My Week in Manga: October 23-October 29, 2017

My News and Reviews

In addition to the usual My Week in Manga, two other features were posted at Experiments in Manga last week. First up was the most recent monthly giveaway. The winner won’t be announced until Wednesday, so there’s still a little time left to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Oresama Teacher by Izumi Tsubaki. (I finally got around to reading Oresama Teacher because I love Tusbaki’s other manga series Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun so much. I am delighted to report that Oresama Teacher is great, too.) I also posted my review of the first omnibus of Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura last week. The manga was one of the debuts that I was most excited for this year and I was not at all disappointed. Like Shimura’s earlier series Wandering Son (which is an extremely important manga to me personally), Sweet Blue Flowers is a beautiful work. I’m so glad that it’s finally getting the print release it deserves and look forward to reading the rest of the series. (Now if only the rest of Wandering Son could be published, too! My fantasy is that Sweet Blue Flowers will be so successful that more of Shimura’s work will be translated.) Once again, I wasn’t actually online much last week and I worked on Sunday so I’m sure there’s plenty of news that I’ve missed. However, I did catch that Thomas Baudinette posted a translation of “Painting the essence of gay erotic art”an interview with Gengoroh Tagame from a 2014 issue of the art magazine Bijutsu Techo.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail: RhodoniteFairy Tail: Rhodonite by Kyouta Shibano. At first I was a little confused by the “2” emblazoned upon the cover of Rhodonite since it’s not in fact the second volume of Rhodonite. Instead, it’s the second volume in Shibano’s Fairy Tail Gaiden manga, one of a multitude of series spinning off from Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail that have recently been translated into English. Despite retaining the volume designations, the Fairy Tail Gaiden manga are being released as independent works by Kodansha Comics. Shibano’s three spinoff volumes, while relying very heavily on the original series, largely stand alone from one another. Rhodonite collects two side stories featuring Gajeel Redfox, one of the Dragon Slayers associated with the Fairy Tail Guild. Since I’m not especially well-versed in the Fairy Tail franchise, I’m not exactly sure where the first story, from which the volume gains its name, fits in. However, it does reveal more of Gajeel’s past and backstory as the guild is investigating the magic drug trade. The second story takes place while Gajeel is a member of the Magic Council during Fairy Tail’s disbandment. In this story he temporarily teams up with Cobra to rescue a group of children who were kidnapped to be sold as slaves. Already intended for those already familiar with Fairy Tail, Rhodonite will even more specifically appeal to those who are fans of Gajeel.

Spirit Circle, Volume 1Spirit Circle, Volume 1 by Satoshi Mizukami. I rather enjoyed Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, currently the only other manga series by Mizukami to be licensed in English. I would have been interested in Spirit Circle for that reason alone, but I’ve also been hearing great (and well-deserved) things about the manga beyond that. Like it’s predecessor in English (which is actually briefly referenced in passing), Spirit Circle is a manga that’s a little strange and quirky but that also has a great deal of heart and soul. Fuuta Okeya has the ability to see ghosts. That by itself would generally be enough to form the basic premise of a series, but thanks to a new transfer student, Fuuta must now also confront his past lives. Though meeting Fuuta for the first time in this life, Kouko Ishigami is very familiar with his previous incarnations. Historically, their encounters haven’t always gone so well, though. In the first volume of Spirit Circle, Fuuta is made to relive two of his pasts to the point of his deaths and parts of a third life are revealed as well. So far, I’m loving Spirit Circle. Fuuta and Kouko’s past lives are filled with heartbreaks and joys, echoes of which are apparent in the teenagers’ current existences. Taken separately, the stories are interesting, but together they’re marvelous. I’m very curious to see where Mizukami takes the series next.

