Guest Post: Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1

It’s been some time since Experiments in Manga has hosted a guest post, but my friend Jocilyn was once again inspired and is back to review one of the more recently released yuri manga, the first volume of Canno’s Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl. (Also if you’re interested, you can find some of Jocilyn’s non-manga writings over at her delectable tea blog Parting Gifts!)

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Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1Seeing Canno’s name on the cover of a book in English feels like quite the sea change. Not only is she somewhat obscure with only one full manga series and a couple of one-offs and anthology contributions to her name, her writing style also leans heavily toward the heart-throbbingly romantic yuri (which English publishers have traditionally avoided as being too risky/niche). Also, although not an uncommon setting for yuri manga, Canno’s Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl is the first genre title in English in a decade (i.e. Hakamada Mera’s Last Uniform and Hayashiya Shizuru’s Hayate X Blade, neither of which are exactly realistic), to give us a long look at dorm-life in a prestigious all-girls’ school. Finally, in case those weren’t enticing enough reasons, “Ano Kiss” has been translated by the matchless Jocelyne Allen, easily the most talented and enjoyable manga translator in the industry (and kind of my personal heroine). Hands down, Kiss & White Lily was my most anticipated manga of the year, and it has not disappointed.

To briefly summarize the plot, Ayaka Shiramine was told as a child that a 95/100 was an unacceptably low grade and ever since has never settled for anything less than no.1 in her class. Enter Yurine Kurosawa, a genius transfer student who can work academic and PE miracles with seemingly zero effort, who’s constantly seen sleeping in class. Indignant of the presumptuous upstart, Shiramine tries even harder than usual but still only manages second place on their midterms. In a fit of pique, Shiramine rips up her 98/100 test in front of Kurosawa declaring “It’s no good unless it’s perfect. If only you weren’t here, I would still be no.1” Kurosawa who had initially been impressed and quite smitten with Shiramine, amps up the rivalry and lords her superiority over Shiramine as a means to get closer to her. Before long Kurosawa has stolen Shiramine’s first kiss and being somewhat tsundere, Shiramine goes into total denial mode before being caught in a compromising position by her roommate cousin. Naturally, being a yuri manga, the cousin represents a B-story involving the boyish star of the track team and a hotly akogared sempai. Yada Yada Yada.

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl, Volume 1, Chapter 2I won’t belabor the obvious parallel to Kare Kano in overall plot. Kurosawa’s utter genius and complete ambivalence to nearly everything that doesn’t involve Shiramine is oddly cute and compelling. One scene that paints Kurosawa as particularly superhuman had me in stitches for a while the first time I read it, but I won’t spoil it for you here. Although Shiramine might be outwardly cool and dissembling toward Kurosawa, when they’re alone together she manages to unwittingly send all the right signals. As with its inspiration, the honor students’ relationship is all blushes and awkward but swoon-worthy and adorable.

Kiss & White Lily variously waxes exciting shoujo romance and lighthearted school girl fun in an enticing mixture. Although Canno does tend to use a lot of screen tones to the point of necromancing Kare Kano, her art style is very cute and emotive, moreso reminiscent of Shimura Takako. I very much enjoyed the gorgeous full-color introductory pages Yen was good enough to reproduce. Naturally Kiss & White Lily’s translation is nigh seamless perfection. I honestly cannot produce a single gripe this time. A thoroughly fabulous read!

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, Volume 1

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, Volume 1Creator: Nanao
Original story: HaccaWorks*

U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316351966
Released: December 2015
Original release: 2012

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi was originally a visual novel developed and created by the doujin group HaccaWorks* that was released in 2011. The manga adaptation by another doujin creator, Nanao, began serialization in Japan in 2012. The first volume of the manga was also collected and released later that year. In English, the Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi manga is being released by Yen Press and debuted in late 2015. I haven’t actually played the original Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, though I’m fairly certain it would be something that I would enjoy. In fact, I didn’t even known that the manga was based on a game when I first picked it up. Nor was I previously familiar with any of the creators involved which probably isn’t too surprising—I believe that Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi may very well be Nanao’s first professional work as a mangaka. But, due to the evocative and vaguely ominous cover art and title as well as the promise of the involvement of yokai, the series still caught my attention.

