My Week in Manga: January 12-January 18, 2015

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews at Experiments in Manga last week. The first review was of Manazuru, Hiromi Kawakami’s first novel to be translated into English. It’s a slightly surreal but moving work about memory, loss, letting go, and moving on. I had previously read and enjoyed some of Kawakami’s short stories, but Manazuru is her first long-form work that I’ve read. The other review posted last week was a part of my monthly horror manga review project. In December I took a look at took a look at Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 1, but this month I started digging into Yuki Urushibara’s award-winning Mushishi, which happens to be one of my favorite manga series. (Next month will be After School Nightmare‘s turn once again, and I’ll continue to alternate between the series.)

On to other interesting news and reading! Sparkler Monthly has a new subscription model for the new year, which means even more of its content is now free. (But if you like what you see, please consider becoming a member!) Kodansha Comics announced several new licenses, including a new series from Blade of the Immortal‘s Hiroaki Samura among other intriguing manga. Amazon leaked Vertical Comics’ most recent acquisition announcement, Hajime Segawa’s Tokyo ESP. And speaking of Vertical, here’s a list of Vertical manga that may be going out of print in the near future. And completely unrelated, Gayumbos has an interview with Kazuhide Ichikawa, one of the creators featured in Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It.

Finally, I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to the Female Goth Mangaka Carnival which is currently under way and will continue through the end of January. Hosted by the The Beautiful World, which previously hosted the Kaori Yuki Manga Moveable Feast, the Carnival is focusing on Fujiwara Kaoru, Kusumoto Maki, Mitsukazu Mihara, Junko Mizuno, Asumiko Nakamura and their works. I have a few things in mind for the Carnival, including a spotlight on Mitsukazu Mihara, a manga giveaway that ties into the Carnival, and a review of Asumiko Nakamura’s Utsubora. Assuming all goes according to plan, my Carnival posts should start showing up by Friday.

Quick Takes

Ani-Imo, Volume 1Ani-Imo, Volume 1 by Haruko Kurumatani. I often enjoy body-swap manga, but I was somewhat wary of Ani-Imo. I’ll admit, the first volume actually wasn’t as terrible as I anticipated it would be. There were even parts of it that I legitimately liked. Still, overall I really can’t say that I enjoyed the manga. There’s a lot about Ani-Imo that frankly makes me uncomfortable. I’m actually not bothered by the potential incest itself (although the manga’s excuse that makes it not really incest seems awfully convenient and not particularly believable). However, I intensely disliked the doctor in the manga. He comes across as extremely predatory and unfortunately his bisexuality is used to emphasize that point. Also, the young women in the series, despite being high schoolers, look more like elementary grade students, which makes the sexual overtones of Ani-Imo even harder to take. Some of the manga’s creepiness I’m sure is intentional, but since the series seems to be trying to be a comedy. The balance of the series’ tone doesn’t seem quite right and the manga ends up being a bit off-putting.

Manga Dogs, Volume 2Manga Dogs, Volume 2 by Ema Toyama. Since Manga Dogs is more of a gag manga than anything else, there isn’t really much of a driving plot to the series. Instead there’s the initial setup (a high school with a new, but abysmally supported manga program) and the introduction of the main players (Tezuka and the three classmates who have attached themselves to her, as well as a small handful of supporting cast members) which serve as the starting point for all of the hijinks in the series. I’m not really sure where Manga Dogs is heading, or even if it is heading anywhere, but I do find it amusing. Granted, much of the humor depends on a reader having a deeper interest in and understanding of manga and its creation than the casual fan might generally possess. The other major source of the series’ comedy are the goofball antics of Tezuka’s enthusiastic yet delusional devotees—Specs, Prince, and Dream Kid. But, surprisingly enough, although they’re usually air-headed idiots, every once in a while the three of them actually do exhibit some common sense.

Witchcraft Works, Volume 1Witchcraft Works, Volumes 1-2 by Ryu Mizunagi. Witches seem to be showing up in anime and manga more and more often these days, but I don’t have a particular interest in them. I almost passed over Witchcraft Works because of that. But since it’s a manga being released by Vertical Comics, I was a little more inclined to check it out. That and I generally liked the artwork; the cover in particular is striking, but the interior art looks great, too (even if some of the character designs tend to be absurdly buxom). So far, Witchcraft Works is a delightfully strange and quirky manga, it’s ridiculousness and weirdness making it a lot of fun. I’m especially enjoying the reversals in the usual gender roles—Honoka, the male lead, is the one who needs saving and protecting while Ayaka, the female lead, is the strong and stoic hero. (I also love that she’s at least a head taller than him.) Ayaka is an incredibly powerful fire witch which means many of the action sequences are done and over with before they’ve really had the chance to begin, but at least she puts an end to things with flair. And often literally with flare.