Sweet Bean PasteSweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. The 2015 film adaptation of Sukegawa’s novel An has been released internationally under several different titles–Sweet Red Bean Paste, An, and Sweet Bean–and now the original work has been translated into English with yet another title variation, Sweet Bean Paste. I’ve not seen Naomi Kawase’s film, but it seems to have been generally well-received. As for Sukegawa’s original novel, it makes for a fairly quick and light read despite some of the story’s more tragic undercurrents and philosophical musings. Sentaro is a man with a criminal past, out of prison but still working off his debt by making and selling dorayaki in a confectionery shop owned by the widow of his boss. He’s not particularly invested in the job, but that begins to change when an elderly woman named Tokue, her hands disfigured from a childhood illness, convinces him to let her join him at the shop. Bringing a unique perspective on life along with a recipe for sweet bean paste more delicious than any other Sentaro has tasted, Tokue has a huge influence upon the younger man as their unexpected friendship blossoms. Although much about Tokue’s past is unfortunate and she continues to deal with the stigma associated with leprosy, she has still found a way to live on in the face of prejudice and discontent. Sentaro has much to learn from Tokue, even if the lessons are bittersweet.

My Week in Manga: October 24-October 30, 2016

My News and Reviews

Although I was finally around for most of last week (as opposed to traveling and being busy with family stuff and such like I was for previous two weeks), all that was posted in addition to the usual My Week in Manga feature was the monthly manga giveaway for October. Experiments in Manga is currently following a more relaxed posting schedule which, while it does still frustrate me that I’m not currently able to post more, is better than not posting anything at all. Anyway! There’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first two volumes of Gido Amagakure’s Sweetness & Lightning. All you have to do is tell me a little about your favorite dad or father figure from manga.

Seven Seas was celebrating its twelfth anniversary last week and announced a slew of new licenses including Yurino Tsukigase’s Otome Mania!!, Aikawa Shou’s Concrete Revolutio, Isaki Uta’s Generation Witch, Aoki Spica’s Beasts of Abigaile!, Nozomu Tamaki’s Don’t Meddle With My Daughter, Hachijou Shin’s Red Riding Hood and the Big Sad Wolf, Aosa Tsunemi’s Akashic Records of the Bastard Magical Instructor, Shiramine’s Tales of Zestiria, and Kabi Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (which is probably the manga that I’m most curious about). Also of note, it looks as though Seven Seas might be getting back into the light novel game and the first print run of Kore Yamazaki’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Volume 6 will be accompanied by a booklet with a bonus chapter.

Not to be outdone, Yen Press announced three new acquisitions: Delicious in Dungeon by Ryoko Kui, the original novel, manga adaptations, and spinoff novel of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, and No Game No Life, Desu! by Yuu Kamiya and Kazuya Yuizaki. Also, Bento Books is preparing to release some more manga, including second volume of the Math Girls adaptation and the first two volumes of Female Math Major. After a bit of a mishap the first time around, the relaunch of Digital Manga’s most recent Kickstarter is well on its way to raise funds to release several of Osamu Tezuka’s short manga collections: Under the Air, Melody of Iron, and The Crater (which has its own history of mishaps separate from Digital Manga’s). Other Kickstarters that have recently caught my eye include the queer, supernatural, erotic comic Letters for Lucardo and the supernatural horror-comedy comic Not Drunk Enough.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail: Blue Mistral, Volume 3Fairy Tail: Blue Mistral, Volume 3 by Rui Watanabe. Out of all of the various Fairy Tail spinoffs (and to some extent even Fairy Tail itself), Blue Mistral is the manga that I’m most enjoying so far. I find this particularly interesting because out of all the series, Blue Mistral is the one aimed at a demographic farthest from the one that technically I belong to. I believe Blue Mistral is currently the only shoujo version of Fairy Tail (or at least is the only one to have been published in  English at this point) and the magazine in which it was originally released is generally geared toward middle school girls. However, this audience is fitting for a series which follows Wendy Marvell, Fairy Tail’s twelve-year-old dragon slayer magic user. Although other characters from Fairy Tail do make appearances in the series, Blue Mistral is absolutely about Wendy and her adventures apart from the rest of the guild. In this particular volume, she spends much of her time posing as a boy for her own safety as she investigates the disappearances of a group of young women in the town of Aiya. After joining the town guard, she comes to discover that the circumstances are much more complicated than they first appeared. Romantic feelings play an important role in the story, but generally the romance occurs between characters who are not Wendy. Her heart does beat a little faster from time to time, though. Blue Mistral, even with all of the danger that Wendy must face, continues to be a generally upbeat, fun, and charming series.