For as long as he can remember, Yue has lived at the mountain shrine associated with the town of Utsuwa where he has been taken care of by the local fox spirits and their attendants. Despite being told not to leave the mountain, Yue and Kurogitsune, one of his fox companions, sneak out of the shrine to attend the town’s festival. The new experience, although exciting, is somewhat overwhelming for Yue. But while at the festival, he encounters two young men who stand out to him more than anyone else—whereas most people appear as shadowy, indistinguishable figures to Yue, Tsubaki and Akiyoshi are distinctive and unique presences. Upon his return to the shrine Yue is duly scolded for breaking the rules but when the master learns about Akiyoshi and Tsubaki she encourages him to meet them again. The fate of all three boys are now intertwined. Because Yue finds himself so irresistibly drawn to Tsubaki and Akiyoshi, he is told that he will one day have to choose one of them to become his “meal,” necessary for sustaining his very existence.

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi, Volume 1, page 39I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the first volume of Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi. The manga combines elements of folklore, horror, and mystery in a very satisfying way. Granted, after the first volume, readers are left with more questions than answers. Much about the series’ story, setting, and characters remain unclear at this point, but what is possibly implied is tantalizing. At times Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi can be unnecessarily cryptic—entire conversations are held in which the characters obviously know what they are talking about but readers aren’t given enough information or context to really understand or follow—which is more frustrating than mysterious, but this still sparks curiosity. I am genuinely intrigued by the series; I want to know more about the ominous events and strange disappearances occurring in Utsuwa, a place inhabited by both humans and spirits which seems to be some sort of threshold between worlds.

Utsuwa isn’t the only thing peculiar that’s peculiar in Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi. The characters, too, are all a bit odd. Yue goes through life in an almost dreamlike, innocent state, his real identity not only obscured to readers but to himself as well. Akiyoshi, with his eccentric behavior and flair for the dramatic, comes across as conspiracy theorist except that he actually has evidence and legitimate reasons to be concerned. Tsubaki would initially appear to be a fairly normal if somewhat moody young man if it wasn’t for the fact that humans and spirits alike frequently find themselves obsessed or enamored with him. The three form an curious bond as they begin to investigate the unusual happenings in Utsuwa. They’re not exactly friends but are far more than mere acquaintances. Supported by Nanao’s attractive (if occasionally cluttered) artwork, intriguing characters, and an effective sense of mystery and impending misfortune, Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi has a dark, otherworldly atmosphere which I’m really enjoying.


AnotherAuthor: Yukito Ayatsuji
Translator: Karen McGillicuddy
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316339100
Released: October 2014
Original release: 2009

Another is a horror mystery novel written by Yukito Ayatsuji which was originally serialized in Japan between 2006 and 2009 before being collected into a single volume later that year. The novel was then released again in 2011 in two separate volumes. It is that edition upon which the English translation by Karen McGillicuddy is based. Another was initially released digitally in English by Yen Press in two volumes in 2103, but in 2014 it was published as a single-volume hardcover under the newly established Yen On light novel imprint. In addition to being Ayatsuji’s first novel to be translated into English, Another is probably his most widely-known work, especially outside of Japan. This is in part due to the fact that Another was adapted as a manga series and as an anime series, both of which have been licensed in English, as well as a live-action film. Although I’ve known about Another for a while, it actually wasn’t until I read Ayatsuji’s debut novel The Decagon House Murders that I was inspired to pick it up.

Yomiyama North Middle School’s third-year Class 3 is cursed. For some strange reason, the students of that class and their immediate families seem to be more susceptible to dying. Some years pass by without any casualties while other years see multiple deaths every month. The curse is said to be tied to an incident which occurred twenty-six years ago. A popular student named Misaki died, but the entire class was in such denial that Misaki’s spirit manifested. Now more than two decades later, Misaki’s story has been embellished and retold so many times that it’s difficult to tell how much of it is rumor and urban legend and how much is really true. Koichi Sakakibara recently transferred into Class 3 and isn’t sure what to believe and nobody is being particularly forthcoming about the situation. The curse could just simply be a ghost story, but his classmates and teachers are honestly frightened of something. And soon after Koichi’s arrival, a new series of deaths begin.

