Sean and Michelle briefly review new releases from Kodansha, VIZ, and Yen Press.
Barakamon, Vol. 7 | By Satsuki Yoshino | Yen Press – We’re back on the island, with the calligraphy once again taking a backseat to Handa’s somewhat hapless life among the natives. Sometimes this leads to running gags (broken windows galore) and sometimes to heartwarming sweetness (visiting the island’s 99-year-old matriarch). There’s also an expansion of the cast as we meet Miwa’s parents, introduced through a horrific misunderstanding. One set of parents is still notable in their absence, though, and Handa thinks about asking Naru about her own situation but opts instead to avoid getting serious with her. There’s no major revelations or developments here, but it’s sweet in a relaxed, daily life way. – Sean Gaffney
First Love Monster, Vol. 2 | By Akira Hiyoshimura | Yen Press – Perhaps reading my misgivings about the first volume of this series, the second one tries to make it more obvious that this is meant to be a comedy rather than a romance. We meet another resident, who looks like a new “rival” for all of about three seconds before she reveals her true intentions, and the one sensible 11-year-old among the cast winds up falling for a girl who is (sigh) the male buttmonkey of the cast dressed in drag. Oddly, despite my sounding like I didn’t like it, this series is best when it’s at its most broadly comedic. When trying to examine the genuine emotional turmoil of a young girl and her elementary school boyfriend, things simply get too uncomfortable. – Sean Gaffney
Idol Dreams, Vol. 1 | By Arina Tanemura | VIZ Media – Tanemura describes Idol Dreams as “a magical-girl series for adults,” and it kind of is, given that the protagonist, Chikage Deguchi, is a mousy, 31-year-old virgin who regrets the state of her romance-free life. But her age is really the only thing mature about Chikage, as her mentality fits much better into the 15-year-old body a former classmate’s experimental drug provides her. I like that Chikage plans to embrace this opportunity to change herself, but it’s still pretty creepy to see this grown woman crushing over the 15-year-old boy band member who provides her with her first kiss while she fills in for an advertising photo shoot (as you do). I can’t help but wonder what kind of reaction such a plot gimmick would get if the genders were reversed. I will probably read the next volume, but I don’t expect my opinion to change much. – Michelle Smith
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu | By Junji Ito | Kodansha Comics – In case you were wondering, this is indeed just an amusing cat diary, which chapters like Yon getting out of the house or Yon giving preferential treatment to Ito’s wife. (Mu plays a far lesser role). But of course the joy of reading this manga is in seeing Ito’s over the top expressions, familiar to those who’ve read his horror manga, applied to such mundane topics. He even draws his wife without pupils, giving her an evil, soulless look that belies the actual material. The art is 3/4 of the reason to pick up this book—the other 1/4 is that these are indeed cute yet willful cats, and Ito’s struggle to master them and play with them at the same time is hilarious. Cat lovers will need to pick this up. – Sean Gaffney
LDK, Vol. 1 | By Ayu Watanabe | Kodansha Comics – The initial setup of LDK sounds extremely trope-y: second-year high-school girl Aoi Nishimori lives alone in an apartment, hunky but cold-hearted school prince Shusei Kugayama moves in next door, and “a series of crazy happenings” result in them having to live together. Burgeoning romantic feelings ensue. And because of this surfeit of tropes, I excused Shusei’s initial behavior as a trope, too. Sure, he’s a git, but he is being hounded by fangirls, and that can’t be fun. But as the volume wore on, and he did more and more egregious things—culminating with forcing Aoi to try on a swimsuit while handcuffed to him—I began to realize he’d crossed the line into flagrant asshole territory. Aoi does confront him and he apologizes, so I’m willing to read one more volume to see if any change seems imminent, but otherwise I am pretty disappointed. – Michelle Smith
Missions of Love, Vol. 11 | By Ema Toyama | Kodansha Comics – The manga has been building up to Yukina finally making her choice between the childhood friend milquetoast Akira and the brooding yet caring Shigure. The trouble is that it’s not even close to being over yet. And so Yukina ends up making… the wrong choice, one that we immediately know is wrong, and Yukina soon finds out, as she still can’t separate her own personal life and the novel she’s writing—especially now that she’s in competition with another author. In addition, perhaps thinking that these people making terrible decisions were becoming too sympathetic, we meet Shigure’s brother Hisame, who is introduced in such a way that he may as well have “I Am Evil” on his shirt. Still so wrong, yet so addictive. – Sean Gaffney
Yukarism, Vol. 4 | By Chika Shiomi | VIZ Media – Sadly, Yukarism comes to a close in this fourth and final volume. Selfishly, I wanted more, but in terms of the story, wrapping it up here means there weren’t any painful filler episodes to dilute the tense atmosphere Shiomi-sensei managed to maintain until the finale. I’m not going to spoil the specifics of how things are resolved, but I will say it was a very satisfactory conclusion and I got teary-eyed at least twice. Ultimately, though I was a little critical of the first volume, Yukarism soon won me over in a big way and it ended up becoming not only a keeper that I can foresee myself rereading but also a series that I think I will be foisting upon others who are not yet maniacal manga fans. I consider this a must-read for any shoujo fan. – Michelle Smith