My Week in Manga: August 4-August 10, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were two reviews at Experiments in Manga last week in addition to the announcement of the Mecha Manga Giveaway Winner, which also includes a list of some of the mecha manga that has been licensed in English at one point or another. (Considering how many have been released in English, it’s not a comprehensive list. Instead it focuses on some favorites.) As for the reviews, I recently read Fuyumi Ono’s The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 4: Skies of Dawn. Sadly, this was the last volume in the series to be translated into English. The Twelve Kingdoms is a great series of fantasy novels, all of which are worth tracking down. Keeping with last week’s unintentional theme of reviewing fourth volumes of epic series, I also took a look at Vinland Saga, Omnibus 4 by Makoto Yukimura. Vinland Saga is one of my favorite manga series currently being released and this volume hasn’t changed that.

The phenomenal Sparkler Monthly is currently running a membership drive for its second year, and there are some fantastic incentives. I highly recommend checking the project out and contributing if you’re able. Lori at Manga Xanadu has a nice post looking back at the first year of Sparkler Monthly and looking forward to Sparkler Monthly Year Two. For some of my own reviews and random musings on the excellent content being released by Sparkler Monthly, check out the Chromatic Press tag. (Actually, I’ll be posting a review of Denise Schroeder’s Before You Go later this week, too.)

Elsewhere online, ICv2 has a two-part interview with Viz Media’s Leyla Aker and Kevin Hamric looking at What’s Selling, Where, and Why as well as focusing On Specific Products and Programs. Justin at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses has a fun post about The Curious Case of Last Pages For US Manga Editions. Also, Mangabrog has translated some of Takehiko Inoue’s interviews from back when Vagabond was on hiatus.

Quick Takes

Black Rose Alice, Volume 1Black Rose Alice, Volume 1 by Setona Mizushiro. I’ll admit, even though I have enjoyed the other manga by Mizushiro that I have read and despite the very good things that I’ve heard about Black Rose Alice, I was still a little hesitant to read the series. Mostly because I’ve become a little weary, and therefore wary, of vampire stories. But the vampires in Black Rose Alice are so different that I’m actually hesitant to even call them vampires. Either way, the first volume was phenomenal. It’s creepy and disconcerting, tragic and chilling. Dimitri is a rising star, an operatic tenor with a beautiful voice and a handsome face who is astounded when a stranger tells him he is to blame for a sudden wave of suicides. The deaths in the story have tremendous emotional impact, which is particularly impressive since the characters have just been introduced. The characterization in Black Rose Alice is excellent, especially that of Dimitri, and the artwork is lovely and atmospheric. I am a little sad to see early 20th-century Vienna already left behind as a setting in exchange for modern-day Tokyo, but I’m very curious to see where the story goes from here. I’ll definitely be picking up more of Black Rose Alice.

Blank Slate, Volume 1Blank Slate, Volumes 1-2 by Aya Kanno. I first read Blank Slate several years ago and recall really liking it. Upon rereading, it’s honestly not as good as I remember it being, though the art is pretty great. Even considering the flaws in its execution, I actually still really like the series. Apparently the story that Kanno originally planned was much longer and more complicated. Quite a few things changed plot-wise as well as character-wise when she shortened the series; the transition isn’t as smooth as it could have been. Blank Slate would have benefited from at least another volume or two so that all of the backstory that’s crammed into the second volume could have been more fully developed. Though in its way it is thrilling, there are so many plot twists and major reveals towards the series’ end that it’s almost absurd. Some of the characters are shown to be so different from who they were when they were first introduced that it’s almost difficult to believe the changes, but that does make their betrayals rather effective. And I do like that the completely amoral and nearly emotionless Zen, the series lead, remains a villain throughout despite a tragic past that is supposed to make him more sympathetic.

How to Be HappyHow to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis. I wasn’t previously familiar with Davis’ work, but after experiencing How to Be Happy I certainly want to read more of it. How to Be Happy is a collection of her short comics, some no longer than a page. Though her black and white illustrations are effective, Davis’ color work is especially striking. She exhibits a wide variety of styles in How to Be Happy, evoking a number of different moods. However, all of the comics come across as being at least a little surreal. Many, perhaps most, of the stories tend towards the melancholy and somber, but others have an underlying and almost hidden sense of humor and joy. As Davis points out in her author’s note, the book actually isn’t about how to be happy. And yet, I found reading the volume to be a wonderfully cathartic and thought-provoking experience. I would even go as far as to call it inspiring. Though she often employees fantastical elements, what Davis really seems to be doing in How to Be Happy is exploring the nature of life and reality through her short narratives. How to Be Happy is a beautiful, strange, and wondrous collection and one that I can definitely see myself returning to again.

