oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Angel's Coffin: This has been released by GoComi, and sadly, is nowhere near as cracktastically awesome as the title indicates. Seto is a demon who's been imprisoned in a book, only to be released by the unknowing and innocent Marie Vetsera. Seto promises Marie to grant her heart's desire, which is to have Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, fall in love with her. Those of you who know history (which I didn't) and who know You Higuri (which I did) will know this does not end well. Alas, Marie is totally boring and rather vapid to boot, Rudolf is a complete blank slate, and while Seto could be awesome in his demonic anachronistic way, he is instead unconvincingly in love with Marie.

Also, there may be a demon trying to seduce Seto to the dark side. Or... more of the dark side? Extremely boring, pass.

Lost Angel: Now this is more like it! (Also, a warning that I read this in Taiwan and have waited so long to write this up that I've forgotten most of it.)

Gunta is a mysterious, dark-haired new student at some school.... but secretly he is Lucifer! Or a powerful demon. But I'm pretty sure he is Lucifer, because why would you make someone a powerful demon when you could make them Lucifer?! Anyway. He is trying to redeem himself, so he goes about battling demons... with his skeleton hand! And the magical sword he wields! The sword, alas, does not have a secret identity, but that is probably just because the role of Lucifer has already been taken.

He investigates occult Satanic occurences, and while he is doing so, he meets the angelicly light-haired (or dyed, who knows) Z, whose name I have completely forgotten and cannot find after ten minutes of Googling, even in Japanese. Z finds himself strangely attracted to Gunta, as one is wont to do when confronted with someone who is... Lucifer!

Sorry. One day I will get sick of typing out the ellipses and "Lucifer!" but so far, not yet!

Gunta abandons the school, but he gets involved in several other cases that lead him Z's way again. One, of course, involves the innocent, beautiful, and totally doomed woman, although honestly, I have no idea why Higuri even tries to pretend Z is even vaguely interested in her. Instead of adding vapid love interests to nominally prove their heroes are heterosexual (HA), I feel mangaka should instead write in women who are... Lucifer!

In conclusion: Lucifer!

Given that GoComi licensed the horribly boring Angel's Coffin, couldn't they release Romaesque Mask as well? I have never read it, but it looks like it's based on the Takarazuka version of Dangerous Liaisions! How could it be bad?
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)

Natsumi's older brother borrowed giant sums of money from a rather shady business, and now that he can't repay the loan, the mob intends to take Natsumi to be their boss' son's woman. But it turns out that Natsumi is actually the son Hagane's sempai, and he's had a crush on her for a while.

This sounds like it should be so much sketchier than it is, and although there are some awkward moments as Natsumi moves into Hagane's apartment (!!), Hagane overall refuses to have Natsumi pay back the loan via physical favors, thank goodness. It's a rather slight story, but I liked that Natsumi had a say in what happened to her, and I am still rather amazed at how not-sketchy it ended up being. Also, Hagane's butler/valet is sort of hilarious—afterward, he pines because Hagane no longer spends much time with him, even though he was the one pushing Hagane to go after Natsumi.

The other shorts after this were largely forgettable, although I remember that they were rather melancholy and slice-of-life-ish, and that I kept thinking that they would go one place when they went another.

The art is also much closer to Mizushiro's 1999nen than to the later After School Nightmare.

Not bad, but probably also not necessary unless you're a completist.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(Original title: 愛すべき娘たち)

This is a collection of interlinked short stories, all of which have some connection to the main character, whose name I cannot remember and now cannot look up because I returned the book. I think it is Makimura Youko? Anyway, the first story is about her and her mother, who has recently battled cancer and is now marrying a man a few years younger than Youko. The second is about a high school student who sort of and sort of doesn't force herself on her high school teacher (a friend of Youko's), the third is about another friend who has been told to treat all people equally, the fourth is about two of Youko's middle school friends, and the last is about Youko and her mother again.

I cringed my way through most of the second story, although it's not quite as bad as the premise (I am very squicked out by teacher-student relationships, particularly those below college level). Even though having the student decide on the relationship instead of the teacher makes it slightly more palatable in terms of power differentials, I still find the depiction problematic, especially since the threat used ("I'll tell people you forced me!") is one so often used as an urban legend to discredit rape victims.

The third story ends on a rather odd note, which is too bad, because I liked the exploration of a relationship between two very nice people, one of whom just happened to be differently abled. I liked that it wasn't a big deal to the main characters, even though it was still discussed, particularly in terms of marriage potential. It felt fairly realistic and not heavy handed. And then there was the ending, which was... odd. The heroine takes her grandfather's advice to treat all people equally to heart, so much so that she realizes she can't truly be in love with any one person, as that would mean she values that person above other people. So she decides to... become a nun! As one does? This would have been so much more believable had the heroine actually been religious or thought about taking vows before or if there had been some sort of foreshadowing whatsoever.

