This week, MJ, Sean, Michelle, and Anna look at recent releases from Yen Press, Viz Media, and Kodansha Comics.
Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit, Vol. 2 | By QuinRose, Delico Psyche, and Owl Shinotsuki | Yen Press – As I suspected, this volume was a lot more focused on romance and not so much on the psychology and psychotics. That said, there are points of interest here. It’s odd that Elliot, who was once imprisoned for destroying the clock of his best friend, is cavalier about killing Alice’s sister. And it’s good to give him a reason to be angry at Alice being close to Julius that isn’t jealousy. That said, in the end it mostly does turn out to be jealousy, and when the book details romance it gets far more generic. There’s also some nasty dream manipulation to stop Alice from returning home – which one can argue, given what we’ve inferred about her real life, is justified, but still comes across as harsh. An ambiguously good volume, but hey, the series is short.-Sean Gaffney
A Devil and Her Love Song, Vol. 8 | By Miyoshi Tomori | Viz Media – At no point has A Devil and Her Love Song actually been bad, but the “Anna arc” of recent volumes—in which Maria attempts to achieve some level of understanding with her former best friend—just retread the same ground over and over and felt like it would never end. And so I am profoundly relieved that we’re moving on to something different, even if it’s taking the form of Shintaro Kurosu, a brash new first-year who’s interested in Maria and takes every opportunity to get close to her. We’ve seen this sort of character in shoujo manga many times before, but any catalyst that causes Shin to confront his feelings for Maria is fine by me, and because Shintaro shares some qualities with our insightful heroine, he’s quite adept at getting under others’ skin. I still recommend this series, but if we never see Anna again it’ll be too soon for me. – Michelle Smith
Fairy Tail, Vol. 25 | By Hiro Mashima | Kodansha Comics – Fairy Tail will probably never get away from One Piece comparisons, but one big difference it has is that Mashima does tease romance between his characters quite a bit. In this volume we not only get Elfman and Evergreen getting past Mirajane with a shocking revelation – theoretically false, but I sense a setup – but we also have Levy’s giant crush on Gajeel, which is quite cute provided you forget him crucifying her a while back. Literally. Meanwhile, the S-class exams are interrupted not only by the arrival of a dark guild, led by Ultear, but also a young sobbing man who would seem to be Zeref, the evil wizard who has been mentioned before, and definitely doesn’t seem to be possessing anyone this time. It would seem that the exam arc is going to get a lot longer and more serious before anyone wins their S-class.-Sean Gaffney
La Corda d’Oro, Vol. 17 | By Yuki Kure | Viz Media – This final volume reads like a series of closing doors—at least for Kahoko’s suitors, who take turns examining their feelings, though it’s clear most don’t have a shot. Ryotaro’s epiphany is most significant, and his heartfelt confession throws oblivious Kahoko for a loop. Everyone knows that Kahoko will end up with Len, but when it gets right down to it, their final scene is oddly anticlimactic. Kahoko is predictably breathless and embarrassed, and Len is awkward and brusque, but as a romantic climax it’s surprisingly non-committal. We don’t even get a good kiss out of it. As a jaded fan of romance, I should be grateful for anything unexpected, but in a story that’s always been so conventional, it’s honestly a letdown. Though perhaps the most disheartening truth is that they’re still hung up on “Ave Maria.” What can you do? Farewell, La Corda d’Oro, I’ll miss you. – MJ
Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vol. 1 | By Nobuhiro Watsuki | Viz Media – Watsuki says in the afterward that the genesis for this reworking of Rurouni Kenshin was the production of the recent live action movie. This shows in the first story of the volume which puts familiar characters into a battle arena situation with no real plot or character development. There’s a back-up prequel story that has more interest as Kenshin encounters a unique western doctor struggling to provide care for low-income patients. While it was nice to revisit the characters for a little bit, this parallel story reminded me of how much more I liked the original series. This is only for die-hard Kenshin fans, most people will be better served reading the very good first series. – Anna N.
Strobe Edge, Vol. 4 | By Io Sakisaka | Viz Media – What’s interesting about Strobe Edge, is the way that Io Sakisaka has managed to take the most trite characteristic of her series early on—namely, her heroine’s unbelievable innocence—and turned it into a real asset. That Ninako wouldn’t realize that there are unavoidably negative consequences to unrequited love seems ridiculously naive, but it also allows Sakisaka to explore those consequences more honestly than is typical, even for romance manga. The way both Ninako and Ren begin to recognize and forced to deal with the ramifications of their ongoing friendship in the face of Ninako’s (and now, Ren’s) feelings is surprisingly fresh. I’m reminded immediately of the personal agony I suffered while watching Shoji developing feelings for someone other than his girlfriend, Nana Komatsu (NANA), but this time I’m experiencing it with “other woman” Sachiko as my heroine. It’s an emotional punch in the gut, and very well-executed. Recommended. – MJ
We Were There, Vol. 16 | By Yuuki Obata | Viz Media – This is the second concluding Shojo Beat series for me this week, but what a contrast! Though this series’ romantic conclusion was no less predictable than La Corda d’Oro‘s, the execution could not be more different—much like the two series themselves. There was a time when I’d given up on Nanami and Yano’s torturous romance as simply too destructive to bear, so it’s a real testament to Obata-sensei’s gifts as a writer that she’s managed to bring me back around to loving them together once more. Everyone’s story ends with dignity, even that of long-suffering Takeuchi (my personal hero of the story) but the real centerpiece is our primary couple, with whom Obata completely sweeps me off my feet. Their ending is so poignant and so well-earned, it’s a genuine pleasure to read. Thanks for everything, We Were There. You’ve been quite a ride. Highly recommended. – MJ