Midaresomenishi: A Tale of Samurai LoveMidaresomenishi: A Tale of Samurai Love by Kazuma Kodaka. Although Midaresomenishi is self-described as a romantic epic, there’s not very much at all that is romantic about this boys’ love manga. Instead it’s an extremely dark tale with a focus on violence, sexual and otherwise. Truly terrible things happen in it. Blood, death, and sadism take precedence over affection and love. There is very little happiness to be found in Midaresomenishi, and what little there is is fleeting. Shirou is a young samurai who takes great pleasure in killing, but that is nothing in comparison to the joy that Sougetsu, a powerful and decadent master of bandits, takes in sexually dominating others. In order to protect the life of his younger brother Fujimura, Shirou allows himself to be subjugated by Sougetsu. What he doesn’t realize is that while Fujimura is alive, he has become a sexual plaything for Sougetsu’s underlings. There actually is some doomed love and strong familial bonds in Midaresomenishi, but for the most part the manga’s focus is on the more unpleasant relationships. Midaresomenishi doesn’t work for me as a love story, there’s simply too much force and coercion, but as a violent tragedy it is fairly successful.

My Week in Manga: April 21-April 27, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was another week with two reviews here at Experiments in Manga. The first review was of Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1, one of the manga I was most looking forward to being released this year. I really enjoyed the debut of the series and look forward to reading more. The second review posted last week was of Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat, Volume 2. The third volume in the series will be released soon, so I decided to revisit the previous volume in preparation. Off*Beat is a comic that simply makes me happy and I think I enjoy it more with each rereading.

And now for some interesting found online: Jason Stroman wraps up his manga advice series at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses with 20 Things I Learned from the Manga Advice Series. Joe McCulloch takes a close look at some of the pre-Tezuka manga available in English at The Comics Journal. No Flying No Tights has updated its list of must have manga for teens. A recent poll of Japanese parents asked “Which manga do you want your kids to read?” RocketNews24 lists the top ten, eight of which are currently available in English either digitally or in print.

Quick Takes

Attack on Titan, Volume 12Attack on Titan, Volume 12 by Hajime Isayama. The English-language release of Attack on Titan has now more or less caught up with the Japanese release of the series, which means the time between volumes has increased. Granted, those who are impatient have option of reading the most recent chapters on Crunchyroll, but I’ve personally been waiting since January to see what happens next. I am still impressed by just how many twists and turns Isayama is able to incorporate into the plot of Attack on Titan. Even though the twelfth volume is more about the action than it is about the story, there are still some surprises in store. Granted, each revelation in Attack on Titan only seems to raise more questions. In this volume the Survey Corp is tasked with rescuing Eren, who is in bad shape and being held captive along with Ymir by Reiner and Bertolt. Facing off against Titans is one thing, but having to attack those who at one point seemed to be allies is another thing entirely. Attack on Titan has always been intense and the twelfth volume is no different.

Border, Volume 1Border, Volumes 1-3 by Kazuma Kodaka. Although Border is an ongoing series at five volumes and counting, only three of those volumes have so far been released in English. I’m not sure if Digital Manga plans on licensing more at this point or not. Border is the most recent of Kodaka’s boys’ love manga to be translated. Though calling it boys’ love might be a bit misleading. The manga’s lead, Yamato, is gay and all of the characters seem to be in love with him to one extent or another, but so far the series seems to be more about detective agency he runs with his two foster brothers and his cousin than it is about romance. The first volume, which focuses on ex-soldier Yamato and his tragic past, is the most boys’ love-like (including explicit sex scenes), but subsequent volumes turn to the other characters—his brothers Kippei, a computer genius, and Tamaki, a hair designer whose skills are handy when disguises are needed. Their backstories are likewise tragic. I like this narrative structure of Border. And if the pattern continues, the next volume in the series should focus on Yamato’s cousin Sogo, which I would be very interested in reading.