Forget Me Not, Volume 4Forget Me Not, Volume 4 written by Mag Hsu and illustrated by Nao Emoto. Although by and large I have been enjoying Forget Me Not, the third volume managed to frustrate me immensely. However, the fourth volume worked much better for me. Serizawa’s romantic relationships and attempts at romantic relationships continue to be utter utter wrecks (which considering the premise of the series is entirely expected), but at least he’s finally gained some more maturity and is able to begin to understand his own feelings. The fourth volume also delves into Serizawa’s family history which reveals some of the likely reasons that he has so much trouble forming relationships to begin with–raised by his mother after his father abandons them for another woman, he hasn’t really had a good model to follow. That’s actually something that I really appreciate about Forget Me Not. Many series which focus on romance and love tend to idealize them when in fact relationships of any sort take a tremendous amount of work. Serizawa is in the process of learning this, and it can be painful to watch as he not always successfully navigates his romances, but he is making some progress, slowly recognizing what he needs is not necessarily what the other person needs. What is missing from the fourth volume of Forget Me Not is its connection to the series’ hook, the reason why Serizawa is currently looking back on his disappointing love life; I’m hoping that the series will explore this again soon.

The Gods LieThe Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki. Even though it was never fully released in English, I loved Ozaki’s Immortal Rain (or Meteor Methuselah as it was originally titled). And so when The Gods Lie was licensed, I was understandably thrilled that I would have the opportunity to read more of Ozaki’s work. Other than the fact that I recognized the creator, I didn’t actually know anything about The Gods Lie. However, I was very happy to discover that it was just as beautifully drawn and emotionally resonant as Immortal Rain. Ozaki’s storytelling in The Gods Lie is just as strong if not stronger, too. It’s also a more mature work aimed at a more mature audience, seinen rather than shoujo. The Gods Lie is a heartwrenching and devastating manga. The themes that Ozaki explores with the work are pretty heavy and hard-hitting–death, abandonment, and desperation being some of the most prominent. But there’s also love and righteousness to be found. Interpersonal relationships and families, both good and bad, provide the manga’s center. The story takes place during a very limited span of time, primarily over the course of Natsuru Nanao’s sixth-grade summer vacation, but the events that occur will have a tremendous impact on the young man. Natsuru’s characterization is incredibly well done. In part The Gods Lie is a cutting coming-of-age story. Natsuru changes and matures in very believable ways, losing some of his innocence while gaining a better understanding of and dealing with some of the world’s more unfortunate realities.

Otherworld Barbara, Omnibus 1Otherworld Barbara, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-2) by Moto Hagio. Fantagraphics doesn’t currently have a huge line of manga (and sadly we may never see the rest of Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son translated), but the works it does publish are quality ones. I was very excited for the release of the first half of Otherworld Barbara; the manga was one of my most-anticipated titles for 2016. Although Hagio is a very influential creator in Japan, not much of her work has been published in English. I’ve loved everything that has been translated but have a particular fondness for Hagio’s science fiction. Otherworld Barbara is very much a part of that genre–it’s even one of the few manga to have won the Nihon SF Taisho Award–but it also includes strong elements of fantasy and the supernatural in addition to some significant family drama. Dreams, reality, past, present, and future all overlap with one another in Otherworld Barbara. Tokio is a dream pilot with the ability to enter other people’s dreams, gaining insight into their psyches in the process. Often he’s called upon to use his ability to help with criminal investigations, but more recently a group of researchers has asked him explore the dreams of a young woman who has been asleep for seven years. Surprisingly, his estranged son seems to somehow be tied to her case. The deeper Tokio probes, the more strange coincidences he uncovers, and the more dangerous the situation becomes for him and everyone else involved. I’m immensely curious to see how the story plays out.

My Week in Manga: October 17-October 23, 2016

My News and Reviews

Last week was yet another week during which I wasn’t online much, though this time it was because I was on a short family vacation in Ohio to visit my folks. I did however still manage to post my review of the absolutely wonderful children’s book Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. The book, fully illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, combines a biographical narrative of Kaneko’s work and life written by David Jacobson along with a selection of Kaneko’s poems presented in both the original Japanese and in English translation. Are You an Echo? is a beautiful book that adults will be able to appreciate, too; I wasn’t previously familiar with Kaneko’s poetry and am incredibly glad to have been introduced to it.