TaishoBaseballGirlsTaisho Baseball Girls directed by Takashi Ikehata. Although I’ve discovered that I generally enjoy sports anime, I was particularly interested in Taisho Baseball Girls because of its historical setting. Not many series take place during the Taisho era, a time period in which Japan was becoming increasingly Westernized and there was some societal anxiety caused by that. Although the twelve-episode anime is based on an ongoing series of light novels written by Atsushi Kagurazaka, it tells a complete and very satisfying story. A group of nine high school girls band together to form a baseball team in order to challenge an all-boys team and prove that women’s place in the world shouldn’t be and isn’t limited to the household. The problem is that very few of the girls actually have any experience playing baseball. Taisho Baseball Girls is a charming and heartwarming series without being overly sentimental. Some of the girls’ family members, friends, and teachers oppose what they’re doing and their unladylike behavior while others are incredibly supportive of them and their hard work.

My Week in Manga: December 29, 2014-January 4, 2015

My News and Reviews

Happy New Year, everyone! Things are already off to a good start at Experiments in Manga. The last manga giveaway of 2014 is currently underway and there’s still time to enter for a chance to win No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, Volume 1 by Nico Tanigawa. All you have to do is tell me a little about some of your favorite otaku. The honor of the first in-depth manga review of the year, and in fact the very first post of 2015, goes to Hiroaki Samura’s Vigilance, the thirtieth and penultimate volume of Blade of the Immortal. I still love the series after all this time, and this installment has some particularly nice fight sequences. Finally, December’s Bookshelf Overload was posted over the weekend as well.

There were a few interesting things from Vertical this week, including a roundup of the happenings of 2014 and what fans can look forward to from the publisher in 2015. Another enlightening read from Vertical’s Tumblr account tackles sports, sports fiction, and sports manga and the challenges it presents to the North American market. Also, in case you missed it, Vertical is now on and is answering all sorts of questions there. Last but not least, thanks to the success of its release of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Vertical is looking into publishing more Gundam manga. If you’re interested and haven’t already, be sure to take Vertical’s Gundam survey which will be open through the end of today.

Elsewhere online, Khursten has made a manga resolution for the year to feature josei more at Otaku Champloo. Organization Anti-Social Geniuses debuted a new feature, Inside the Industry, with Inside the Manga Industry with Lillian Diaz-Przybyl. The Hairpin has an excellent interview with Anne Ishii who, among other things, is the translator and one of the editors of the newly released Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It (which I recently reviewed; it’s great).

Quick Takes

Blue Morning, Volume 1Blue Morning, Volumes 1-5 by Shoko Hidaka. I’ve been meaning to read Blue Morning for a while but have only now gotten around to it. The benefit of this is that I had five volumes that I could read all at once. The drawback, of course, is the long wait until the sixth volume is released. I loved Blue Morning. It’s a moody, slow-burning boys’ love series with beautiful, elegant artwork and well-developed, subtly nuanced characters. A dramatic period piece, the manga takes place during Japan’s Meji era in which the country’s social, political, and economic structures underwent great change. The story focuses on Akihito Kuze who, after being orphaned, is suddenly thrust into Japan’s peerage as a viscount at the age of ten. Tomoyuki Katsuragi, the Kuze family steward, becomes his tutor and guardian. As he grows Akihito ends up developing feelings for Katsuragi and their relationship undergoes an intense evolution and power reversal. The romantic elements of Blue Morning are important, but much of the plot is actually focused on the political maneuverings of both Katsuragi and Akihito to raise the family’s status, though the each of the men have their own reasons for doing so.

