas she’s in “Class F”; he gets the top score on every exam; and he’s so smart, popular and handsome that he’s been class president every year. When Kotoko finally musters up the courage to present him with a love letter, though, Naoki outright refuses it, telling her point blank–with a look of disgust and boredom—that he doesn’t like “stupid girls.” Poor Kotoko’s worst nightmare! Her heart is broken, but then a change in circumstance forces Naoki and Kotoko to be together every day…!?

By Kaoru Tada
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Age Rating: 13+
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Price: $16.95
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

Itazura na Kiss was originally published in the 1990’s and was very popular. It was never finished, however, due to the untimely death of the mangaka, Kaoru Tada, in an accident in 1999. Initially, I wasn’t going to read this title. But encouragement from other bloggers, particularly on Twitter, piqued my curiosity enough that I decided to give it a try anyway. When I’m reading a title, I can forgive a lot of things, but if I don’t like at least one of the main characters, it just isn’t going to work for me. And that’s the problem I have with this title.

I found nothing likable about either main character Kotoko Aihara and Naoki Irie. Kotoko, the female lead is portrayed as not only not very bright, but as just plain stupid. First, I’ve said many times before that I hate airhead female leads, which does fit Kotoko somewhat. But she showed she could do so much more if she’s instructed properly, as her reaching the top 100 at mid terms showed. She never cared enough to try until Naoki’s rejection, which I also find annoying, but I don’t find characters calling other characters stupid all the time funny. And it does happen constantly throughout this volume from both Naoki and his little brother Yuuki. I really don’t like how mean-spirited it feels. Naoki is no better. He’s obnoxious, rude and colder than the iceberg that sank the Titanic. He seems to enjoy looking down on others and feeling superior. I expect to see this in a rival or comedy relief character, not in the lead I’m supposed to be rooting for the female lead to get together with.

Tada does do a good job of capturing what teenagers are like in high school. Kotoko and her friends from F class are like average high school students. They’d rather go shopping rather than study. They wait until the last-minute to do their school work over summer break. They assume they will be going to college, but they just don’t know what they’ll major in yet. These elements of the story I liked. There aren’t many titles out there that really reflects a teenagers frame of mind. One element that she does capture, that I don’t like, yet is the corner-stone of the series, is that even through Kotoko knows what a complete jerk Naoki is, she still loves him. Her motives are rather shallow, as you’d expect from a teenage crush. She loves him for his looks and abilities, but there doesn’t seem to be anything underneath that is redeeming about him.

The art is very dated. The series was originally drawn in the early nineties, and it shows. But after a few chapters, you get used to it. In a lot of ways, her style reminds me of Rumiko Takahashi’s style, and Urusei Yatsura in particular. There were several scenes with Kotoko and her friends that brought up visions of Lum and Ataru and their friends.

Overall, Itazura na Kiss is an okay series. There are some nice moments with Kotoko and Naoki. Mostly they are when Naoki is forced to help Kotoko, through blackmail, to get through midterms and help most of F class get through finals through sheer numbers. Naoki really does help everyone out, even if it is done begrudgingly. Classic or not, this just isn’t a series for me. Unlikable leads keep me from really enjoying the series.

The Gangly Gallifreyan

Every series there is an episode where either the Doctor or companion isn’t featured much because they are needed for filming elsewhere. Multiple episodes are filmed at the same time and this usually happens near the end of the series. This 11th episode, “The Lodger” seems to be this series’ Doctor heavy/Amy light episode. The Doctor gets tossed from the TARDIS, leaving Amy alone to try to fly it while the Doctor tries to figure out what on Earth (literally) is keeping the TARDIS materializing fully. Meanwhile, ordinary human Craig Owens is trying to tell his female friend, not girlfriend yet, how he feels about her so they can reach that next step. He’s got an ugly stain on his ceiling from the flat upstairs and is looking for a roommate. While the neighbor upstairs keeps luring passersby up to never be seen again, the Doctor comes knocking to be Owens’ new roomie.