Although I was busy with family last week, a few things did catch my eye online: Vertical’s Fall 2016 manga licensing survey is now live for those interested in suggesting titles that they’d like to see the company publish in English; The Mystery Writers of Japan have released a very useful website in English which includes great information such as an outline of the group’s history and a list of recent English translations of the members’ works; As for cool queer comics Kickstarters, there is a newly launched campaign to collect Tab Kimpton’s delightful Minority Monsters comics in a single volume along with additional bonus content.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail, Volume 55Fairy Tail, Volume 55 by Hiro Mashima. With all of the recent developments in Fairy Tail it seems like the series might in fact be reaching its final story arcs. Granted, Mashima could just as easily stretch things out for quite a bit longer as he has repeatedly done in the past. Often Fairy Tail feels rather directionless to me, as though the creator is making things up as he goes (which he has admitted to) or isn’t sure exactly what he wants to do with the series. That being said, when Mashima actually manages to bring together disparate storylines and plot developments together in a way that makes sense and seems planned from the beginning (even if it actually wasn’t) the results can be thrilling. The fifty-fifth volume of Fairy Tail opens with one of the biggest game-changing reveals in the series as Natsu and Zeref face each other down. It’s a dramatic encounter and works tremendously well. Sadly, the rest of the volume isn’t quite as strong as its opening and many of the other plot twists and backstories feel forced at best. Still, this most recent story arc is probably my favorite out of those that I’ve so far read. (I started reading Fairy Tail part way through, so there are several arcs that I’ve missed.) I especially appreciate how it gives the tournament arc, which grew increasingly tedious, a greater purpose in the series as a whole. The action sequences and battles continue to be an exciting part of the manga as well, and there are plenty of those to be found in this volume.

intense1Intense, Volume 1: Night on the Red Road by Kyungha Yi. I’ve deliberately been keeping a lookout for new print releases from Netcomics, but even if I wasn’t Yi’s Intense would have caught my attention. The series’ cover artwork is stunning and the manhwa’s production values and quality is some of the best that I’ve seen from Netcomics. Intense was originally released in six digital volumes, but the print edition has been collected into four. The interior artwork, though it’s not in color, is just as beautiful, striking, and moody as Yi’s cover illustrations. The story is likewise very moody and at times can be extremely dark and violent. The series follows Jiwoon, an assassin and bodyguard for a crime syndicate who has been temporarily assigned to a red-light district. There he encounters and is drawn to the mysterious Soohan who works there as a sort of handyman. With their melancholic, slightly detached personalities, it seems as though the two young men likely share a fair amount in common, so much so that the tragic backstory revealed in the flashbacks interspersed throughout the first volume could easily belong to either of them. If nothing else, Intense is certainly well named. The manhwa is heavy and intense both emotionally and psychologically, moreso than many other boys’ love stories I’ve read. I definitely plan on reading the rest of the series and I’m very curious to see how the relationship between Jiwoon and Soohan develops.

Paradise Residence, Volume 3Paradise Residence, Volume 3 by Kosuke Fujishima. Admittedly, it has been quite some time since I’ve read the first two volumes of Paradise Residence, but I really don’t remember the characters being especially infatuated with motorbikes and motorcycles which is something that is quite prominent in the third and final volume. Maybe I just completely missed it before and that’s why it seemed to suddenly come out of nowhere, but the resulting story is nice. However, it’s another sudden development that becomes the dramatic focus of the rest of the volume–due to some unfortunate circumstances, the dorm is scheduled for demolition rather than renovation and the young women living there must do all that they can to save their beloved home. They come up with a rather creative solution to their problem that, while it strains believability, is impressively audacious and clever. Paradise Residence is a series that I enjoyed much more than I thought or expected I would. It doesn’t really have a lot of substance or depth to it, but it’s a pleasant slice-of-life manga set in an all-girls high school. Though not particularly nuanced, most of the characters are generally likeable. Even with the occasional bit of drama, Paradise Residence tends to be a fairly quiet and low-key series. The artwork is attractive, too, although Fujishima seems fond of drawing characters with one eye closed; I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be winking or what.