KnightsSidonia10Knights of Sidonia, Volumes 10-12 by Tsutomu Nihei. I decided to save up a few volumes of Knights of Sidonia since they read so quickly and I wanted to enjoy a larger chunk of the story. But even though there are quite a few major developments in these particular volumes, including the introduction of an important new character, somehow it just feels like Nihei is stalling for time and that there wasn’t actually much forward movement in the series. Even so, it was still an enjoyable read and I still like the manga. Knights of Sidionia remains a rather peculiar series, a combination of horror, science fiction and, of all things, romantic comedy. Sidonia’s hero Tanikaze, despite being incredibly awkward socially, has managed capture the romantic interest of quite a few of the other characters, basically amassing one of the most unusual harems that I’ve ever come across in manga. And while he has all sorts of domestic challenges to deal with now that his house has five residents more or less living there, he’s also one of humanity’s best pilots in the fight for survival against the Gauna. The war is entering a new stage, new technology has been developed, and the Gauna continue to gain new abilities.

Say I Love You, Volume 4Say I Love You, Volume 4 by Kanae Hazuki. Four volumes in, Say I Love You continues to set itself apart from many of the other shoujo manga series that are currently being released with its very realistic approach to young adult relationships, romance, and sexuality. The characters show a believable mix of maturity and immaturity, at times handling themselves extraordinarily well and at other times ending up a mess of confused emotions. This volume also introduces a new character, Kai, whom I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more of. In the afterword Hazuki mentions that she believes that manga “isn’t just for showing the nice side of things,” a belief that I think comes through in Say I Love You. There are the wonderful moments between characters as they grow closer, but every relationship has its ups and downs and Hazuki isn’t afraid to show the emotional pain and turmoil experienced by her characters as part of that growth. Regret, jealousy, selfishness, and uncertainty all have a role to play as do happiness, affection, altruism, and confidence. None of the characters are perfect and they all make mistakes as they navigate new and sometimes surprising relationships.

Ping Pong: The AnimationPing Pong: The Animation directed by Masaaki Yuasa. Taiyō Matsumoto’s breakout manga was a five-volume series from the mid-1990s called Ping Pong. I’ve become a fan of Matsumoto’s work and would love to read Ping Pong, but it’s probably unlikely to ever be licensed. However, the eleven-episode anime adaptation made me very happy. The style of animation is somewhat unusual, reminiscent of Matsumoto’s loose but deliberate lines and uses a variety of palettes ranging from monochrome to pastel to vivid colors. I was particularly impressed by the series’ sound design and effective use of music. Smile and Peco are close friends and the strongest members of their school’s table tennis club but they both approach the game very differently. On its surface, Ping Pong is a fairly straightforward tale about competitive table tennis, but the series has prominent psychological elements and more depth than it might appear at first glance. Peco and Smile aren’t the only important players in Ping Pong; the protagonists and antagonists of the series are in constant flux. I enjoyed the Ping Pong anime immensely; I’ll definitely be picking up the physical release this summer.

My Week in Manga: December 22-December 28, 2014

My News and Reviews

The end of the year is drawing near and because of the holidays I’ve been traveling quite a bit to see family. Despite being in a part of the country with less than ideal and spotty Internet access for most of the week (middle-of-nowhere Ohio), I still managed to post a few things. The honor of the final in-depth manga review of the year goes to Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. Technically it’s more than just manga—the anthology includes photography, essays, creator profiles, and more. It’s a fantastic work, and highly recommended for anyone even remotely interested in gay manga. Last week I also posted my list of notable releases from 2014. Massive is on the list, as are many other works, including comics and prose in addition to manga. It’s the second year I’ve done a list like this and I enjoyed making it, so I think it’ll probably become an annual feature.

One of the other notable manga that made my list was Makoto Yukimura’s marvelous Vinland Saga. Sadly, Kodansha Comics announced on Twitter that publication of the series has been temporarily suspended. No official explanation or reason has been given at this time (although there has been plenty of speculation), but Kodansha hopes to have more to say about the situation come the new year. Elsewhere online, Mangabrog has posted a lengthy translation of Brutus magazine’s interview with Hajime Isayama from its November 2014 Attack on Titan special issue. And although it’s not exactly manga news, the Smithsonian has begun putting the Pulverer Collection online—an impressive collection of Japanese illustrated books—along with related essays and videos. There were probably some other interesting things happening last week, but like I mentioned I’ve been traveling and visiting with family, so let me know if I missed something!