This episode is basically just fluff, but it’s good fluff. It was originally a comic story written for Doctor Who Monthly, that was reworked to be a TV episode. The Doctor figures he can find and solve the problem, as long as he can pretend to be human. His first real test comes fast. Craig’s pub’s football (soccer) team is down a player, and they need someone to stand in. The Doctor volunteers immediately, as playing football is one of the things Amy told him human guys do. While first feigning knowledge the game, he turns out to be a great player. This isn’t just acting on Matt Smith’s part. He is actually an excellent football player, and was nearly scouted when he was younger. It was really cool of the writers to work this skill of Smith’s in, and it worked out so well in the episode. Watching Smith play and really enjoy the himself doing it really made a difference in the enjoyment of the episode.   You were almost cheering the Doctor on, and laughing as she stole Craig’s kick, as he was having so much fun.

Another really funny moment is when Craig discovers the scanner the Doctor has built-in his room. When he goes to confront him, Craig finds the Doctor talking to a cat. He shares a psychic connection with the cat, because, like bow ties, cats are cool. When Craig then tries to kick the Doctor out, the only way he can think to do to explain is to psychically reveal the truth to Craig. With a head butt. That whole scene was just TOO FUNNY. It’s so worth watching the episode just for that scene!

This episode also shows the Doctor playing matchmaker. He seems to enjoy this, meddling in other people’s lives, but then, meddling is what he does best. While still working on what is keeping the TARDIS from materializing, he definitely meddles in Craig’s life. He tells Craig’s “friend” Sophie that she can do anything. He does Craig’s job better than him. He just generally drives Craig nuts! But in the end, he gets both Craig and Sophie to finally express their feelings, which also helps with stopping the problem. I really enjoy these moments of happiness when they come up. It’s one of my few “chick” vices.

Overall, this was a really fun episode, and good pick-me-up after the slightly depressing “Vincent and the Doctor”. It also starts the set up for the final two episodes of the series. The crack does make an appearance. But of much greater significance, Amy finds her engagement ring from Rory in the Doctor’s jacket pocket, while searching for a pen. You can almost see the wheels of memory turning in her head as she stares at it. She knows it should mean something. The big question is, will she remember?

Images © BBC

This Week In Manga: 6/26-7/02/10

From Aurora’s Ashes

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the people behind the company have banded together to create a new manga publisher. Calling themselves Manga Factory, former staffers from Aurora have created a new independent company instead of being a subsidiary of a Japanese company, as Aurora was. They have already announced one title, Teen Apocolypse: Guilstein for the Kindle and promises to do more electronic books in the same genre’s as Aurora; shojo, fantasy, josei and yaoi. This seems to tell me that Aurora wasn’t doing too bad, but maybe they just weren’t doing good enough to please the exec back in Japan. For these former employees to come together and create their own company, in this economic environment must mean they seen a reason to keep plugging at it. I look forward to see what they offer, especially in the digital format.

Tokyopop + Zinio = ??

Tokyopop has been a pioneer of digital manga. They were the first to put their OEL manga on an e-reader, they feature sample chapters of new manga, and whole volumes on their website, and now they are teaming up with digital magazine and book publisher Zinio to make their OEL manga available for download for both PCs and Macs. Jenkei of the Apurikotto Waffle blog took the Tokyopop manga on Zinio for a test drive. She does a very thorough review of the features and ease of use. If you are thinking about checking out Zinio, read her review first. I like that Tokyopop is stretching out and looking at more ways to get their titles out digitally, I just wish they would stop with going with so much of the proprietary formats. That isn’t going to be the way to success in the digital world. Didn’t work for music, so why does anyone think it will work for books, a format that is more highly traded in the analog world than music ever was?

The Recon is Over

More bad news hits the manga world, though this time it affects the mangasphere directly. Manga Recon, one of the blogs at Popcultureshock is being shut down along with the rest of the site. The current reviewers hold a roundtable to say their farewells and share their memories of the site. Manga Recon was one of the first review sites I started reading regularly, before I started writing my own. I met Kate Dacey through the Tokyopop site, but remember her starting as the editor for Manga Recon. I even got a manga from her, Samurai Commando, for suggesting ideas for columns. It’s been bad enough to be hit with all the news lately of publishers struggling, but it’s worse when it’s people you’ve come to know and read regularly. But it’s not all bad news, as many of the reviewers have their own blogs and/or other columns where they will continue to write and review. I still wish them all the best of luck. It was fun while it lasted.