Spoof on Titan, Volume 1Spoof on Titan, Volume 1 by Hounori. In general the manga spinoffs of Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan depend on readers having at least some familiarity with the original series, although to varying degrees. Spoof on Titan perhaps requires a little more than many of the others as the humor relies heavily on knowledge of the characters and their personalities. Unlike Attack on Titan: Junior High, the other Attack on Titan comedy series, Spoof on Titan is firmly set in the world of the original manga. Granted, it’s a much more friendly version of that world–the Titans, though mentioned frequently, barely make an appearance and the death, destruction, and violence has been greatly toned down. The gore and darkness of Attack on Titan aren’t really to be found in Spoof on Titan. Hounori’s illustrations and character redesigns are pretty cute, too. Spoof on Titan is a four-panel comedy manga which is a format that I tend to really like when it’s done well, but the comics in Spoof on Titan tended to be fairly hit-or-miss for me. Some of them legitimately made me laugh while I barely cracked a smile at others. Overall, though, I am largely enjoying the series and find it amusing. I’m not sure that I would necessarily want to binge-read Spoof on Titan, but the series can be fun in small doses. The first volume reads like a collection of comedic Attack on Titan bonus manga, which is essentially what it is even if Isayama himself isn’t directly working on the series.


My Week in Manga: August 1-August 7, 2016

My News and Reviews

Last week brought some very good news! Sparkler Monthly‘s Kickstarter campaign for its fourth year was successfully funded, so we’ll all be getting another twelve months of phenomenal new content in addition to all of marvelous the Sparkler Monthly content that already exists, most of which is freely available online. Somewhat related to that, last week the winner of Experiments in Manga’s Sparkler Monthly Year 4 giveaway was announced. I was hoping to post the wrap up to my horror manga review project last week, too, but it looks like that should be going up sometime this week, instead.

Speaking of Kickstarters, there were two recently launched projects that specifically caught my attention last week. The first is a project to publish the second volume of Moonshot, a comics anthology featuring indigenous creators. The first volume was very impressive and earned multiple awards and honors, so I expect the second volume will be great, too. The other campaign is for the first print volume of Der-shing Helmer’s webcomic The Meek. I haven’t actually read The Meek myself yet, but I’ve heard very good things about the series.

Elsewhere online (well, I guess specifically at Anime News Network), it was a Seven Seas sort of week: Deb Aoki interviewed Okayado, the creator of the massively successful Monster Musume, at Anime Expo, the transcript of which has now been posted. I haven’t had time to listen to it yet, but the most recent ANNCast featured Jason DeAngelis, Adam Arnold and Lissa Patillo from Seven Seas. And in licensing news, Seven Seas will be releasing Atami Michinoku’s The High School Life of a Fudanshi.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail, Volume 52Fairy Tail, Volumes 52-54 by Hiro Mashima. Despite its immense popularity, for me Fairy Tail fairly tends to be fairly hit-or-miss. Mashima readily admits that he doesn’t always know where he’s going with the story and characters, but every once in a while he manages to pull it all together to form something truly grand and epic. I have to admit, I’m really liking the most recent story arc of Fairy Tail. Once again, the members of the Fairy Tail guild are responsible for trying to save the world, but the enemies that they face this time are so strong that it’s not something that they will be able to do alone. To me, this showdown feels more personal than some of the previous world-altering battles. Granted, that impression may in part be because my reading of Fairy Tail has been somewhat fragmented. However, I greatly appreciate the more character-driven arcs of Fairy Tail. These three volumes explore the past of Fairy Tail and the guild’s connection to Zeref, the dark wizard cursed to live forever who is trying to find a way to end it all. (This I believe is all explored in greater depth in the Fairy Tail Zero spinoff, which I suspect I would likely enjoy.) The battles in this story arc are well-paced in addition to being suitably dramatic and over-the-top, fitting for a conflict that will determine the fate of the world.