Quick Takes

Missions of Love, Volume 7Missions of Love, Volumes 7-9 by Ema Toyama. It’s been a little while since I’ve read Missions of Love, but it didn’t take me very long at all to fall back into the twisted relationship drama of the series. I’m actually glad that I had a few volumes saved up to read all at once since I tend to speed through the manga so quickly. Missions of Love is a series that has me easily turning page after page just to see how audacious the storyline can be without actually crossing the line into something blatantly indecent. The series is smutty and extremely suggestive. The characters are terrible people, selfish and manipulative. Their relationships are a twisted, tangled mess. But I can’t seem to turn away from the outrageousness of the series. Several confessions of love are made over the course of these particular volumes which only serve to complicate further an already complicated situation. And on top of that, Yukina’s preschool teacher, who unintentionally traumatized her when she was his student, is back in the picture which creates even more turmoil. Missions of Love certainly isn’t the most wholesome manga series, but it is an addicting one.

Punch Up!, Volume 1Punch Up!, Volumes 1-4 by Shiuko Kano. Although Punch Up! is a technically spinoff of Play Boy Blues, which was never completely released in English, knowledge of the earlier series isn’t necessary; Punch Up! stands perfectly well on its own. Kouta is a young but skilled construction worker who, thanks to a missing cat, ends up becoming the roommate of Motoharu, a successful and sought-after architect. Eventually, and not too surprisingly since this is a boys’ love manga, the two of them hook up as well. And since they both enjoy sex, it’s a frequent occurrence in the series. (One of Motoharu’s most prominent and amusing character traits is how horny he is.) Punch Up! also features a lengthy amnesia arc. Normally this isn’t a plot device that I’m particularly fond of, but it actually does provide for some interesting character development in the manga, so I’m a little more forgiving than I might otherwise be. Punch Up! has a fair amount of humor to it and a large cast of interesting secondary characters. And cats. For the most part I enjoyed the series, but there were a few things—like the treatment of Kouta’s older transgender sibling—that left something to be desired.

Silver SpoonSilver Spoon, Season 2 directed by Kotomi Deai. It’s unlikely that Hiromu Arakawa’s award-winning manga series Silver Spoon will ever be licensed in English (although I would love to see it released), but at least the anime adaptation is available. I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Silver Spoon and the second season is just as good if not better. Silver Spoon is a wonderful series. For me, part of the anime’s appeal is that it actually reminds me of home—I grew up in a small, rural farming community—and I can greatly empathize with the plights of the series’ characters and their families when tough decisions must be made. The importance of family is actually one of the second season’s particular emphases. Farming is not an easy or forgiving profession and deserves much more respect than it is often given. Silver Spoon doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities of agricultural work, but at the same time it isn’t overly pessimistic, either. There are humorous, cheerful, heartwarming, and even inspiring elements that nicely balance out the anime’s seriousness and occasional tragedy and sadness. Silver Spoon has great characters and character growth. I only wish that there was more of the series!

My Week in Manga: December 8-December 14, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. The first was of Frederik L. Schodt’s classic survey of manga originally written in 1983 but slightly revised in 1986 and with a new introduction added in 1997, Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. It may be a few decades old, but it’s still a fantastic work that is well worth reading. Last week I also reviewed Hikaru Suruga’s Attack on Titan: No Regrets, Volume 2, the final volume of Attack on Titan‘s short, shoujo spinoff which focuses on Levi and Erwin’s backstories. I wasn’t quite as fond of the second volume as I was of the first, but I did enjoy the series. It’s definitely a must-read for fans of Erwin and/or Levi and I appreciated how it expanded the setting of Attack on Titan.

Elsewhere online, Kodansha Comics announced the license of Naoshi Arakawa’s Your Lie in April. An Indiegogo campaign was launched to create a stop-motion film adaptation of Moyoco Anno’s The Diary of Ochibi manga. Vertical linked to an older article about Prophecy and how French Manga Fans Inspire the Work of Tsutsui Tetsuya. (The first volume of Prophecy was recently released in English and it’s fantastic.) And last but not least, Muse Hack posted an interview with Mikhail Koulikov of the Anime and Manga Studies Blog. I’ve been following Koulikov’s Anime and Manga Studies ever since I’ve discovered it. The blog is a great resource for anyone interested in the academic pursuit and scholarly study of Japanese pop culture.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail, Volume 43Fairy Tail, Volume 43 by Hiro Mashima. There was very little Gray in the forty-third volume of Fairly Tail which made me a little sad, especially after the buildup in his character and story over the last few volumes. But with a series like Fairy Tail, which has a fairly large cast of characters who regularly play an important role in its plot, time needs to be spent with those other characters as well. Fairy Tail always seems to have one or two moments of fanservice that, at least for me, detract from the story being told. The clothing and armor choices for the female characters in particular tend towards stereotypical fantasy design—showing more flesh than would be appropriate for battle—but at least the women in Fairy Tail generally have well-developed personalities and are very capable characters in their own right. Often, they’re even stronger than the men. And to be fair, there’s male nudity as well as female nudity in Fairy Tail, though as might be expected from a shounen manga, generally not to the same extent. Fairy Tail is now well into the beginning of the Tartaros arc of the series in which the members of the Fairy Tail guild must face off with a dark guild of demons which is trying to eliminate the entire Magic Council.