Eyeshield 21, Volume 32Eyeshield 21, Volumes 32-34 written by Riichiro Inagaki and illustrated by Yusuke Murata. Often I find that reading sports manga makes me at least temporarily more interested in the games which they’re about, but for whatever reason that hasn’t been the case for Eyeshield 21. I probably have developed more of an appreciation for American football, but it still isn’t a sport I care very much about. Eyeshield 21 on the other hand, I’ve come to love. The artwork is phenomenal and the characters are engaging and distinctive. At this point, much of the humor and many of the running gags from the start of the series have faded into the background; Eyeshield 21 has become much more serious and dramatic, but it’s still a tremendous amount of fun. The series has been building up to the Christmas Bowl where the Deimon Devil Bats are playing against the Teikoku Alexanders, an all-star team which has never lost the tournament. The games in Eyeshield 21 have always been exciting but the Christmas Bowl match is fantastic. I fully anticipated Eyeshield 21 to end with the Christmas Bowl, but no, there are still three more volumes to go!

xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 1xxxHolic: Rei, Volume 1 by CLAMP. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of the original xxxHolic manga, and I never did finish reading the series before it went out of print (happily, Kodansha will be re-releasing the series in an omnibus edition), but I was still happy to see Rei licensed. As indicated in the translation notes, rei in this instance means return, “signaling a return to the series and to its roots.” It’s not really clear yet exactly how, or if, Rei will tie into the main series. I do have a few ideas how it might, though. Those who have read at least some of xxxHolic will be at a slight advantage over those who haven’t since the characters aren’t thoroughly introduced, but even new readers should be able to make sense of most of Rei. I love Clamp’s artwork in this series. The high-contrast and relatively simple illustration style is very evocative and elegant, and creepy and disconcerting when required. The supernatural elements in the manga tend to be dark in tone, but at the same time the main characters and their interactions tend towards the more comedic. It’s an interesting mix that somehow works; even the humorous scenes have something menacing lurking underneath.

My Week in Manga: April 14-April 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

There were two in-depth reviews posted at Experiments in Manga Last week. The first review was of Torajiro Kishi’s manga Maka-Maka: Sex, Life, and Communication, Volume 1 as a part of my Year of Yuri review project. Maka-Maka is definitely a mature title and there’s quite a bit of sex and physical intimacy, but I think it’s one of the best adult-oriented yuri manga to have been released in English. Sadly, it’s very out-of-print. The second review was of The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows, a collection of two of Edogawa Rampo’s better known short novels of suspense. I though they were pretty great, but then again I tend to be rather fond of Rampo’s works.

As for a few other interesting things: Jason Thompson takes a look at the mahjong manga The Legend of Koizumi in the most recent House of 1000 Manga column. (Ed Chavez apparently wanted to license the series. It’s unlikely to ever actually happen, but we can dream!) Yen Press had quite a few license announcements of its own to make, including the establishment Yen On, an imprint specifically devoted to light novels. Dark Horse also announced some exciting licenses—more manga by CLAMP and Satoshi Kon. Toh EnJoe won the Philip K. Dick Award Special Citation for his work Self-Reference Engine, one of my favorite books released last year. And speaking of awards, the 2014 Eisner Award Nominees have been announced. Manga up for an Eisner Award include The Heart of Thomas, The Mysterious Underground Men, Showa: A History of Japan, 1926–1939, The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4, and Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia category and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island in the category for Best Adaptation from Another Medium.

Quick Takes

Bad Teacher's Equation, Volume 4Bad Teacher’s Equation, Volumes 4-5 by Kazuma Kodaka. Bad Teacher’s Equation has come a long way since its first volume. The series was nearly a decade in the making, so it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that it underwent some significant evolution in both artwork and storytelling, including some unexpected plot developments. In the series’ afterword, Kodaka notes that Bad Teacher’s Equation “mirrored the history of boy’s love comics throughout the ’90s” and that it was her first foray into the genre. It started out as a comedy, but by the end of the series, while there is still a fair amount of humor, it has become much more serious and even addresses some of the challenges that face same-sex couples in a more realistic fashion. I particularly enjoyed the fourth volume because of this and because of its focus on Masami and Toru’s relationship. They are the most consistently believable couple in Bad Teacher’s Equation. Although I wasn’t always convinced by Masayoshi and Atsushi’s relationship in the series, for the most part I did really like how things played out for them in the final volume.

