MICHELLE: Hey, MJ! Guess what I am doing this weekend?
MJ: What are you doing this weekend, Michelle?!
MICHELLE: I am going to a pen show! Specifically, a fountain pen show!
MJ: That sounds like a lot of fun! Um. For you. :D
MICHELLE: Mean! :) I am legitimately all asquee about it!
Is there any manga you’re asquee about this week?
MJ: I am happy for your squee! And yes, actually, I’m fairly asquee about all the manga I read this week.
First, this week I finally sat down with volume one of The Drops of God, the popular wine manga that’s been a New York Times bestseller for its US publisher, Vertical, Inc. Manga bloggers have been raving about this title since it was released, and our own Kate Dacey named volume three as a recent Pick of the Week. With all that hype, I figured it was inevitable that I’d be disappointed, but I actually had a lot of fun.
If there’s anyone left who is unfamiliar with the story, it begins as young salesman Shizuku is informed of the death of his estranged father, a legendary wine critic. While Shizuku rebelled by snubbing his father’s passion to go work for a beer company, his father apparently spent his final days formalizing the adoption of a young, hot-shot wine critic, Issei. Now Shizuku must compete with Issei for his father’s legacy by embarking on a quest to identify thirteen specific wines, including one known as “Kami no Shizuku” or “The Drops of God.” Finally discovering a love of wine after all these years, Shizuku throws himself wholeheartedly into the task with the help of a gifted sommelier-in-training, Miyabi.
Two things struck me immediately as I read this volume. First, as a fairly casual (if enthusiastic) wine drinker, and certainly a novice when it comes to French wine, I was impressed by how much the Kibayashi siblings (the brother and sister team behind the pen name Tadashi Agi) were able to teach me about wine without making me feel like I was watching a documentary. Secondly, though I know that this series ran in Morning, *wow* does it read like a shounen manga. From the characters’ nearly supernatural wine-tasting abilities to the protagonist’s pure-hearted launch into his father’s quest, this manga would not feel out of place in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump. You know, except for the wine.
I had a lot of fun with this, as I mentioned in the beginning, though I’ll admit to a slight sense of weariness while plowing through some of the particularly over-the-top wine-tasting sequences, in which a sip of wine sends our hero into scenes of flowing fields and beautiful women he can’t *quite* reach until he finds the perfect one. Fortunately, there’s enough emotional truth to be found, especially in some of the manga’s primary relationships, to keep things grounded through its flights of fancy. Overall, I enjoyed myself immensely.
MICHELLE: I have the first three volumes right next to me, just waiting to be read. It sounds like the perfect blend of two stories I enjoy—seinen food manga, like Ekiben Hitoritabi, and sports manga wherein the hero discovers a passion and talent for something he had previously spurned and then tries to get better at it, like Slam Dunk.
MJ: Yes, I think with your love for shounen sports manga, you’ll find The Drops of God pretty irresistible. Also, I should mention that there is are at least a couple of fairly wonderful female characters, which is always a big draw for me.
So, is there anything besides pens eliciting your squee this week?
MICHELLE: Yes, though I think I will save the manga that pleased me most for my second pick and instead talk about volume two of A Devil and Her Love Song.
That isn’t to say that I disliked this, of course. The series—about Maria Kawai, a sharp-tongued girl in search of acceptance at an unremarkable high school after being expelled from a prestigious one—continues to be interesting and entertaining. In this volume, we begin to see how Maria’s personality can have a positive effect on those around her, as she indirectly influences two classmates to stop hiding beside unassuming façades and express their true selves. Of course, Maria can’t forget being told that she taints people, so she attempts to distance herself in an attempt to protect them. This can sometimes be irksome in a heroine—the whole “he/she is better off without me” routine—but it works for me here, since Maria has a legitimate reason for feeling this way and isn’t just being melodramatic.
While I definitely like Maria and the two boys most interested in her, the thoroughly over-the-top mean girls in the class leave me cold. I’d much prefer a nuanced antagonist, but instead they’re just as vile as can be. I can’t retain my composure when faced with the odious homeroom teacher, though—he is really, really horrible, especially for someone who’s in a position to be a positive influence in Maria’s life, if only he weren’t such a git.
I have a feeling volume three will be pretty awesome—Maria’s been tasked with coordinating her class’s entry into a choral competition—so, despite my small complaints, I’ve no intention of dropping the series.
MJ: I think I liked this volume more than you did overall. I was especially a fan of Tomoyo, the girl whose passive allegiance to the class’ mean girls caused so much trouble for Maria in the previous volume. She’s shaping up to be one of the series’ most interesting characters, I think. But wow, can I relate to your hatred for the homeroom teacher. He’s one of those characters I just want to reach out and punch with all my strength.
MICHELLE: Really, I didn’t dislike it! And you’re absolutely right about Tomoyo. I would love to see Maria realize that good things are happening to the people she has supposedly “tainted.” And I’m sure the series will go that route and will therefore be satisfying. And if that teacher could get sacked in glorious fashion, that would be icing on the cake!
