MICHELLE: Hey, MJ! You know what time it is. Time for my first really terrible joke of 2019. Are you ready?
MJ: Michelle, I was born ready.
MICHELLE: Okay, then. How do you find Will Smith in the snow?
MJ: Um. I don’t know, Michelle. How do you find Will Smith in the snow?
MICHELLE: You follow the fresh prints!
MJ: Okay, I know that was a terrible joke, but since I’m a pretty big fan of the Fresh Prince, I can’t help but appreciate it.
MICHELLE: It is exceedingly terrible but somehow it makes me happy! Anyways, we’ve once more dusted the cobwebs off the shelf because there’s some new manga we want to talk about. Would you like to go first?
MJ: I would! So, I just finished reading Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits, which was adapted from the light novel series of the same name and as such, comes with a slew of credits: art by Waco Ioka, original story by Midori Yuma, and character design by Laruha.
Aoi was adopted as a kid by a man named Shiro whom she describes as her grandfather. Shiro was a notorious philanderer, who wandered Japan fathering countless children with his many lovers, so he was hardly wanting for progeny of his own, but he raised Aoi faithfully, even providing for her college tuition after his death. Now alone, Aoi is prepared to make it on her own, but before she can even begin, she’s kidnapped by an ogre named Ōdanna, who whisks her away to the Ayakashi (spirit) world. As it turns out, Ōdanna is the proprietor of a well-respected inn, which Aoi’s grandfather once trashed on a bender. Unable to pay for the damage, Shiro promised Aoi’s hand in marriage as compensation, and Ōdanna’s come to collect. When Aoi refuses, she is offered the opportunity to work off the debt herself, but to do so, she has to find a job somewhere among the Ayakashi, most of whom hate humans, especially her grandfather.
Manga adaptations of light novels are not usually a big draw for me, but they’re also a bit of a rarity for Viz, so I figured it was worth a shot, especially since the supernatural setup is the type of thing I generally enjoy. My immediate reaction was regret. This adaptation begins with pages of narrated exposition that may work perfectly well in the novel but are clunky and awkward in manga form. The setup feels rushed, as though the artist knows that it’s awkward and wants to just push through it to get to the parts of the story that will be easier to tell, which unfortunately renders Aoi as a pretty generic protagonist with no personality in particular outside of a soft spot for Ayakashi and an interest in cooking.
Thankfully, the artist does seem to find their footing about halfway through the volume, and there are some fairly compelling mysteries set up, especially regarding a shape-changing nine-tailed fox named Ginji, who seems to be a friend. Or is he?
MICHELLE: My immediate reaction to your summary is that Shiro sounds like quite the asshole!
I’m sorry to hear that it gets off to a disappointing start. Are the mysteries sufficiently compelling that you think you’ll bother to pick up volume two?
MJ: Shiro indeed seems to have been quite the asshole, though certainly there is a lot of mystery surrounding him as well. For instance, he carefully taught Aoi how to avoid being kidnapped by an ogre, which would indicate that he never intended to surrender her as “payment” after all, and I get the sense that there’s more to the story than Aoi’s being told. And yes, I do think I’d give it at least one more volume. As lukewarm as this began, by the end I really did want to know what was going to happen next. Would Aoi find a job? Is Ginji as harmless as he appears? And what’s up with Akatsuki, the inn’s cranky general manager who really hated Shiro, and his adorably tousled hair?
Oh, and lest our shoujo-loving readers fear, despite being an ogre, Ōdanna is a total hottie with red eyes and cute little horns, which honestly is kind of a disappointment for me, but will probably sit well with the intended demographic.
MICHELLE: Probably. I should also note that a 26-episode anime version aired recently and is available on Crunchyroll last I heard.
MJ: I suspect that an anime adaptation might be more effective, especially for the exposition sections, so perhaps that’s the way to go. I will stick with the manga a bit longer, though!
So, would you like to share what you’ve been reading, Michelle?
MICHELLE: Continuing with the VIZ shoujo trend, I just finished the first two volumes of Shortcake Cake by a duo creating manga under the name suu Morishita. The series runs in Margaret, which is typically a very good indicator that I’m going to like it.
Ten Serizawa is from a very small town where local schools only go through junior high, so she’s had an extremely long commute for her first month of high school. Her long-time friend Ageha has been trying to persuade her to move into the boardinghouse where she lives and finally, after visiting the place, Ten agrees. Because this is shoujo manga, it turns out that the gorgeous, bookish boy that all the girls are obsessed with turns out to live there, too. His name is Chiaki Kasadera.
By the end of the second volume, it’s clear that Ten likes Chiaki, but how we get there is a pretty interesting and complicated route. One of the other boarders is a flirtatious boy named Riku Mizuhara, and he’s intrigued when Ten shuts down his attempts at flirtation. Soon, he’s developed a crush on her that she finds out about almost immediately. She rejects him and to his profound credit, Riku backs off. “I don’t want to pester her and make her hate me.” Chiaki, however, wants the two of them to be happy, so when Riku’s estranged little brother Rei—a wholly odious and imperious little shit who calls Ten by the name “Ugly”—commands Ten to be his girlfriend (just to make Riku miserable), Chiaki claims that he and Ten are actually dating, hoping that this pretend relationship will convince Rei that Riku is already suffering enough. Then, the kid will back off and maybe Riku and Ten can make it work.
Still with me? I grant that all these boys have feelings for Ten incredibly quickly—well, only Riku has officially admitted that he likes her, but I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Chiaki and Rei are forced to examine their real motivations—but at least she’s not an annoying protagonist. What’s really neat, though, is that we actually see inside the boys’ heads! This is exceedingly rare in shoujo manga, so a little bit of narration from a potential love interest goes a long way. I’m sure that it’ll be Chiaki in the end, but Riku is so thoroughly charming that I really want it to be him.