Click, Volume 1Click, Volumes 1-4 by Youngran Lee. The basic premise of Click is fairly absurd—Joonha’s family has a strange genetic mutation which causes their bodies to change sex shortly after they reach puberty. Of course, this was never actually mentioned to Joonha and so he’s understandable concerned when at the age of sixteen all of a sudden he seems to have turned into a girl. At first, I thought that Click was going to be a comedy, but that’s not entirely the case. There are humorous elements, Joonha’s parents, for example, are a rather unusual pair and their scenes are generally played for laughs, but the manhwa is much more about the drama (and melodrama). It might not be the most realistic series, but there’s actually some interesting exploration of gender, gender roles, and gender identity in Click. Joonha isn’t a particularly pleasant person and on top of that he’s a misogynistic jerk, too. His sex change is a rather traumatic event for him and he’s now stuck in between genders. His body is female, and he tries to live as a girl, but his personality and way of thinking hasn’t really changed that much.

Drifters, Volume 3Drifters, Volume 3 by Kohta Hirano. I’m still not sure that I entirely understand what the underlying plot of Drifters is supposed to be, but I’m not entirely certain that it matters much at this point, either. At least not to me. I enjoy Drifters for the series’ outrageous characters and battles more than any sort of coherent story. I also appreciate Hirano’s use of historic figures in the series, although it does help to have at least some vague idea of who they are outside of the manga. Admittedly, Hirano’s interpretations are extraordinarily liberal and irreverent. Most of the characters exhibit varying degrees of insanity and there’s not much subtlety or nuance to their characterizations, either. So far, Drifters has been a very violent series. The third volume is no exception to this and battle after battle is fought. I have noticed some continuity errors in the artwork which can be distracting or confusing, especially when they occur in the middle of a fight scene. (Past volumes had this same problem, too.) In the end, Drifters still doesn’t make much sense yet, but I continue to find it to be highly entertaining.

Fairy Tail, Volume 37Fairy Tail, Volume 37 by Hiro Mashima. It’s the final day of the Grand Magic Games, the results of which will literally determine the fate of the world. The danger of course is that Mashima may have over-hyped the Games’ finale; the victory of the guild that ultimately wins is described as being impossible and highly unusual. But if there’s going to be a tournament arc, that’s certainly one way of making it crucial to the development of the story. I consider it to be a good thing. While the Grand Magic Games were diverting, for a while there they didn’t seem to have much of a point except to serve as an excuse to have high-powered wizards doing battle. And there’s plenty of fighting in the thirty-seventh volume, including several confrontations that occur simultaneously. Sadly, compared to previous battles, I didn’t find them to be especially engaging. The most interesting fight is the one between Erza and two other extremely skilled and strong women, Kagura and Minerva, which has several scenes which are particularly dramatic. Mashima does have to cheat and mislead readers with the artwork a bit to achieve some of those moments, though.

SamuraiFlamencoSamurai Flamenco directed by Takahiro Omori. Samurai Flamenco is an anime series that celebrates superheros and superhero shows. It uses a strange mix of silliness bordering on parody and seriousness, but it somehow works. Samurai Flamenco begins very realistically, with Hazama acting as a vigilante. He’s not particularly competent at first, but he makes up for that with his enthusiasm, passion, and belief in justice. It also helps that other people are drawn to him and his cause. On the surface, the middle portion of the series seems like a very typical superhero show with monsters and evil organizations. The villains’ character designs are frankly ridiculous. But then the anime returns to a more serious approach and the final episode pulls everything together perfectly. I did enjoy the humor of the series but I probably appreciated the more realistic examination of what it means to be a superhero even more. I quite enjoyed Samurai Flamenco and found the characters, all of whom are just a little bit strange, to be both likeable and interesting.

My Week in Manga: March 31-April 6, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was one of Experiments in Manga’s slower weeks, but there was still some good stuff to be had, if I do say so myself. First up was the announcement of the Battle Angel Alita Giveaway Winner, which also includes a list of some of the cyborg manga available in English. Next came March’s Bookshelf Overload, which was not nearly as an absurd month for preorders as April will be for me. Finally, we get to the really good stuff. The honor of the first in-depth manga review for April goes to Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph, one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2014. It’s a dark and disturbing work, but also very beautiful. Probably one of the best comics that I’ve read so far this year.