What else did you read this week?
MJ: Well, you know I’ve been on a Keiko Kinoshita kick lately—a minor addiction that’s been primarily enabled by the Digital Manga Guild, which has been licensing her works left and right. Though I’m admittedly disappointed that I won’t be able to collect these in print, there is something pretty satisfying about being able to make an impulse purchase online and find myself reading the book on my iPad seconds later, which is what I did earlier this week with The Boyfriend Next Door, localized by the DMG group Kagami Productions.
Matsuda has finally moved to Tokyo to start university (after failing his entrance exams the year before). His big city apartment life gets off to a rocky start as he takes an immediate dislike to his new neighbor, Yaotome, a distant, fairly scruffy guy who appears to be raising his young daughter, Hana, alone. Fortunately, neighborly relations improve fairly quickly, and though Yaotome is definitely a hard nut to crack, Matsuda does eventually discover a few things about him, including the fact that he’s gay and that Hana is not his daughter.
Fans of Kinoshita’s work will not be surprised to discover that this is merely the simplest version of what is actually a much more complicated situation, and much of the manga involves unraveling the real truths behind Yaotome’s emotional unavailability. This volume is textbook Kinoshita in terms of its quiet delicacy and complex, slow-building romance, and it’s very satisfying on that front. What’s a little less satisfying, is that unlike most of her work that I’ve read, it feels a bit unfinished.
After discovering just how broken Yaotome really is, Matsuda decides he’s going to break through with the sheer power of devotion, though he’s obviously in for a long haul. Frustratingly enough, that’s where the story ends. And if I hadn’t been reading this on my precious, precious iPad, there’s a decent chance I might have thrown it across the room.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of ambiguous endings, and this volume is extremely satisfying all the way through. I’d recommend it without question. It’s just that I can’t help feeling that the real story was just getting started as I reached its final pages, and I was genuinely heartbroken not to be able to continue.
MICHELLE: Despite all of your praise, I have still never managed to find the time to read anything by Kinoshita. This does sound fairly captivating, though—is it an earlier work, perhaps? That might account for its unfinished feeling.
MJ: It’s kinda midway I think, but it’s certainly possible that she was asked to wrap it up suddenly, or perhaps never even got the chance to really wrap it up at all. Fortunately, You & Tonight (which is even better) is by most accounts still running, so I’ll let later volumes of that soothe my addiction as they arrive.
So, what else have you got for us this evening? And are you feeling asquee?
MICHELLE: I am! That’s because Dawn of the Arcana is a series that gets better with every volume! This week, I read volume three of this relatively new fantasy from VIZ’s Shojo Beat imprint and loved it without reservation.
For those who might not be aware, this is the story of Nakaba, princess of a struggling land called Senan, who is the product of her mother’s relationship with a man her family did not approve of. She’s allowed to live in the castle once her mother dies, but never accepted, and is eventually married off as a pawn to one of the princes of Senan’s rival country, Belquat.
Accompanying her is Loki, the faithful servant who has guarded her since infancy. Nakaba initially despised Caesar, her new husband, but he proves to be different than most of the people of Belquat, and she can’t help feeling something for them. But she feels terribly guilty about it since Loki still blames Belquat for the massacre of the village where he and Nakaba used to live, and is plotting revenge.
Man, this series is really getting good! We haven’t had too many shoujo fantasies released here, and those that were (primarily by CMX) were episodic comedies. Dawn of the Arcana is shaping up to have a really interesting political plot that is further complicated by Nakaba’s compelling dilemma—let herself be happy and in love with Caesar, or harden her heart and allow Loki to follow through with his plans. Not to mention the fact that Nakaba has inherited the special power possessed by the villagers and that a foreign prince, Akhil, not only wants her to use it on his behalf but is possibly capable of helping her develop it.
This actually reminds me a little bit of Basara, which coming from me is a major compliment. I don’t know whether Nakaba is going to lead any full-scale rebellion against a repressive government, but it doesn’t seem out of the question. Too, I can totally imagine her swaying Caesar to fight by her side. Does such epic greatness await? I hope so!
MJ: I agree that this series really is getting good! I was so pleased to finish volume three with none of the reservations I’d had after volumes one and two. It really has hit his stride, and I’m enjoying it completely. I’ve been reminded a bit of Basara as well, though I’m not quite as intimate with that series as you are (a temporary circumstance, I promise). I’m glad you’ve been enjoying this too!
MICHELLE: It’s always nice to discover something fabulous that one didn’t know anything about before. Thanks, VIZ!
Some review copies provided by the publishers.
Disclosure: MJ is currently under contract with Digital Manga Publishing’s Digital Manga Guild, as necessitated for her ongoing report Inside the DMG. Any compensation earned by MJin her role as an editor with the DMG will be donated to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.