This week, Sean, Michelle, & Anna look at recent releases from Seven Seas, Yen Press, and Viz Media.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Vol. 4 | By Ark Performance | Seven Seas – A step down from the previous volumes, mostly as we take a brief break from the thrilling action scenes to focus on a) a naval captain having erotic dreams about a 17-year-old girl, and b) the fetishization of Takao, who’s even using phrases like “I’ll let you see my engine’. Thankfully, the majority of the volume remains excellent. In particular, the odd friendship between Haruna and Makie, as the former realizes that they have far more in common than you’d expect. Meanwhile, we see something happen to Gunzou that we hadn’t expected – he’s defeated, and it doesn’t sit well with him at all. Oh, yes, and is his childhood friend not quite dead? Despite the fanservice, still very recommended. – Sean Gaffney
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Vol. 5 | By Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki | Viz Media – Tempted as I am to have this review simply say ‘Note: Food Wars! is a cooking manga’, I will add that this is quite a strong volume. We see Soma learn the value of TPO (Time, Place, Occasion) in his cooking and survive the hotel contest. We see him return to his old restaurant and get help from his childhood friend (remember her? from Chapter 1?) and Ikumi to take down a fast-food chain. And perhaps most importantly, we see Megumi Tadoroko: Ping Pong Goddess. It does sound as if we’re going to head into a longer arc starting with the next volume, though, complete with a new arrogant jerk for Soma to take down. All this, and Erina was in it as well. Remember her? The supposed heroine? – Sean Gaffney
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Vol. 5 | By Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki | Viz Media – It’s perhaps the highest compliment I can give a series to say, “I could happily marathon fifty volumes of this series,” and that is precisely how I am feeling about Food Wars!. While I liked the chapters in which Soma helped his hometown neighborhood market compete with a fried-chicken chain, what I liked best was the conclusion to the intense cooking camp, which saw timid Megumi achieving greater confidence, and actually performing better than Soma in a grueling challenge. Yes, we saw him rise to the occasion and pull out an impressive win, but I liked that he easily admitted that he’d made a mistake and was determined to learn from it. And then he reflected that he was glad he’d come to culinary school after all. You guys, the cock protagonist is evolving! This is hitting my sports manga buttons, big time, and I love it. – Michelle Smith
He’s My Only Vampire, Vol. 2 | By Aya Shouoto | Yen Press- As this series is coming out concurrently with Shouoto’s Kiss of the Rose Princess, I am unable to resist comparing them. I’d have to say that, despite my vampire fatigue, this one is far superior. It’s a later effort from Shouoto—a bit darker (though the tone veers a bit lighter in this second volume), more mature (earning an OT rating), and better plotted, with several story threads in play from the start. It does still seem to be shaping up to be a male harem sort of series, but the introductions of new guys are better paced. Too, Shouoto seems to have developed a better sense for comedy, and I encountered no jarring goofy gags disrupting dramatic moments. Okay, yes, there are some standard shoujo tropes, and Aki’s possessiveness of Kana is plenty creepy, but there’s enough about this series to recommend it. Consider me pleasantly surprised. – Michelle Smith
My Love Story!!Vol. 4 | By Kazune Kawahara and Aruko – Every time I pick up this manga, I’m reminded that intense soap opera plots and meanness aren’t necessary ingredients for a captivating shoujo manga. Ai comes back home with Hayato, a friend from school who is determined to learn the identity of the Takeo Goda that she has a crush on. Hayato then encourages her to confess her feelings to Takeo, so she will get some closure. Takeo and Yamato’s relationship is too strong for any attempts at breaking them up, and they are both too naive to pick up on the undercurrents of emotion surrounding them. Later, there are more problems when Takeo’s assumption that he’s unpopular turn out not to be true. There’s something that is just so sweet about the unlikely love story portrayed in this manga, and the humor contrasted with the bits of drama that only serve to make Takeo and Yamato more and more in love with each other ensures that My Love Story!! makes me smile whenever I read a volume. – Anna N
Skip Beat!, Vol. 34 | By Yoshiki Nakamura | Viz Media – Lory’s Love Me group isn’t there to help his wannabe actresses find true love, it’s there to help them realize that they can’t simply shut off that part of themselves and expect their acting to reach the next level. As a result, his confrontation with Kyoko about her love for Ren feels more like a catharsis than anything else, and it’s beautifully done. Of course, his plotting and scheming is about to be taken down by one thing he is unaware of, which is the past that Kyoko has with “Corn”. While I have some issues with Ren taking advantage of her naivete about fairies to keep his identity a secret, this can’t help but be utterly adorable – or should I say corny? Still top-tier shoujo. – Sean Gaffney