Rational Response to Irrational Request

Found via Twitter. Usually, a new article about some crazy mom starting up a petition and going to the city council to get manga removed from the public library will raise my hackles. But this news article from Crestview, Florida shows that there are rational people out there to face off against the irrational.  Basically, a mother blames a manga that her son took (not checked out) from the adult section of the local public library for his mental illness. The article doesn’t go into specifics about the boy’s condition, or even mention which title is in question. Instead it shows how both the city council and public library dealt with the irrational claim. Brigid Alverson has more details at Robot 6, but I think it’s refreshing to see a calm and sensible response, especially from local politicians. It’s usually everyone takes the allegations very seriously, and promises to get the bottom of it. Instead, in Crestview, a city councilman goes to the library and looks at their selection and how adult are handled as opposed to the YA, and finds no problem. Instead of going for the manga defense, she should be looking in her own home, or even the mirror for the source of her son’s problems.

Anime Expo Begins

Anime Expo started on Thursday, and while it’s a con devoted to Anime, some of the manga publishers make an appearance here. On Thursday, DMP held a panel and announced 10 new titles over their three lines. They also announced a new, original manga for the online site emanga drawn by Nao Yazawa, the creator of Wedding Peach. Lissa at Kuriousity has more information, color-coded by imprint and with covers of DMP’s licenses. I like the expansion of the Hideyuki Kikuchi library. His horror manga are titles I’m coming to enjoy. Don’t know about novels yet.

Friday, Tokyopop took the stage and announced 4 new titles, 2 new Blu titles, and a OEL based on a film by Joss Whedon. Tokyopop is doing something unusual. They don’t have a booth in the exhibit hall. Instead, they have a bus parked outside as part of their search for “America’s Greatest Otaku.” It’ll be interesting to hear how it worked out, especially from the fans.

Since this is an anime con, the manga news will be light, but watch the anime licenses. They can be clues of what publishers have working in the wings, and are waiting to announce as SDCC and NYAF.

NYT Best Seller List

Viz loses some of its dominance on the list this week, going from 5 to 4, though they still keep a tight rein on the top 5. First, Twilight reaches its 15th week on the Hardback list, most of which it spent at #1, where it still rests. Over on the manga list, Naruto vol 48 remains at #1, followed by it best vampire friend, Vampire Knight vol 10 at #2. Soul Eater vol 3 holds at #3 for second week in a row as does Bleach vol 31 at #4.  The first change to the list is also a debut, with Fairy Tail vol 11, a woefully underrated manga materializing at #5, which pushes back Hellsing vol 10 to #6. Black Butler vol 2 moves back on to #7 and the only other debut on the list, Ninja Girls vol 3 comes in at #8. Yu-Gi-Oh! R vol 5 falls back two to #9, while Alice in the Country of Hearts vol 3 holds on to #10. Good shows for Del Rey with had the only debuts on the list. Otherwise there wasn’t much change, not even in position. Dark Horse is doing really well with its last volume of Hellsing. Too bad it is the last.

Manga For Your Ears

Manga Out Loud

Sesho’s Anime and Manga Reviews

Spiraken Manga Review

This Week at Manga Village

What I’m reading

  • Children of the Sea vol 3
  • Twin Spica vol 2
  • Shonen Jump  Aug 2010
  • One Piece vol 40

Japanese Journal: Mastering Hiragana & Katakana

RL kept me busy in May, so it wasn’t until this month that I got back to my studies on Smart.fm. I’ve settled into a schedule now of taking two lunches a week (that 1 1/2 hours a week) to continue my studies. Considering my RL schedule, this is the best that I can do at the moment, and it’s actually working out for me!

I started with Smart.fm’s Master Hiragana program. I was still studying hiragana when I started, but as of last Friday, I had all 104 hiragana studied, and had mastered 84. The program takes you through the symbol pretty thoroughly, making sure you can recognize them both in Japanese, and romanized. It uses multiple choice, and times how long it takes you to choose the right character. It also does a spelling quiz by showing you the symbol and then you have to type the correct letters. Any mistakes takes you back to the study screen. And as you get closer to completing all the characters, it starts stretching out the amount of time before you can study again. After I hit 84 last Friday, it stopped letting me study and test, and told me to come back next Friday. So I’m now 40 hours and counting to completing my first goal!

Well, since my lunch hour wasn’t over at the time, I started up the Master Katakana. I was going to work on it anyway. After only about an hour of working on it, I’m at 59 characters studied. I can keep going on this goal, since I’m still studying. Also recently added to help with the studying are two programs, Drill Beta and Brain Speed. Drill Beta is just is just want it sound like. It drills you on characters you’ve studied, and adapts to you to improving learning. Brain Speed is like an arcade game. I do okay on this, until it starts to speed up. I get flustered easily and lose more because of hitting the wrong key and not knowing the answer. This is why I don’t do well with a lot of video games.