As for a few thing found online: Kim Hoang translated an interview of Kaoru Mori from the French site madmoiZelle. Sean Gaffney at A Case Suitable For Treatment investigates some of Japan’s recent manga bestsellers with an eye towards license requests. Akira Himekawa, the creative team behind the various The Legend of Zelda manga, will be featured guests at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. The most recent Mike Toole Show takes a look at the three incarnations of To Terra… (or Toward the Terra), originally a manga by Keiko Takemiya. And last but not least, I was very excited to see that the Manga Connection blog has been rebooted! (Which reminds me that I really need to do some cleanup and maintenance on my resources page…)

Quick Takes

Bad Teacher's Equation, Volume 2Bad Teacher’s Equation, Volumes 2-3 by Kazuma Kodaka. While I wasn’t blown away by it, I did enjoy the first volume of Bad Teacher’s Equation well enough to track down the rest of the boys’ love manga. I had heard that the series gets better as it goes along, but surprisingly enough, so far I think I actually prefer the slightly more absurd first volume. I seem to like Bad Teacher’s Equation best when it is being particularly ridiculous. The more obviously comedic aspects of the series work better for me than when the story takes a more serious turn. I was also happy to see the feelings that Masayoshi held for his brother Masami dealt with fairly quickly so that the series’ focus could turn elsewhere. The dynamics of that particular relationship were probably the least interesting in the entire series. One of the things that Bad Teacher’s Equation really has going for it is the manga’s large ensemble cast—their interactions can be very entertaining to watch. And as a result, there’s actually some legitimate character development to be seen, too.

Black Jack, Volume 10Black Jack, Volumes 10-13 by Osamu Tezuka. Because of Tezuka’s Star System, it’s not uncommon to encounter a character from another of his series in a different role. Due to that, I was particularly looking forward to the story “Ashes and Diamonds” collected in the tenth volume of Black Jack because it features Hyakkimaru in the role of Dr. Hyakki. (Hyakkimaru is from Dororo, one of my favorite Tezuka manga.) These volumes also reveal more about Black Jack’s unfortunate family situation. According to an editor’s note in the eleventh volume, the edition of Black Jack upon which Vertical’s release was based was initially intended to be a “best of” collection. However, it proved to be so popular that, excepting for a few stories which were deemed objectionable or inappropriate in some way, the edition became a complete collection. In the past I’ve mentioned that I generally prefer the more realistic scenarios in Black Jack, but I’ve come to really enjoy the more fantastical chapters as well. On occasion, aliens, ghosts, and the supernatural all have their own part to play in the series.

Dictatorial Grimoire, Volume 2: Snow WhiteDictatorial Grimoire, Volume 2: Snow White by Ayumi Kanou. I was intrigued by the first volume of Dictatorial Grimoire. It was a mess, but it was a fun mess. I was less enamored with the second volume, though I do still plan on reading the third and final installment in the series. The story in Snow White is still a mess. This time though, for whatever reason, I found it to be more frustrating than entertaining. So much of Dictatorial Grimoire makes very little sense and Kanou relies heavily on standard tropes and character types. Because of this, the story developments don’t really come as a surprise and readers are left to fill in the actual details themselves as Dictatorial Grimorie progresses from one expected plot point to the next. As might be assumed from the subtitle, Snow White features heavily in the second volume. Sadly, his bustier does not. He does, however, gain a pair of glasses for all of those megane fans out there. (Yes, that would include me.) I also do appreciate that Hiyori, though she’s portrayed as somewhat brainless, is very competent and dependable when it comes to a fight.

Shinobi Life, Volume 1Shinobi Life, Volumes 1-6 by Shoko Conami. Shinobi Life was originally created as a one-shot story but ended up being developed into a thirteen-volume series, seven of which were released in English by Tokyopop. The transition from what was supposed to be a standalone story into an ongoing series is awkward. Story elements are dropped or forgotten (in some cases actually for the better) as the plot is forced into something that wasn’t initially planned. In general, Shinobi Life is a manga that I like much better in concept than I do in execution, although it does improve greatly as the series progresses. I specifically like the time travel elements. However, I’m much fonder of the series when it’s dealing with the past than I am of its contemporary storyline. The art, though not especially original, is pretty, too. All of the adults in Shinobi Life are despicable, so it’s probably not too surprising that the teenage leads have significant personal issues to deal with; their parents don’t make particularly good role models.