Kiss All the Boys, Volume 1Kiss All the Boys, Volumes 1-3 by Shiuko Kano. For the most part I enjoyed Kiss All the Boys more than Kano’s earlier series Yakuza in Love, but ultimately I felt a bit cheated by its conclusion. While in some ways I’m glad that most everything ends happily for the characters, I’m not convinced that that’s really how things would have played out and some of the eventual pairings are troubling. But while Kiss All the Boys may not be the most believable series, at least the convoluted relationships are for the most part interesting even when they are appalling. The series hinges on Tetsuo, a straight thirty-something hentai artist with a fifteen-year-old son born from his youthful indiscretions. At least he’s supposed to be straight. Conveniently for the manga, he soon finds himself entangled in relationships with several other men—his next door neighbor, his best friend and editor, and even the boy his gay son has a crush on. Tetsuo is an asshole, but at least he knows he’s an asshole. He does make some effort to rise above his nature but unfortunately never quite manages to succeed. For the most part Kiss All the Boys is intended to be a comedy and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but I couldn’t help but worry for the youngsters left with terrible adult role models.

Yukarism, Volume 1Yukarism, Volume 1 by Chika Shiomi. I haven’t previously read any of Shiomi’s manga, but I was looking forward to Yukarism because of its promise of interesting gender dynamics, reincarnation, and historical romance. Although Yukari Kobayakawa is only seventeen, he has already made a name for himself as an author of novels set in the Edo period. He never has to do any research though since he subconsciously draws inspiration from his past life as a courtesan in the era’s pleasure district. Except for that particular twist, at this point Yukari actually isn’t a very interesting character. He’s very reserved, self-absorbed, impassive, and completely unfazed when he begins to slip back and forth between his past life and his current one. Many of the people surrounding Yukari in present-day Japan are reincarnations of people he knew in the pleasure district although they don’t all seem to be aware of that fact. There’s definitely some potential for romance in Yukarism, but after only one volume that doesn’t appear to be the series’ main concern yet. Instead, the mystery surrounding the deaths of Yukari and the others in the past seems to take precedence, although the connections between all of the characters in all of their incarnations is an important element as well. I’ll be curious to see how the series continues to develop.

DevilPartTimerThe Devil Is a Part-Timer! directed by Naoto Hosoda. I’ve been meaning to watch The Devil Is a Part-Timer! for quite some time now, but I was recently reminded of that intention when Yen Press licensed both the light novel series by Satoshi Wagahara on which the anime is based as well as at least one of its manga adaptations. While the anime is entertaining, the ridiculous premise is more hilarious in theory than in execution—The Devil Is a Part-Timer! is actually played fairly straight. But it’s still a fun and consistently amusing series. I particularly got a kick out of Satan diligently working in the fast food industry as a way to take over the world (he takes his job very seriously) and the portrayal of Lucifer as a hikikomori with an online-shopping addiction. For the most part, The Devil Is a Part-Timer! nicely balances its comedy with its drama. Although it has a conclusion, the ending of the series lacks finality and some of the characters introduced were never really put to good use, as though additional seasons were initially planned for but never manifested. (At least I haven’t heard anything about a second season.) Overall, The Devil Is a Part-Timer! is funny series and a nice change of pace from all of the anime centered around high school or middle school students. I might just give the original novels a try when they’re released in English.

My Week in Manga: November 10-November 16, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted two reviews at Experiments in Manga. The first review of was of Ajin: Demi-Human, Volume 1 written by Tsuina Miura and illustrated by Gamon Sakurai. It’s a manga with a rather dark atmosphere that deals with immortals, which is right up my alley. The first volume was a good start to the series; I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to develop. The second review was of The Legend of Bold Riley, created by Leia Weathington and illustrated by a number of different artists. The review was actually the final review in my Year of Yuri project, so over the weekend I posted a wrap-up for the project as a whole. Later this week, most likely on Friday, a poll will go live so that readers of Experiments in Manga can vote to help me select my next monthly review project.