I’ve also already decided what my next goal will be after I’ve mastered Hiragana and Katakana. I will be moving on to vocabulary with Core2000: Master the Top 2,000 Words in Japanese. I anticipate this goal will take a little longer than Hiragana and Katakana. There are 10 separate, smaller goals that make up the full Core2000. Mastering these words and making sentences will hopefully get me closer to my goal of reading Japanese. One of the things I really like about this program, is that I can see the progress I’m making, and I can feel I’m actually accomplishing something, even if the rest of my day doesn’t seem that way.

Review: Tena on S-String Volume 2

For all Kyousuke’s resistance to Tena and her bossy ways, he seems to have settled in quite nicely to being a sort of househusband to her and the other tuners. But while Mezzo and Sopra have agreed not to collect Kyousuke’s viral notes, there’s no telling what might happen if he meets yet another tuner! So when Kyousuke runs into Arun, an elite tuner at the top of her class, could this spell the end of his musical aspirations…and his life?!

by Sesuna Mikabe
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Fantasy/Romantic Comedy
Price: $10.99
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy This Book

I love stories that relate to music in some way, but hate stories with obnoxious, bossy female leads, so I picked up Tena on S-String with guarded curiosity. I was very intrigued by the idea of tuners and seeing the music of others, but Tena is a complete turn off, and practically ruins every scene that she is in.

The protagonist of this story is Tena, an obnoxious, haughty, pushy, violent girl with no social graces. This is the character we as readers are supposed to want to read about and follow through a potentially long series? Sorry, I don’t think so. These kinds of female leads make me want to just put the book down and move on to something else. There is absolutely nothing to like about her, and I would certainly hope no one would want to be like her! She pushes Kyousuke around like a servant, which I think is supposed to be funny, but it really isn’t. She’s supposed to be a great tuner, but we don’t see her doing it. All she does through this volume is berate Kyousuke, go shopping and eat. And since she’s the lead, she’s of course falling for Kyousuke, but her pride won’t even let her be nice to him once, let alone think such a think might be possible. I couldn’t stand Tena in any of the panels she was in, and just grew to dislike her with every turning page.

Kyousuke, the male lead, isn’t as bad. He has aspirations to become a composer. But he’s surrounded by these viral notes, that if any other tuner discovered were around him, they would try to take away his freedom, or even his life to retrieve them. Tena and her fellow tuners Mezzo and Sopra help him hide from other tuners. Kyousuke is a nice guy, and good with household chores, but he’s pretty clueless when it comes to women. He doesn’t know how to talk to them in general. And he doesn’t notice Tena’s growing feelings for him, which only makes things worse for him.

But get the to parts where there’s no Tena, and this title is actually pretty decent. All of the scenes where Kyousuke is with Arun, at the theater and sightseeing were fun to read. Even though Kyousuke is Japanese and Arun is French, they can still communicate through the language of music, which in this case is French. I really liked Arun and the scheduled life she leads. Everything neat and orderly, every moment of her day is set in advance, and she keeps to the schedule like clockwork. Until she meets Kyousuke. Their time together starts to change her. I want to see more of her and Kyousuke together.

All of the mysterious talk of the “grand play” performance and finale is intriguing too. Even though it didn’t get a lot of mention in the volume until the end, I found myself growing interested in finding out more about what this “great play” is, and how it relates to Kyousuke. This part of the story has the greatest potential. If the title could concentrate on it and drop Tena completely, it would be a story a I would be much more interested in reading.

The art is fairly standard for a romantic comedy. A lot of attention is given to Tena and her constantly changing wardrobe. Clothes are what she spends the majority of the volume shopping for, since she just can’t wear the same thing twice! The character designs are all similar too, especially with the girls, but there are enough differences in dress and temperament to be able to tell them apart.

Overall, Tena on S-String is well done, as long as you like titles where the female lead abuses the male lead. Definitely check this title out, you won’t be disappointed. If not, borrow or trade for it and just read the non-Tena parts, which is about half of this volume. It’s still worth it for all those other parts.