Another is a marvelous combination of mystery and horror. The first half of the novel explores the “what” and “why” of the increasingly odd situation while the second reveals the “how” and “who.” As a transfer student, Koichi is an outsider. He isn’t as knowledgeable as the other people involved, and they are reluctant to share information with him, so Koichi is largely left to investigate on his own. Eventually he gains some dubious allies, the most important being a young woman named Mei Misaki who may or may not actually exist. Ayatsuji excels at creating a constant air of uncertainty in Another—he introduces just enough creepiness and doubt that readers, like Koichi, are left questioning everything. While logical analysis is a valid option, the weirdness of the situation and the possibility of supernatural interference makes the more mundane, straightforward answers feel suspect. Additionally, Koichi himself is shown to be a somewhat unreliable narrator, and it’s his perspective of the unfolding events that drives Another.

Ayatsuji is particularly well-known for his inventive stories with dramatic twists. Another definitely falls into that category, the plot taking multiple clever and surprising turns over the course of the novel. However, without spoiling things, there was one major reveal towards the end that left me feeling cheated, especially when most of the other developments were so engaging. Retrospectively, the reveal does fit into the overall narrative, and there were some clues hinting at it scattered throughout the novel, but it isn’t foreshadowed as well as it could have been. As a result, I found it to be very unsatisfying. The revelation is shocking and certainly leaves an impact, but I think that had the information been shared earlier in the novel it could have been used even more effectively. Despite this one notable complaint, I actually quite enjoyed Another. The mystery was intriguing, the horror was disconcerting, and blended together they formed a chilling novel that was highly readable and kept me eagerly turning the pages.

The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Volume 1

The Devil Is a Part-Timer, Volume 1Author: Satoshi Wagahara
Illustrator: 029

Translator: Kevin Gifford
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316383127
Released: April 2015
Original release: 2011
Awards: Dengeki Novel Prize

The Devil Is a Part-Timer! began in 2011 as a light novel series written by Satoshi Wagahara with illustrations by 029, but it has since expanded to include an anime adaptation and multiple manga series as well. I was actually introduced to The Devil Is a Part-Timer! through the 2013 anime series directed by Naoto Hosoda. I rather enjoyed it and so when Yen Press licensed not only the manga but the orignal light novel series of The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, it caught my attention. I was particularly interested in reading the anime’s source material, currently an ongoing series of novels at fourteen volumes in Japan. The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Volume 1, which earned Wagahara a Silver Dengeki Novel Prize, was released in English in 2015 under Yen Press’ new light novel imprint Yen On with a translation by Kevin Gifford. The volume also includes color pages and an end-of-book bonus—character files in the form of a collection of resumes.

Satan, the Devil King, had one simple goal: to conquer Ente Isla and subjugate the humans there who manage to survive the invasion of his forces. All was going well until the Hero made her appearance on the battlefield. Emilia throws the Devil King’s plans into disarray and Satan is forced to make a hasty retreat along with Alciel, his strategist and one of the Four Great Demon Generals. Unintentionally, they end up in the parallel world of modern-day Japan with no immediate way back to Ente Isla. Emilia isn’t far behind them, which only causes another set of problems to deal with. Until they can return to their own world, Satan, now known as Maou, and Alciel, now known as Ashiya, must survive in this one as humans with very little access to their demonic powers. But then Maou secures a job as a part-timer at a fast food joint. He’s convinced that this will be the first step in conquering Japan, the world, and (assuming they can figure out how to get home) Ente Isla.

The Devil Is a Part-Timer, Volume 1, page 21The first volume of The Devil Is a Part-Timer! and at least some if not all of the second were adapted as part of the anime series, so there were no real surprises for me plot-wise reading it. The novel does include a few more worldbuilding and character details, but for the most part the anime was a very straightforward, routine interpretation of Wagahara’s orignal story. The writing in The Devil Is a Part-Timer! isn’t particularly flashy, stylish, or clever—it’s more functional than anything else—but all of the characters have their own ways of speaking and expressing themselves. It’s immediately apparent who’s responsible for any given line of dialogue because they each have a unique, individual voice. As for the plot, it’s intentionally ridiculous and absurd, which to some extent is what makes The Devil Is a Part-Timer! entertaining. Admittedly, it sometimes doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense, and there seem to be a few potential plot holes left for Wagahara to address as well, but the novel can still be legitimately fun. High literature it certainly isn’t, though, something that both Wagahara and the characters are well-aware of; the story developments in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Volume 1 are repeatedly compared to those of a B movie.