The stories that contain Youko are excellent, and I now have much more faith in Yoshinaga as a feminist author. I love how she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters and how they harm and heal, how Youko's mother was hurt by her own mother constantly calling her ugly, how Youko's grandmother did so because she didn't want her daughter growing up vain like the girls she hated most when she was young, how sexism and systemic misogyny is passed down from generation to generation, always taking different forms. And I love that Yoshinaga understands that understanding does not always mean forgiveness or healing, nor does it make wrongs right. I love that Youko's mother (I think her name is Mari) has found love with a much younger man and that despite some initial awkwardness with Youko, the relationship looks like a healthy one that will continue.

I love the fourth story in particular, which has a recently-married Youko examining her attempt to be a working woman and a wife. I would have cheered just for the mention of the fact that women are expected to do the housework and that when they do, they are rarely acknowledged for it, whereas if a man does, it's a big deal, and how the amount of work men and women put into keeping house is respectively overestimated and underestimated. But no! There is more! There's the story of Youko's middle school classmates, one of whom was full of feminist zeal while the other two were not, and what happens to the three of them. It's sad and bitter and lonely and heartwarming at the same time.

This isn't my favorite Yoshinaga (Ooku takes that spot easily), but I enjoyed it a lot. Also, it's so rare to find manga centering on female relationships, much less overtly feminist manga, that I desperately wish someone would translate this into English so I could make people talk about it with me.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is a collection of short stories. The main one is about Natsu, a working woman who walks in on her husband having an affair. That day, an angel moves in (which Natsu is not cognizant of), and soon after, Emi, the Other Woman, does too (which Natsu is most definitely cognizant of). Natsu's a career woman, and Emi doesn't quite know who she is or who she wants to be. To both of their surprises, they end up comforting each other and getting along. I like the focus on the everyday, and I very much like that it has two women talking to each other and getting to know each other outside of their romantic rivalry, something that is sadly missing from much of the josei I've read. I do like josei for having career women heroines and having heroines who deal with things like choices between romance and work, sexism in the workplace, and people thinking you're a spinster for not being married by 30. But instead of going off into feminists rants on why the system should change, a lot of what I've read simply shows how the heroines cope or fail to cope without ever quite going so far to critique the entire system. Alas, neither does Angel Nest, but I'll take what I can get!

The other three short stories are less memorable—one is about a gay man and a straight man as friends, one on yet another woman whose salaryman husband is cheating on her, and the last on a car theft turned fantasy.

I'm not sure if I was in ithe right mood to read these pieces. I appreciated them, but didn't fall in love, and though I wouldn't buy Sakurazawa's books, if I see them in the library, I'll definitely try her again.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is an adaptation of the anime of the same name, although I can't tell if Shinkai Makoto mostly came up with the original storyline for the anime and Sahara Mizu did the adaptation, or if Shinkai wrote it and she illustrated it.

I've been a fan of Sahara Mizu's art for a while (she also works as Yumeka Sumomo); she's particularly good at bittersweet wistfulness and empty spaces and words left unsaid. This adaptation is no different.

In the future, humans have discovered the existence of alien life in the form of the Tarsians. No one knows yet if they're hostile or not, although missions are already being sent out to fight the Tarsians and to find new worlds. Mikako, a middle-school student, has volunteered to be the pilot of one of the missions' mechas. Unfortunately, this means that she has to leave behind her good friend Noboru. They try to keep in touch via text messages, but as Mikako is sent further and further away, the messages take longer and longer to arrive, until they're over eight years apart.

Normally I'm not one for stories that posit someone's One True Love is found in middle school, but Sahara and Shinkai handle the material with such delicacy that I found myself rooting for Mikako and Noboru. It also helps that both Mikako and Noboru are unsure of each other as well; Mikako is torn by the knowledge that years are passing by on Earth while she remains the same age, and Noboru tries and tries to move on with his life and not wait for increasing infrequent text messages. But the lack of resolution keeps both of them from moving on.