Sunflowers and a Starry Night

[Contains Spoilers]

In the 10th episode of series 5,”Vincent and the Doctor”, the Doctor has been taking Amy where ever she wants to go, to basically make up for the last episode (even though she doesn’t remember). One of those things is to see an exhibit of the work of Vincent Van Gogh at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. While looking at the paintings, the Doctor notices in one of them, a painting of a church, there is a scary face looking out the window at them. The Doctor then interrupts a curator, Dr. Black, who is talking about the paintings, and asks, after complimenting him on his bow tie, when the church painting was painted. He then whisks Amy off to find Vincent Van Gogh and find out what’s going on.

On the whole, this was a much better episode than the last  4 or so, in both the writing and the acting. This episode featured another famous person, but unlike other “famous people” episodes, it really focus’ on his life and work, and not on the monster that inevitably shows up. While Van Gogh is a well-known and acclaimed painter now, he wasn’t during his lifetime. This episode really shows how unappreciated he was as a painter and as a person. He couldn’t trade a painting for a bottle of wine, and his whole body of work wasn’t worth more than the cost of a some furniture at his death. Even Van Gogh himself didn’t see the worth of his work, as he causally puts a cup of coffee on one and paints over another when the Doctor asks for a drawing of the invisible Krafayis. It was funny to see the Doctor’s and Amy’s reactions to Van Gogh’s carelessness with his work. In the village, he is not only laughed at, he is also cursed at, and blamed for the strange deaths that are happening there. It also explores the motivations of Van Gogh himself. How he saw the world differently, sees beyond the normal eye, and that he can hear color speak to him. This part of the story was very engaging in both writing and acting.

The other half of the story, with the Krafayis, the entire reason for the Doctor and Amy to be there, feels like it was forcibly wrenched into the story.  It’s more like an afterthought. There aren’t a lot of scenes with the monster, mainly at the beginning when it is first introduced, and at the end with the fight at the church. The race is described by the Doctor as a brutal one, and that this one left behind will kill without mercy until killed. But when they finally face off against it, the Doctor realizes the creature is blind, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so villainous. That revelation really took the wind out of the sails of the fight. It became more of a mercy killing that a battle to save the village. But then, the monster really wasn’t the point of the episode.

At the end of the BBC broadcast of this episode, a message came up for the BBC action line for anyone who wanted more information on the issues brought up the program. That made my husband and I go “Huh?” The Confidential better explained it. This episode had a lot of references to Van Gogh’s depression and suicide. One of the scenes in the episode showed one of his depressed episodes, and his suicide is mentioned twice. What I was really impressed about this episode, is that the theme of depression wasn’t pounded into the audience’s head. This didn’t have “very special episode” feel to it. It was just excellently written, and acted. The actor who portrayed Vincent, Tony Curran, not only did a fantastic job portraying Van Gogh, he really did look like him! That’s his real beard and mustache that he grew for the part. The writer, Richard Curtis, did a lot of research into Van Gogh, and went to Steven Moffat with the episode idea. This might explain why the monster part didn’t fit as well.

But the best scene of the episode, and one of the most memorable of the season, is at the end. The Doctor decides to give Van Gogh a gift before leaving, and takes him to the future, to the Musee d’Orlay, to the exhibit that the Doctor were at the beginning of the episode. He then asks Dr. Black what he thinks of Van Gogh’s work. Dr. Black then goes into a whole explanation of how the thinks Van Gogh was not just one of the greatest painters, but one of the greatest men of all time, all without knowing that Van Gogh himself is standing right behind him, listening. Van Gogh is truly grateful to the Doctor for his kindness, and Amy thinks their act will have changed Van Gogh, and that there will be more works by him at the museum. But a return to the present shows nothing has changed. Minor things have, such as the face in the church is gone, and now the painting of Sunflowers is dedicated to Amy, but knowing what the future will think of his work couldn’t keep Van Gogh from killing himself.

This was an excellent character driven story, which was a good reprieve after all the plot driven/crack in time/doom and gloom stories we’ve had recently. Even though it isn’t a completely happy ending, it’s not a surprise either. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker, but not in a cheap way.

