This week, Kate, MJ, and Michelle look at recent releases from Yen Press, VIZ Media, JManga, and eManga.
Amorous Women of the Floating World: Sex in Old Tokyo, Vol. 1 | By Kaoru Hazuki & Chinatsu Takamura | Leed Publishing Co., LTD – The cover copy for this manga begins, “Did you know that Japan in the 18th century was even more sexually permissive than it is today?” After reading this manga, however, it must be clarified that “sexually permissive” should be appended with”…for men.” This book is for men, of course, but it’s difficult to accept it as harmless sexual fantasy, when it works so hard to try to sell the subjugation of women as female empowerment. The book opens with lessons in “marital harmony.” “It is incredibly pleasurable for your lord to enter your mouth,” a young woman is told on the eve of her wedding night. “Do not deny him!” Later, we learn about the rural practice in which groups of local men set upon households of women in the middle of the night to ask for sex, which we’re told was empowering for the women because they were allowed to say no. While as a history of sexual behavior in Japan, this book offers some interesting information, as sexual fantasy it’s just kind of… icky. – MJ
Black Butler, Vol. 9 | By Yana Toboso | Published by Yen Press – You know the previous arc must’ve been a dark one when a murder mystery set in Phantomhive Manor seems positively lighthearted by comparison! Ciel is compelled by Her Majesty to play host to a distinguished German visitor, but when the man turns up dead (on the requisite dark and stormy night, of course), Ciel is the only one without an alibi. One guest believes in his innocence, however—a medically trained mystery writer named Arthur, whom one can only assume is meant to be Conan Doyle. Arthur narrates the tale, which is kind of neat, and though I don’t believe for one moment that Sebastian has truly become the killer’s latest victim, I must say that I was really bummed out that I didn’t have volume ten immediately to hand.– Michelle Smith
Cross Game, Vol. 7 | By Mitsuru Adachi | Published by VIZ Media – I’ve you’ve been keeping up with Cross Game, you pretty much know what to expect with this volume. The Seishu team has one last chance to make it to Koshien, and this omnibus (comprising volumes 14 and 15 of the original Japanese edition) offers lots and lots of baseball goodness as they make their way through the Tokyo tournament. Meanwhile, there’s a sort of romantic pentagram going on that provides some distractions. I really admire the elegant way that Adachi and co. depict the games—they are effortlessly easy to follow—as well as Aoba’s growing realization of Ko’s various good qualities, and am always left wanting more even after 300+ pages. Speaking of wanting more, I shall avail myself once more of the opportunity to express my wish for another Adachi series after Cross Game wraps in July. Please, VIZ? – Michelle Smith
A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 3 | By Miyoshi Tomori | VIZ Media – Miyoshi Tomori captures adolescence in all its messy confusion, addressing pack behavior, frenemies, and faculty bullies. To be sure, other manga explore the same terrain, but Tomori’s work is one the few that can transport an adult reader back to his or her high school days in a vivid, compelling fashion. What makes this series work is its cast: the characters are flawed, inconsistent, and sometimes unlikable — just like real people — but they’re also funny, smart, and occasionally brave in small ways — just like real people. Best of all, Tomori’s heroine is prickly and brash without being cartoonish; chances are, you knew someone just like Maria when you were 15, and secretly admired her candor, too. Recommended. -Katherine Dacey
Don’t Cry, Girl | By Tomoko Yamashita | JManga – Are wacky nudists the latest trend in manga? I ask because Don’t Cry, Girl was the second manga I’ve read that featured a naked character — in this case, Masuda, a bachelor who agrees to provide a home for Taeko, his friends’ chaste but sensible 17-year-old daughter. The story reads like an extended riff on Austin Powers, with Masuda strategically using bowls of fruit, house plants, and vacuum cleaners to block Taeko’s line of sight. It’s a giddy and stupid conceit, sustained by the chemistry between the unsparingly blunt Taeko and the irrepressibly childish Masuda. The volume is rounded out by a second story, “3322,” which explores the relationships among a trio of women who spend a summer living together. The second story is lush and atmospheric but a little disjointed, making it difficult to follow all the plot strands. Taken as a whole, however, Don’t Cry, Girl is a welcome addition to the small but growing body of josei in English. – Katherine Dacey
Rin-ne, Vol. 9 | By Rumiko Takahashi | VIZ Media – The latest volume of Rin-ne features several ghost-of-the-week stories. Some have a loopy charm: in “Ramen Kaedama,” for example, Rokudo’s feckless father teams up with another damashigami to open a noodle shop, while “The Wig’s Regret” features a possessed prop from a long-forgotten school play. Other chapters, however, feel like something that Rumiko Takahashi could produce on autopilot: the stories are pat and predictable, with magical elements that feel overdetermined. The artwork, too, lacks the detail and personality of Takahashi’s earlier efforts; the backgrounds are uncharacteristically sparse and bland, while the figure drawings look like pallid imitations of characters from Ranma and InuYasha. It’s not bad, just tired; we’ve seen Takahashi tell these kind of stories before with more spark and wit. -Katherine Dacey