MJ: Okay, so from your summary, I admit that, like you, I’m currently a fan of Riku. I always like the boy who isn’t going to end up with the girl. It’s a lifelong curse. Mostly, though, I’m thinking that this sounds so gloriously shoujo, I must read it right away. I mean, seriously. A boardinghouse. I’m so here for this.
Is there other stuff going on besides the romantic drama? Like, at school?
MICHELLE: Not even a little. Ten’s mother only puts in a brief appearance to consent to the arrangement (though it’s at least suggested that her parents did go have a look around the place and all before she moved in) and school pretty much only exists as a backdrop for Chiaki and Riku to both attempt to walk Ten home so that she doesn’t get menaced by Rei. On the one hand, the protagonist having a well-rounded life is nice, but on the other hand, maybe it means we’ll be spared some of the by now too-familiar shoujo story beats like sports and cultural festivals.
MJ: Fair enough. Sounds like a fun read, in any case. I’ll definitely be digging into these volumes myself.
MICHELLE: I look forward to hearing what you think!
So, to conclude our VIZtacular trio, our mutual read this week was the first two volumes of Ao Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka, who also brought us Strobe Edge. Would you like to do the summation honors?
MJ: Sure! Here we go.
Futaba Yoshioka was a shy junior high school student with no interest in boys, except for Kou Tanaka, whose quiet sweetness mirrored her own. She thought something might happen between them, but when she turned up to meet Kou for a summer festival at his invitation, he never showed, and then his family moved away. Now, she’s in her first year of high school, and when she discovers that Kou is at the same school, she imagines them starting over. But the truth is, they are both so changed, they might as well be different people. He’s become a prickly underachiever to cope with his broken family life, and she’s become a tomboy to stay on the good side of her catty group of friends.
Then everything goes wrong, and Futaba finds herself friendless and isolated in a new class. But when she makes the rash decision to volunteer as class representative, she begins to find new friendships among a collection of loners, one of whom is Kou.
MICHELLE: Nicely done! This series ran in Bessatsu Margaret so, of course, I like it. There are a number of things about the initial setup that are pretty neat. For one, the action doesn’t start on the first day of Futaba’s first year but rather in the last semester, meaning she’s been at the same school with Kou for a very long time without noticing him. He’s in the honors class, which convenes on a different floor, but has definitely noticed her. Secondly, instead of the heroine starting friendless and gradually acquiring them (like Kimi ni Todoke or Waiting for Spring, to name but two recent examples), she starts with some friends. They’re just not really friends because she’s been duping them about who she really is. It’s true that both of those girls are not very nice, but I also appreciated that the dissolution of their friendship was not accompanied by mean-girl antics. Futaba just has to start over, and we’re shown glimpses of two other isolated girls who seem destined to become her true friends.
MJ: I’m struck by the differences between this and my first read here. This series, too, starts off with a lot of narration, but it’s utilized so effectively in Ao Haru Ride. Because Futaba is so shy, most of her thoughts are kept to herself, especially in the beginning, but instead of delivering an exposition dump, this narration is guiding us through Futaba’s realization about her crush on Kou and her interactions with other kids at school. We’re experiencing her thoughts and feelings much the way we would if she were the POV character of a YA novel, but only exactly as much as we need to. We’re shown what’s happened and told how she feels about it. This isn’t something that’s unique about the series at all—it’s exactly what we want to see in shoujo manga, and when it’s done well, it’s kind of invisible. But after reading Kakuriyo, I’m struck by how skillfully Sakisaka utilizes Futaba’s inner monologue.
MICHELLE: And some of the things she thinks are so poignant, too. She spends much of these volumes looking for signs of the old Kou and there’s one moment when she’s looking at him and thinks, “The nape of his neck is familiar but he sounds like a stranger. It makes me feel like crying.” Physically, someone she used to know and love is standing in front of her, but the connection they had has been cut off. I have been there and I thought Sakisaka captured that kind of feeling very well.
And then Kou rightly tells her, “You’re acting like you want to move forward, but you’re holding on to the past,” which I liked, as well. Eventually she decides that only his words are harsh, but that his heart is kind. I was glad she came to that realization in the second volume, because I didn’t want to keep rehashing the contrast to his past self and also, it’ll be nice to see Kou grow, as well.
MJ: Things do seem to happen in this series exactly when we most need them to. Just when I was becoming impossibly frustrated about Futaba’s attachment to the friend group that forced her to hide her true self, she broke free of them. And as you say, just as I was done with her mooning over the boy Kou used to be, she finally let that go as well. The pacing in these volumes is somehow exactly right.
Just as I was typing this up, I saw Shōjo Beat mention on Twitter that the third volume will be out next month, and I felt a surge of glee, so Sakisaka is definitely doing something right.
A bit of an odd confession: I admit that I’ve come to a place as a reader where I’m a bit bored by stories that lack queer characters, so from the beginning I found myself personally casting Kou as trans to help me get into it a little better. Queer readers, If you haven’t tried this with Ao Haru Ride, I wholeheartedly recommend it!
MICHELLE: That’s interesting, especially when he comes back with a whole new name and she keeps using the one he doesn’t identify with anymore!
I had a surge of glee when I was researching Sakisaka and read a little about her current series. Now I really want that one to be licensed here, too!
MJ: Yeah, I really didn’t expect that, but it did capture something poignant and relatable there.
I’d very much like to see more of Sakisaka’s work make its way here, so I guess we’ll cross our fingers!
To celebrate the return of Off the Shelf, MJ’s running a Shortcake Cake giveaway on Twitter! Follow the link to enter!