Images © BBC

This Week in Manga: 6/19-6/25/10

TWiM

Movable MANHWA Feast

This week started the June edition of the Movable Manga Feast, with one slight change. The manga is actually a manhwa, or Korean comic. The title chosen was The Color of… Trilogy. These three books are about a young girl growing up in turn of the century Korea. This edition’s host is Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf. This Feast has turned out to be different, and not just because the books are from Korea. There were a lot more unfavorable reviews this time compared to other feasts. Most participants had more things they didn’t like about the trilogy than did, and were more than happy to express them. Some of the conversations spilled over onto Twitter. While I had my own problems with the trilogy, I just didn’t see the sexism that many other bloggers did. At least, not in the way that they did. Many had strong feelings about the books, but I didn’t. I didn’t see anything to really get worked up about. And even though the book is about the daughter, I found myself relating more to the mother. But that’s probably because I’m a mother of 2 daughters myself. If you haven’t checked out a MMF, this is one you definitely should. It’s a very diverse range of opinions, well worth checking out.

The Games Aggegators Play

It seemed the like good guys had won. After the formation of the manga publishers coalition, scan aggregator sites seemed to be taking down licensed titles. On popular sites Onemanga and Mangafox, titles such as Naruto and Bleach were gone from the front page, but were they really gone from the site? Deb Aoki looked into it off of a tip from UK Blogger Kimi-chan and found that not only was manga not being taken off the site, a savvy user could find these titles and still read them. Not cool. As Deb’s article goes on, it’s not just translated scans that are still going up, it’s also complete scans of the english published books that are going up on these sites. While I think one can argue that scanlations of unlicensed manga can exit as a grey area, putting up straight scans of not just licensed works, but works that were created in english (OEL) IS wrong. And it seems to be the fans who are responsible for a lot of these works appearing on the site, as Kimi-chan again reveals. This isn’t going to be an easy battle.

Another Manga Publisher Blasted?

Lissa Pattillo of Kuri-ousity picked up the “indefinite” removal of three manga titles by publisher Media Blasters from online retailers. The titles are two BL, and Akihabara@Deep. Lissa also notes the distinct lack of information from the publisher, and these are two signs that in the past have spelled doom for a publisher. Media Blasters isn’t exclusively a manga publisher, and they don’t have a lot of books, but the ones they did license ran the gambit of genres. If it’s a sales issue, maybe part of their problem is similar to CMX’s. You gotta get the books into stores. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a Media Blasters title in any Barnes and Noble or Borders I’ve visited. That’ can’t be good for sales. What’s really sad, it that the Akihabara@Deep volume, #6, is the final volume in the series. Not only might we lose another publisher, but it’ll be another title left unfinished.

Beginnings and Endings

From Japan: Two manga currently licensed here will be ending their runs in Japan. Ouran High School Host Club, a popular shojo manga here will be starting its “final arc” in the July issue of Lala. Of course, that could mean another 2-3 volumes before the series ends. But we do know now that it will end. House of Five Leaves, which is published in Ikki will be ending its run in July, setting the volume count at 9. Viz publishers both of these titles. House of Five Leaves can be read at their Sigikki site, though the first volume has been delayed and will be released in September. On this side of the Pacific, Del Rey has announced 2 more “Odd” Thomas adaptations. The first volume got mixed reviews, but they must has sold well enough for Del Rey to commission two more.

NYT Best Sellers List

There’s still some variety on the list this week. Viz still holds 5 of the 10 spots, but some of the other publishers are still hanging on, and that’s a good sign! First, Twilight is still at the top of the Hardback list. Yen Press must be thrilled with this one. In manga, Naruto vol 48 holds the top spot again at #1, and is still followed by Vampire Knight vol 10 at #2. Soul Eater vol 3 from Yen Press debuts at #3, pushing Bleach vol 31 back to #4. Hellsing vol 10 and Black Butler vol 2 both take a step back to spots #5 and #6, with Yu-Gi-Oh! R vol 5 staying with them at #7. Negima! Magister Negi Magi vol 26 gets a third week in a row on the list, and a second week at #8. Naruto vol 47 holds on to the #9 spot while Alice in the Country of Hearts vol 3 falls 2 to #10. Yen Press has the only new entry to the list this week, and is the only publisher to have more than one title, other than Viz of course. I’m happy to see Hellsing sticking around. Guess a lot of people wanted to read the end.