I loved the overall tone of this manga, the uncertainty and doubt, the simple and sweet flashbacks to Mikako and Noboru riding bikes or hiding from the rain, all of which distinguish it from all the other giant robot series that have middle-school students battling aliens. While there is some action when it comes to the giant robots and the Tarsians, the bulk of the story is about Mikako and Noboru and how they're separated by time. And though the ending is somewhat unresolved, it worked for me. There's no guarantee that anything will turn out all right; in fact, I'm fairly certain there will be more pain to come, but that's what makes the story work for me.
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Blood Hound - Kanou Rion's friend has disappeared, and she barges into Krankenhaus, a host club, based off of a business card her friend handed her. There, she runs across Suou and the other vampire hosts, solves the mystery of her friend's disappearance, and then goes on to solve another mystery while trying to find Suou again. There's some potentially interesting angst involving Rion as the possible reincarnation of some heavenly woman the vampires have been searching for, and a little more involving Rion, Suou, and their pasts, but it only stays there in the background, taunting the reader by showing a taste of what Blood Hound could be as a series, not a one shot. Also, while I'm glad Yuki Kaori is writing more women, it would be nice if all the women who aren't the heroine weren't all evil or victims.

Overall, very disappointing, and I will instead imagine an ideal version of the story, which has angst galore, barely sublimated sexual tension in the form of biting and neck licking, better loligoth outfits, and a heroine who has a mysterious past that is actually an important part of the story.

... or I'll just reread Vampire Knight.

Boys Next Door - I refuse to put an apostrophe in "Boys," even if Yuki Kaori wrote it in. Adrian Clay is an elementary teacher who murders male prostitutes in his spare time. Lawrence Hill ("La" or "Lawr," and no, I am not making that up) is a fourteen-year-old male prostitute who accidentally witnesses Adrian murdering people. It's a beautiful love story for the ages!

If you're Yuki Kaori, that is.

In other words, I love this to pieces. It is absolutely cracktastic and entirely wrong on so many levels—the underage sex! Dead mothers as the cause of their sons' psychoses! The CIRCUS! And did I mention the whole serial killing thing?—and yet, it is awesome! Awesome!

I am not sure I can write a good review for this. It has, in addition to the bad-and-wrong elements mentioned above, sexy finger licking, a tattoo, and killing someone/offering your body as a cannibalistic meal as the ultimate expression of love. I think people can decide for themselves if that is right up their alley or not. (I love it and make high-pitched squealing noises about it that I reserve solely for Yuki Kaori's most cracktastic work.)

There are also some short stories in the back, but I skipped them, as the art and the paneling were terrible. Tell me if I missed something good!

Kaine - Rock star Kaine has died in a car crash, and his twin brother must now replace him. It is cracktastic and gothic and has a proto-Kira/Setsuna relationship. Also, there are death wishes, evil women (OH YUKI KAORI WHY), and a mysterious album that causes everyone who listens to it to commit suicide. Everything else I can say about this is spoilery.

Spoilers! )

There were also short stories in the back of this that I skipped. Again, tell me if I missed something good!
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Saikawa Kanade and his half-Japanese, half-French cousin Anais solve three perfume-related mysteries. I feel this plot seems deceptively simple compared to the tangles in Angel Sanctuary and Cain Saga/Godchild, but given that it's only a one shot, what can you do?

I was bored a little by Kanade, despite his angsty backstory rivalry with a fellow perfumer, but I love Anais. She is half-French so Yuki Kaori has an excluse to give her blond hair and blue eyes*, and amazingly, there are no incestuous vibes between her and Kanade, despite the fact that they aren't actually related by blood (she's his aunt's stepdaughter). She is grumpy and tall and beats people up and glares sullenly from the cover. I wanted to get more backstory about her childhood bond with Kanade, but only tidbits for me.

Sadly, the crack is not quite up to normal Yuki Kaori levels, though there are goth girls, dead bodies galore, lots of evil women, and an evil MTF to boot. Oh Yuki Kaori, why?

Still, the art is gorgeous and there are enough cracktastically insane bits to please me, but it's definitely not among her more memorable pieces of work.

* I do not understand all these half-Continental-European characters running around in manga and anime and how they all have blond hair and blue eyes. I mean, obviously there is no set way to look if one is half-Asian and half-European, but it'd be nice if one of these half-Continental-European characters had brown hair and brown eyes for once.

ETA: I am going to the comic book store tomorrow, so tell me what in Yuki Kaori's backlist I should get! (Besides the rent boy serial killer one, which is, uh, already on the list.) Bonus points for letting me know if the plot involves crazy terminology like "organic angels," which will be a little confusing in Chinese.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
This is a slim volume about the aftermath of the atomic bomb on ordinary people, one being a woman in the Hiroshima of 1955, and one being a girl in present-day Japan. It's beautifully written and drawn; the art style seems to be less typically "manga" (whatever that means) for those of you who don't generally read manga; and Kouno does some particularly interesting things with the play between dialogue and picture.