Very little of The Devil Is a Part Timer!, Volume 1 has much to do with magic or mayhem. Eventually Wagahara builds up to it for the volume’s finale, but for the most part the novel is surprisingly mundane. In the end, the crises that Maou is most concerned about is the possibility of being late for work. It seems likely that Maou and Ashiya’s personalities have significantly changed along with the changes in their physical forms. But then the humor in The Devil Is a Part-Timer! is largely derived from the characters being not at all who one would assume them to be and behaving in ways that are stunningly ordinary, especially considering their epic origins. Occasionally they do recall their quests—the demons’ goal to take over Ente Isla and Emilia’s desire to destroy Satan and his cohorts—but overall Maou appears to be content in his new-found work, Ashiya has come to accept his role of househusband, and even Emi has made a nice life for herself in Japan. Ultimately that’s what makes The Devil Is a Part-Timer so amusing, the complete mismatch between the characters as they are and the expectations of who they should be.

The Angel of Elhamburg

The Angel of ElhamburgCreator: Aki
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316340465
Released: March 2015
Original release: 2013

So far, three of Aki’s manga have been released in English. First was her debut, Utahime, published by Digital Manga. Second was her short series Olympos, released by Yen Press as a single omnibus volume. Most recently published in English is Aki’s The Angel of Elhamburg, initially conceived of as a short, one-shot manga, but expanded to fill an entire volume. Also released by Yen Press, The Angel of Elhamburg is presented in an attractive hardcover edition with a dust jacket with foil accents. The manga was released in Japan in 2013 and in English in 2015. Aki’s manga tend to be historical fantasies with prominent European influences and a fair amount of melancholy and sadness. The Angel of Elhamburg falls into that category as well. Although I sometimes find aspects of Aki’s storytelling frustrating, I largely enjoy her manga and her artwork is consistently beautiful. I was very happy to see The Angel of Elhamburg licensed.

After successfully overthrowing the previous lord, Madeth has become the High King, something that would not have been possible had it not been for the support and efforts of his close friend and knight Lalvan. Madeth has extraordinary charisma—people easily love and willingly follow him—but he is uneducated and of low birth. He lacks the ambition and confidence that one would expect from a ruler. Lalvan, on the other hand, is exceptionally clever and capable. But despite his talents, and his peculiar ability to see spirits invisible to others, Lalvan has always been overshadowed by his friend and most often finds himself in an auxiliary role. Now that Madeth has become king, their relationship has started to fracture as long-hidden and suppressed insecurities, jealousies, and issues of trust threaten to destroy their friendship and perhaps even throw the kingdom into turmoil once more.

The Angel of Elhamburg, page 6Although the title is The Angel of Elhamburg, the role of the angel in the manga—a spirit that watches over Elhamburg Castle, the kingdom’s seat of power—is actually a relatively minor one. The fact that Lalvan can see the angel significantly impacts some of the story and character developments, but the angel itself is not an active character, merely a notable presence. The real focus of The Angel of Elhamburg is on the changing relationship between Lalvan and Madeth, with a particular emphasis given to Lalvan and his perspective of events. This highlighting of the characters is present in Aki’s storytelling as well as in her artwork. Although overall quite lovely, the backgrounds and settings tend to be somewhat limited; more attention is devoted to the characters’ facial expressions and body language, and to the details of their clothing and design. Because the manga’s focus is so much on people as individuals, The Angel of Elhamburg often feels very intimate and personal.

The Angel of Elhamburg is told in five scenes, or chapters. I particularly liked the structure of the first which is further divided into three acts following Lalvan, Madeth, and the angel respectively. However, once Aki decided to expand the manga, the narrative deviates from this initial structure and becomes more linear until the last scene. The final chapter is a little confusing at first since its use of flashbacks and flash-forwards obscures the story’s chronology. The Angel of Elhamburg is a bittersweet tragedy. With the manga’s classical feel and theatric nature, I could easily see it being adapted as a stage production. The rise and fall of a kingdom serves as the backdrop for the interpersonal drama and conflict, which is the true heart of the manga. There is a story, but The Angel of Elhamburg is probably best described as a character study. The Angel of Elhamburg excels in conveying the depth of Lalvan and Madeth’s individual personalities and fears, ultimately showing an established and evolving relationship that is believably complicated.