My Week in Manga: May 6-May 12, 2013

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted here at Experiments in Manga last week. I took a look at Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 3, the most recent issue in the international edition of the Japanese literary journal Monkey Business. I think I preferred the second volume slightly more, but the third volume was a great collection, too. Earlier in the week I reviewed The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: The Master of Gay Erotic Manga. This volume is the first collection of bara manga to be published in print in English. Tagame’s work is amazing, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. I’m thrilled that he’s finally received a major release in English.

And what was even more exciting? I spent the entire weekend at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF)—I actually got to meet Tagame and Taiyo Matsumoto in person in addition to a ton of other fantastic creators. I’ll be posting about my TCAF experience later on this week, but I can tell you right now that I definitely plan on going again next year. It was amazing.

And speaking of Tagame, PictureBox has announced a new anthology scheduled to be published in 2014—Massive: Gay Erotic Manga And The Men Who Make It. It sounds like it will be a fantastic collection; I am ecstatic about its upcoming release! In other publishing news, Sublime Manga rescued the license for Ayano Yamane’s Crimson Spell for a print release. Media Blasters had previously published the first two volumes but they are now very out-of-print. Crimson Spell is my favorite of Yamane’s series, so I’m very excited about Sublime’s new editions; I’ll happily be double-dipping.

Elsewhere online, Heidi MacDonald article How Graphic Novels Became the Hottest Section in the Library at Publishers Weekly is a good read and touches on the role of manga in that evolution. It’s not very often that you see an article from Sports Illustrated talking about manga, but Ben Sin’s post Slam Dunk: How Japan’s Love of Basketball Can Be Traced Back to a Comic was republished on Sports Illustrated‘s culture blog. Finally, if you’ve not come across Ukiyo-e Search yet, it’s a phenomenal resource for Japanese woodblock prints.

Quick Takes

The Devil’s Trill by Sooyeon Won. The Devil’s Trill is the fourth and final volume in Netcomics’ manhwa novella collection, intended to feature prominent Korean creators. I haven’t read any of the other volumes in the series, but I picked up The Devil’s Trill because Won’s manhwa Let Dai left such an impression on me. For me, the highlight of The Devil’s Trill was Won’s lovely artwork. Lately I’ve found myself bored with vampire tales, and so the story of The Devil’s Trill didn’t really grab me. Plus, I prefer my vampires to be a little scarier and less romantic. However, I did like how the manhwa incorporates reincarnation and stretches across three time periods: 18th-century Germany, Berlin in the 1990s, and 2150.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks. I’ve been following Hicks for quite some time now, but her graphic novel Friends with Boys was the first of her long works that I read that wasn’t a collaboration. I loved it. The story follows Maggie as she enters a public high school, having previously only been home schooled. With three older brothers she grew up as somewhat of a tomboy. Oh, and she seems to be haunted by a ghost. The character designs and artwork in Friends with Boys are great; it’s also filled with all sorts of nerdy and geeky goodness. In part, I see the graphic novel as a celebration of being someone that society might call a freak, which made me very happy. The importance and strength of families (especially siblings) is also a prominent theme.

Kizuna, Volumes 4-6 by Kazuma Kodaka. The first half of Kizuna seemed to emphasize the drama and violence surrounding the characters’ yakuza connections. While this never completely disappears, the second half of the series shifts to addressing slightly more realistic issues and problems faced by the characters: homophobia, coming out to family, establishing lives together, and so on. Despite some inconsistencies in the quality of the art, especially early on, Kizuna has really grown on me. Kei and Ranmaru make a wonderful couple. They have their fights, misunderstandings, and disagreements, but they’re totally in love with each other and are physically very affectionate.

Otomen, Volumes 11-15 by Aya Kanno. I am still really enjoying Otomen although the series’ gimmick—”manly” men with “girly” interests—seems to be stretched a little too thin by this point. I think Otomen would have been more successful if Kanno kept the focus on the main cast instead of introducing so many side characters. Granted, I like the side characters, too, but the series may have benefited from a little more focus. Partly because there are so many characters, none of them have a lot of depth and tend to be fairly one-note even if they are endearing. I particularly enjoy how the series plays with gender expectations. Plus, Kanno includes plenty of nods and references to other series, like Utena and Golgo 13, which is fun. Otomen is a silly, lighthearted, and fluffy read for me.