Haikyu!, Volume 1Haikyu!!, Volumes 1-2 by Haruichi Furudate. Due to my increasingly busy schedule, I’ve only managed to watch the first few episodes of the Haikyu!! anime adaptation, but that was more than enough to determine that I wanted to read the original manga when it was released in English. I find that even though I’m not especially interested in sports, I really enjoy sports manga, and so far Haikyu!!, about a boys’ high school volleyball team, doesn’t disappoint. Like many other sports-oriented manga, Haikyu!! features characters who are in one way or another exceptionally skilled or naturally talented athletes. What makes Haikyu!! stand out from other sports manga that I’ve read is that it emphasizes teamwork in a way that I’ve not usually seenthe manga’s not just about great players who are simply part of the same team, it’s about teammates bringing out the best in one another, finding ways to effectively complement their strengths and weaknesses to form a group that’s more capable than any one individual. The characterization is pretty great in Haikyu!!, too, which is particularly important for a series which will likely have a fair number of characters to keep track of. I really like the characters in Haikyu!!; they all have very distinctive personalities. If Haikyu!! continues as strongly as it begins, I’m definitely in for the long haul with this series.

UQ Holder!, Volume 7UQ Holder!, Volumes 7-8 by Ken Akamatsu. There’s something about UQ Holder! that rubs me the wrong way. Frustratingly, I haven’t been able to identify exactly what it is about the series, especially as there are parts of the manga that I actually like. I do wonder if part of this dissonance is caused by the fact that I’ve never read Negima! Magister Negi Magi. Although UQ Holder! initially seemed to be a stand-alone spinoff, lately it seems to be tying itself back to the original to a greater extent; I feel like I’m missing some important context. Much of the humor in UQ Holder! seems to fall flat for me, too, even when I can tell that what I’m reading is intended to be funny. The series also seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, as though Akamatsu can’t quite decide what type of story it’s supposed to be. At this point, UQ Holder! has now suddenly veered into becoming a martial arts tournament; previous incarnations of the series included a murder mystery, among other things. The martial arts tournament was a good choice, thoughthe battles in UQ Holder! are generally the most entertaining aspect of the series. The tournament also gives the characters an actual, definitive goal to focus on rather than their more ambiguous ambitions. These volumes also delve more into Evangeline’s backstory, which was good to see.

My Week in Manga: July 25-July 31, 2016

My News and Reviews

A new review was posted at Experiments in Manga last week! The final review in my (at one point monthly) horror manga review project delves into Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare, Volume 10. I have mixed feelings about the series’ conclusion, but overall there was a lot that I really liked about the manga as a whole. I’m not exactly sure what my next in-depth feature will be (I have a few different ideas for it), but I do plan on writing a brief wrap-up for the horror manga review project. I’m also working on the post for Experiment in Manga’s (sixth!) anniversary which will be coming up later this month.

Also posted last week was Experiments in Manga’s most recent giveaway which offers a chance to win two Sparkler Monthly paperbacks, ebooks, or audio dramas of your choosing. The last few days of the giveaway coincides with the last few days of the Sparkler Monthly Year 4 Kickstarter. The winner of the giveaway will be announced on Wednesday, but the fate of Sparkler Monthly will be determined on Tuesday. There was a surge of support for the campaign over the weekend, but it still has a little ways to go if it’s going to succeed. I wrote a little bit on Twitter about the importance of Sparkler Monthly to me personally and in general; please consider contributing to the campaign in some way if you are at all able and haven’t already!

Speaking of Kickstarters, Czap Books recently launched a campaign to support it’s 2017 Collection. Last year Czap Books released the first volume of Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys which I adored, and the books in the 2017 Collection all look as though they should be fantastic, too. Other interesting things found online last week include Deb Aoki’s writeup on manga at SDCC 2016 for Publishers Weekly. Audio recordings of some of the panels at SDCC are now available as well. (As are audio ecordings from TCAF 2016; I don’t remember if I previously mentioned those.) I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but The OSAG introduced the first episode of Translator Tea Time, a podcast featuring two professional manga translators. Also last week, Yen Press slipped in a license announcement for Miyuki Nakayama’s Spirits & Cat Ears and Canno’s A Kiss and White Lily for Her.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail: Ice Trail, Volume 2Fairy Tail: Ice Trail, Volume 2 by Yuusuke Shirato. When I first started reading Ice Trail, a spinoff of Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail which follows Gray Fullbuster before he joins the guild, I had assumed that it would be a somewhat longer series. Gray is probably one of the most popular characters in Fairy Tail, but Ice Trail ends up only being two volumes long. It’s a fun and even cute series that introduces some original characters in addition to incorporating, either directly or indirectly, cast members from Fairy Tail. Readers already familiar with Fairy Tail will probably get the most out of Ice Trail, but the series doesn’t require much previous knowledge of the original story and characters to follow what is going on. The second volume concludes Gray’s search for the Fairy Tail guild, having heard that it was home to a number of great wizards. As Gray journeys to Magnolia, he more or less unintentionally forms a three-person adventure party with another boy named Pauz, a wizard whose magic is based on books and paper (a type of magic which unsurprisingly I loved) and the young thief Doronbo, who was probably my favorite character out of the entire mini-series. Although initially their relationships were somewhat antagonistic, by the end of Ice Trail the three have become close friends, keeping with the tradition and themes of Fairy Tail as a whole.

