This week, Sean, Michelle, & Anna look at recent releases from Seven Seas, Viz Media, and Kodansha Comics.
Alice in the Country of Hearts: Love Labyrinth of Thorns | By QuinRose and Aoi Kurihara | Seven Seas – This is a standard Alice volume in many ways, but it also seems a bit… dialed down? Like it was supposed to run in Ichijinsha’s magazine for 7-year-olds, so they made it more kid-friendly? The at seems slightly more ‘cute’, there’s no sex like we’ve seen in several of the other series, Ace is being relatively nice and considerate (for Ace… he does almost kill Alice here, but we can’t have everything). Even Nightmare is acting in pure mentor mode, allowing Alice and Julius to recognize their feelings by way of manipulation and tricks. It’s Alice Lite, but in its own way it wouldn’t be a bad one-shot to get a newbie to the series. Even with the implied Julius/Ace shipping. – Sean Gaffney
Nisekoi, Vol. 3 | By Naoshi Komi | Viz Media – Most of this volume is, to be honest, harem-by-numbers. But it’s a decently written harem-by-numbers. There’s fanservice, but it’s not to the point that it gets disturbing. Our hero gets trapped in a women’s bath, but manages to avoid the comedy beating I was expecting. Tsugumi is having trouble dealing with both her gender and her unrecognized crush on Raku, but it’s mostly pretty cute. Where Nisekoi excels is in the way that it draws faces. A harem comedy tends to live and die by its expressions of embarrassment, terror and arousal, and all three of these get shown off here, particularly in the card game scene. All this plus Chitoge may be advancing the plot… next time around. This is fluffy fun. – Sean Gaffney
Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 16 | By Yuki Midorikawa | Viz Media – I admit upfront that I am positively besotted by this series. It’s rare that an episodic series charms me so thoroughly, but I really do love everything about this one. The chapters in this volume find Natsume acting as an intermediary between his friends and yokai—in the first story, yokai are lost in his classmate’s home, and in the second, an sweet old lady in one’s friend’s past turns out to have been a yokai all along—and being asked to keep the yokai’s secret when full disclosure is feared to lead only to pain and rejection. As ever, the yokai are endearing, and I admire how the series can be consistently sweet but never sappy. With another series, I might be annoyed by the lack of purposeful plot direction, but I never tire of Natsume’s Book of Friends. – Michelle Smith
Otomen, Vol. 18 | By Aya Kanno | Viz Media – Oh, Otomen. Even to the end, you alternate delighting and frustrating me. The first hanfl of this is a wonderful conclusion to the series (I loved how Ryo’s face was hidden till the dramatic climax) and everyone got to be awesome. Then suddenly the publisher realized they had 100 more pages to go till the volume ended, so we insert a ridiculous amnesia arc that almost had me throw the book across the room, complete with derailing of the main villain of the series, Asuka’s mother. Sigh. Oh well, at least I got a nice wedding finale out of it. And they actually waited 10 years till they were both settled into their chosen careers. Despite aggravations, I did enjoy Otomen, Ryo especially. More of Ryo as the best cop ever. – Sean Gaffney
Psyren, Vol. 16 | By Toshiaki Iwashiro | Viz Media – I understand that Psyren ended suddenly, as many series in Shonen Jump are wont to do, and it does show a bit, as this volume seems a bit crammed and rushed. At the same time, I was just about ready for this series to end, so this is still a good stopping place, and no gaping plot holes seem to be unaddressed. I did wonder if they were going to torch that ‘fourth future’, as they seemed to imply they would, but in the end even that gets a happy ending. Things are good. Bad guys are defeated, many superpowers are shown off, our hero didn’t die of brain damage, and he gets the girl. To be continued in the Psyren novel, which I suspect will only come out in Japan, but this is a good stopping place anyway. – Sean Gaffney
Say I Love You., Vol. 1 | By Kanae Hazuki | Kodansha Comics – So, imagine a plot kind of like Kimi ni Todoke, except that the lead girl is pricklier and the lead guy more experienced with the ladies. Mei Tachibana has sworn off having friends after being betrayed, but ends up capturing the interest of Yamato Kurosawa, the most popular boy in school. She’s resistent to his overtures of friendship at first, but when he actually comes through for her in a scary situation, she decides that maybe it’s okay to trust him a little. The story moves swiftly from there, and not only have she and Yamato become a couple by the end of the volume, but she’s also made a good female friend and they independently challenge those who talk trash about the other. It’s kind of great. I do wonder how this concept has thus far been sustained over twelve volumes, but I am definitely curious to see where this goes. – Michelle Smith
Voice Over! Seiyu Academy, Vol. 4 | by Maki Minami | Viz Media – I thought the first volume of the series was more enjoyable than I expected, although it didn’t totally win me over. The fourth volume continues to be amusing, even if it isn’t laugh out loud funny. Hime, the cute girl with the “Princely” voice struggles with her first big professional gig, with even more to battle against as the entire cast and the director absolutely resents her. While she can now produce a lovely voice when she has a certain pair of spectacles as a prop, her next challenge is to combine her voice with building a character. She continues to drop in on the aloof Senri Kudo, and seeing his wordless and gruff overtures to her was quite entertaining. Reccomended if you need some light and fluffy shoujo. – Anna N