I came across a few fun and interesting things elsewhere online last week, too. Mangabrog has a translation of a conversation between Katsuhiro Otomo and Takehiko Inoue from 2012. Kate Beaton posted the second part of her collection of comics based on Natsume Sōseki Kokoro (a novel that I’ve reviewed in the past). The Ceiling Gallery posted “Girl Talk”, an article about “the life, friends and music of manga author Okazaki Kyoko” which is well worth reading. Anna Madill, a professor at The University of Leeds, is currently conducting research into boys’ love fandom. If you’re an English-speaking boys’ love fan, please consider assisting her research by completing a brief BL Fandom Survey.

Quick Takes

Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 1Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Satoshi Mizukami. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I ended up enjoying the first volume immensely. One morning, college student Amamiya Yuuhi wakes up to discover a talking lizard in his bed, requesting his help to protect a princess destined to save the world from an evil mage bent on destroying Earth by using a giant hammer floating in space. Despite his initial reluctance to get involved in the whole mess, Yuuhi decides to become her knight because of one simple fact: The only reason Samidare (who need little protection) wants to save the world is so that she can destroy it herself. Much like its title, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is kind of strange. Both the characters and story are quirky, a little goofy, and rather bizarre. The manga is also quite a bit darker than it first appears; the characters are all revealed to have twisted pasts and tragedies to work through. It’s particularly interesting to see protagonists who are closer to being supervillians than superheros. I’m still not entirely sure where Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer is heading, but I’m really looking forward to reading more of the series and finding out.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm Crazy!My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy by Grace Buchele Mineta. A companions of sorts to her blog Texan in Tokyo, My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a collection of autobiographical comics and essays about Mineta’s life in Japan, her work as a freelancer, and her intercultural marriage. I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read much of Texan in Tokyo, but the comics made me laugh, so I decided to pick up the book. Some of the material collected is new to the volume while other material comes directly from the blog. My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a wonderfully amusing and at times even enlightening collection. The main “characters” are Mineta herself, her salaryman husband Ryosuke, and Marvin—a talking rabbit who’s a figment of her imagination, the result of “stress, coffee, and loneliness from being a freelancer in Tokyo.” The comics are sweet, charming, and short, generally only a single page consisting of a few panels. Many of the comics are personal in nature, but some of Minata’s experiences are certainly shared by other foreign residents and visitors to Japan. My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! is a fun way to learn little tidbits about Japan and Japanese culture.

Yakuza in Love, Volume 1Yakuza in Love, Volumes 1-3 by Shiuko Kano. Despite being one of the boys’ love creators with the most manga published in English, which I assume would be an indicator of her popularity, I generally find Kano’s work to be fairly hit-or-miss with me. Sadly, Yakuza in Love largely falls into the miss category. The short series is one of Kano’s earliest works, and it shows. The pacing is all over the place and frequently rushed, the action is difficult to follow, the sex and supposed romance doesn’t always mesh with the story, the plot doesn’t distinguish itself from any other generic yakuza-themed boys’ love manga, and she can’t quite seem to decide if she’s going for comedy or drama. She probably should have stuck with the humor—as a whole, Yakuza in Love simply doesn’t work as well when it takes itself too seriously. It wasn’t all bad, though. Just perhaps a little too ambitious. The best part of Yakuza in Love is actually all of the extras at the end which take up the last half of the third volume. Kano relaxes and just has fun with her characters, actually giving them more depth while parodying her own story. As a result, the extras end up being much more enjoyable.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kunMonthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun directed by Mitsue Yamazaki. Based off of an ongoing yonkoma manga series by Izumi Tsubaki, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an absolutely delightful twelve-episode anime series. The titular Nozaki is a tall, stoic, and slightly oblivious high school student who, despite what most people would assume from his appearance, also happens to be a published shoujo mangaka. Sakura has a crush on Nozaki, but when she tries to confess her love to him she somehow winds up as one of his assistants instead. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a very funny and enjoyable series which freely plays around with shoujo manga tropes and character types. Nozaki finds inspiration for his manga from the other students at school, usually in slightly unexpected ways. He’s also amassed a handful of assistants in addition to Sakura, all with their own quirks and relationship problems which provide plenty of material for Nozaki to work with which eventually ends up in his manga. For the most part the anime tends to be fairly episodic, though there are several recurring characters and running jokes. Overall, the series is a tremendous amount of fun with a large cast of likeable characters.