The tone of the manga is very slice-of-life-ish: gentle and sweet and every day. Of course, that makes the references to Hiroshima even more gut-wrenching. My favorite panel was a man and a woman hugging or kissing on a bridge, with the ghosts of the dead strewn over the bridge and clogging up the river beneath them, present day and past experiences colliding, the specters of the dead forever there.

I have a very complicated reaction to the manga, though. It does what it wants to do extremely well, and if that were all, I'd be shoving this in everyone's hands. But, as it were, I keep thinking about a Japanese film class I took, in which we watched Grave of the Fireflies and the professor asked if the focus on the protagonist and his sister suffering from the war was fair, given the atrocities that the Japanese army was responsible for. Back then, I thought it was fair.

Now, I still think it is a valid and a necessary portrayal, but my reaction is complicated by Japanese textbook omissions of the Rape of Nanking, the colonization of Korea, and the treatment of comfort women; by attempts to shift the blame of wartime atrocities to the generals, which I don't mind, and focus on how the Japanese people were duped by their leaders, which I do mind; by Koizumi's visit to a shrine honoring the Japanese soldiers of WWII, which I am conflicted about; by how hibakusha are still discriminated against and disproportionately suffer; and by how Japan's actions affect the well-being and livelihood of Japanese people living elsewhere (internment and ostracization).

To put it more clearly, I do not think any Japanese civilians (or soldiers, even) "deserved" anything, particularly not something on the scale of the atomic bomb. And yet, I am constantly afraid of how history can so easily be overwritten and changed, how much easier it is to document suffering something as opposed to inflicting suffering on others, how we all edit the past to make it more palatable. All this is further complicated by my being from Taiwan but never having experienced Japanese occupation and by my consumption of tons of Japanese pop culture.

I don't know enough to say whether or not Kouno is doing this; right now, I am inclined to say not. But.

Note: please, no discussion on whether or not the atomic bomb was called for.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
And still not all the manga I read all weekend!

Kouno and Naomichi are next-door neighbors; Kouno's dealing with a drunken night of passion with his friend Natsu, and Naomichi has just had his roommate Kei confess to him. What happens isn't unexpected, dramatic, or brilliant, but there's a depth of character to this that I like.

Fujiyama not only sidesteps the normal shounen-ai tropes that I hate (non-con, exaggerated uke/seme), she ends up with four people who feel very real. I like that her characters do things like dash up the stairs when they finally get a message they've been waiting for, or nervously joke around before having sex for the first time. And I particularly like how her characters work through what would normally be a stupid misunderstanding.

There still are stupid misunderstandings, but they feel driven by character rather than plot, and the other partner reacts very realistically -- frustrated, but also unwilling to let the entire relationship go down in flames because of it. In fact, the general sense that I get from her is that there are no meet cutes or zany switcheroos; relationships here actually require work and effort and trust.

This may make the manga sound like the most boring thing ever, but it's not. Recommended.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Asian Beat comprises of two short stories, remarkable in their ordinariness and the complete lack of angels, demons, and supernatural monsters. Baku is much more typically Mizuki, as it does not have angels, but definitely has demons and supernatural monsters. Both collections feature what I suspect Mizuki loves above all else: broken, demonic people (often literally demonic, though not necessarily literally broken) repenting, retreating from their demonic ways, and forming broken families. Usually these families consist of one broken, ex-demonic person, one rescued guy who could be demonic, and a loligoth girl.

I didn't like Asian Beat nearly as much; while the panel layouts are gorgeously stark, they're also really confusing. Well, at least I had problems figuring out who was who and who was saying what, particularly in the second story (stop with the similar hairstyles!). The first story, on two broken-hearted people who fail to comfort each other, is nicer, but I feel like I've read it before several times, and the art isn't nice enough for me to love it.

Mizuki Hakase's style is incredibly stylized, but it feels like she toned it down a little for Asian Beat, possibly to keep with the realism. I don't think that was the right choice, though that could just be me.

Baku, on the other hand, is incredibly stylized. I am strangely fond of it.

The title story of the piece is about Takeshi, who has psychic powers, is being hunted down by odd beings, and has two more odd beings following him around, claiming he's their family. Basically, it took most of what I liked about The Demon Ororon and focused on that instead of incomprehensible action and blood and gore -- family, broken people, demons who decide to stop being demons.

The other story in the volume is "Mephisto," which is basically on this guy with psychic powers who seems to go around laying ghosts to rest. He has a strange family of goth sisters who dress like maids, a tiny girl robot doll thing who lives in a chest (this is actually incredibly sweet and not at all creepy like it sounds), and a sort of brother. It's pretty much the standard Mizuki Hakase set of characters, only oddly cute and sweet and not emo. I particularly like Mephisto, who goes around with doll curls and giraffe-print clothes, and him and Nana-chan, which should be really icky but is instead incredibly cute.