Manga For Your Ears

Manga Out Loud

Spiraken Manga Review

This Week at Manga Village

What I’ve Read

  • One Fine Day vol 2
  • 20th Century Boys vol 9
  • Time and Again vol 2-3

Manhwa Movable Feast: The Color Of… Trilogy

The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven are the three books that make up this trilogy. The story is about two women, Ehwa, and her early widowed mother. The series follows Ehwa from age 7, when she first starts to realize her gender, through her growing sense of sexuality and first crushes, to her falling in love and getting married at age 18. Parallel to Ehwa’s story is her mother’s, who after 3 years of being alone, has her own feelings reawakened by the arrival of a traveling pictographer.

Color of Earth (2)The Color of… Trilogy
By Kim Dong Hwa
Publisher: First Second
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $16.95/ea
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Buy These Books

The story is set in Turn-of-the-Century Korea, in the countryside. It is a time and place where most of the men are farmers and are valued more than women. A very chauvinistic attitude prevails throughout most of the series, which both Ehwa and her mother must endure. Ehwa is first introduced to this by the boys she see’s having a peeing contest, and who tell her that anyone who doesn’t have a gachoo (penis), is deformed. Ehwa’s mother has to deal with it more overtly, as she learns that the villagers think she sleeps around , and has to endure a lot of harassment as a single woman inn-keeper. But Ehwa’s mother holds her own pretty well with the men, and isn’t afraid to let them know when they’ve crossed a line.

Women of this time are also forced into arranged marriages, often sold off for money and land. Ehwa’s mother doesn’t agree with this though, and fights to save her daughter from it, refusing offers of money and land from Master Chou, an old, but well-off land owner. She encourages Ehwa to find a man that she loves, even as she herself finds her own in the traveling pictographer.

Color of WaterAn interesting aspect of this title was the relationship between Ehwa and her mother. They seemed more like sisters than mother and daughter. Ehwa’s mother shared a lot of her feelings with her daughter, leading to conversations that sounded more like competing sisters, especially as Ehwa matured and understood her mother’s feelings. This relationship does lead to some conflict between the two, though not seriously. Ehwa puts down the Picture Man to her mother after meeting Duksam, in a way that sisters arguing over who has the better looking boyfriend might. It’s obvious she likes the Picture Man, and wants her mother to be happy with him, but she just can’t help putting her own just a that mush higher. I think this relationship made Ehwa and her mother’s interactions more interesting, and gives Ehwa a more independent attitude, to the point that she contemplates going out on her own to find Duksam, something unheard of at the turn of the 20th century, in either Korea or America.

Nature is used a lot as metaphor in this series. Flowers are used to represent feelings, especially for women, and insects represent people. Ehwa expresses her first crushes on Chung-Myong and Master Sunoo with Tiger Lilies. For her mother, it is the gourd flower, that only blooms at night, and represents her longing for the Picture Man. Throughout the volumes, flowers are used to represent some emotion that a woman feels or expresses her lot in life. While I like the language of flowers, its use in this series went a little too far, diluting the meanings, and at some points becoming downright sappy. The use of flowers at the end of Heaven for the consummation scene between Ehwa and Duksam got especially tiring.

Color of HeavenThe use of insects wasn’t quite as overused, but it definitely got the point across. Earth starts with two boys comparing Ehwa’s mother with a beetle, in that she will sleep with anyone. Butterflies are used most often though, to go with the flower analogies. Ehwa favors the Fire Butterfly through the last two volumes. Like a moth, it is drawn to flames and will die in them. That is the kind of man Ehwa wants, one that will stay in her flame and not dance from flower to flower. I found this expression of monogamy more interesting than the Mountain Butterfly that mates for life.

Sexual maturity also plays a big role in this series, as part of Ehwa’s growing up. She learns most of this from her friend Bongsoon, who is quite promiscuous. The author is very upfront about things such as sex and masturbation, but I think he does it in a realistic way. Much of Ehwa’s “education” of these things comes in conversations between her and Bongsoon in way one could easily imagine happening. I find it refreshing to see it handled in a straightforward manner and as just another part of growing up. There’s already enough metaphor in this book.

Overall, I liked reading The Color Of… Trilogy. It’s an interesting coming of age story with characters and relationships that develop over the three volumes. But it’s not a series I would re-read. The heavy use of dialog and flowery language (no pun intended) was somewhat off-putting, and tedious to get through at times. I felt like I was back in 12th grade reading The Good Earth as an assignment. I read for entertainment, not to feel I’ll be tested on it later. I would recommend it be read at least one though. Young adults, both male and female, could get something useful from this series.

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