Genshiken: Second Season, Volume 7Genshiken: Second Season, Volumes 7-8 by Shimoku Kio. It’s admittedly been a little while since I’ve read the original Genshiken manga, but there do seem to be quite a few parallels between the two series. Granted, Second Season is probably much closer to being a continuation of Genshiken proper rather than an entirely separate series. One similarity that particularly struck me reading these two volumes is that both Genshiken and Second Season start as series about otaku and their hobbies but soon evolve into series that’s more about the relationships between the members of the club and inevitably romance. At this point in Second Season, Hato is coming to terms with his feelings for Madarame and is beginning to dress as a woman more frequently. (Just how closely those two things are related to each other is debatable.) As Hato starts making the moves on Madarame, the rest of Madarame’s real-life harem is thrown into turmoil. And of course everyone on the sidelines has their own pairings that they’re rooting for, treating it almost like a game which creates even more drama. Madarame himself isn’t really sure what to do with the situation and has his own conflicted feelings to work out. I won’t lie—I like Hato and Madarame together, so I’m very curious to see where this is all heading.

A Redtail's DreamA Redtail’s Dream by Minna Sundberg. I don’t remember exactly when the webcomic A Redtail’s Dream was first recommended to me, but never got around to reading it until now. Which is a complete and utter shame. I had actually forgotten about it but recently came across it again while looking for a different comic entirely. The collected edition of A Redtail’s Dream includes the entire series in a single, massive volume along with additional bonus content, commentary, and cultural notes not found online. A Redtail’s Dream is an absolutely gorgeous comic. Drawn over the course of two years, each chapter is illustrated using a different color palette and the results are simply beautiful. The comic is strongly influenced by Finnish mythology (Sundberg was born in Sweden, but was raised and lives in Finland), but familiarity with those stories and legends is not at all necessary to appreciate and enjoy Sundberg’s epic. A Redtail’s Dream follows Hannu and his beloved dog Ville who are given the responsibility of rescuing the souls of their friends, family, and neighbors when a young spirit fox accidentally causes their village to slip into a dream realm which is dangerously close the land of the dead. Hannu is actually fairly antisocial, so it’s interesting (and amusing) to see him crankily take on the role of the hero when he’d much rather just be left alone.

Seven StoriesSeven Stories by Hiroshi Mori. Outside of Japan, Mori is probably best known as the creator of The Sky Crawlers, which was adapted as an anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii in 2008, and his debut novel The Perfect Insider, which was even more recently adapted as an eleven-episode anime series. Inside of Japan, Mori is an extremely prolific, well-known, and popular author. (Apparently, Mori also wrote the novelization of Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas, which I didn’t even know existed; I’d love to read that.) It wasn’t until recently that any of Mori’s writing was translated into English, thanks to the efforts of Breakthrough Bandwagon Books. As can be safely assumed by the title, Seven Stories collects seven of Mori’s short works, some of which are representative of his earliest short stories and most of which can be generally categorized as mysteries with some interesting twists: “The Girl Who Was the Little Bird,” “A Pair of Hearts,” “I’m In Debt to Akiko,” “Silent Prayer In Empty,” “Kappa,” “The Rooftop Ornament of Stone Ratha,” and “Which Is the Witch?” (The last two stories are actually from Mori’s S&M series which is a continuation of sorts of The Perfect Insider.) The collection also includes an essay by the editor and translator, providing additional background information and context for the stories which I greatly appreciated. The translation tends to be more literal and academic than literary, but the dry humor present in some of the stories still comes through quite well.