I'm not sure if people who don't share my buttons for patched-together families, goth aesthetic, broken people, demons, and incredibly stylized art would like this, but if you've got the same buttons, try Baku. I think it's her best work so far, though I'm waiting to see how Demon Flowers goes.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Why yes, yes I am trying to catch up on writing up all my weekend reading!

I really like Konno's yaoi series Kawaii Hito, which is very PWP, but also very sweet, with the additional bonus of an ex-girlfriend who doesn't make me want to strangle the mangaka. Star is a one-off about the antisocial Sudou and the friendlier Hirokawa.

The neat thing is that Sudou is the shorter, more feminine-looking one and Hirokawa's older and taller. Even neater is the fact that they're both working. I.e. manga about people older than teenagers! Amazing.

The manga ends up being about Sudou's attempts to get used to interacting with people, as opposed to his usual brusqueness. He's got a reputation for seducing and abandoning women, but he's not much of a ladies' man. Rather, he's more a person who uses other people without emotionally connecting to them, man or woman. I would dislike Sudou except the mangaka clearly portrays his antisocialness and his antagonism as a flaw, not a virtue. Also, I have a thing for grumpy ukes. It's a nice change from the usual oblivious cluelessness and mad protestations.

Hirokawa is much mellower, which is again a nice change from the usual aggressive, alpha-bastard semes.

I didn't like the way Konno portrayed some of the women in the beginning, but she makes up for this by having a secondary female character who has slept with Hirokawa and doesn't villainize her, shunt her to the side, or make her unsympathetic. Instead, she's a character who values her work and her relationships and keeps sex separate from love.

The only problem with this was that I didn't quite buy the Hirokawa-Sudou relationship. I'm not quite sure why -- I think Sudou protests a little too much in his mind for me. There's just too much back-and-forth about the relationship; I tend to like stories that start after the relationship is in place, rather than stories that are about getting to the relationship.

Still, Konno remains on my list of mangaka to look out for.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Completely unrelated PSA: Loretta Chase's new book is out!

I read the mangaka's Same Cell Organism yesterday, which was so gorgeous that I ended up reading this one and buying it. I need to go back and acquire Same Cell Organism as well.

Like Same Cell Organism, The Day I Become a Butterfly is also a collection of short stories; some are BL and some aren't, but they're all infused with the same wistful, quiet melancholy and joy. The titular story is on the dying Uka and somewhat psychic Mikami, who apparently can sense when people are about to die. Cue gorgeously understated and quiet angst! Others are on childhood friends and a girl who fears change (het); a girl trying to disentangle herself from affairs and draw; and two 16-year-old boys, one of whom purports to be an alien. The last one is sweet and funny and a nice look at being different; I didn't expect to like it, but it made me laugh with the ending:

Ulala Nakazawa (16), currently residing in Tokyo, is still, as always, an alien.

Yuzuru Yoshimoto (16), currently residing in Tokyo, this day transfers citizenship to a nation in space.

And from the childhood friends one: "The lonely war. Hailing bullets of happiness. Yellow flowers. / And next to me -- you."

A small warning: some of Yumeka's boys look just like girls. Or, er, even more so than manga boys usually do. I stared at the het story and decided that since the character had long hair (not so telling) and was in a girl's school uniform with skirt, she was probably a she. Though really, even with the school uniform, you can never be sure in manga. (She was a she in that one though.)

I have clearly gone from simply enjoying these to wanting people to read them. This collection and Same Cell Organism are more BL than yaoi; this one also has non-romantic character studies as well. The art and paneling are gorgeous, spare and clean and evocative. The sensibility of the mangaka reminds me a little of the Nishi Keiko shorts that I've read.

Nothing really happens in any of the stories; it's the art and the minimal prose that I love.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(yes, the lack of a hyphen in the title is still bugging me)

This is a really gorgeous collection of BL short stories. The stories themselves don't have much plot: two high school guys, one shy and one not as much, have a relationship and discuss their future. An angel gives up angelhood to be with someone. Two high school students who enjoy being alone find that they enjoy each other's company in the attic.

Guess which one was the one that made me pick up the book?

There's this sense of wistfulness about all the stories, which are all about people who might have drifted through the world if it weren't for finding the other. The art and the panel layout echoes this: the art is spare and sketchy and sometimes seems to disappear into the page; and the panels are open, lots of white space and open-ness. I love just looking at it. Also, part of the aesthetics may have been enhanced by the good paper stock; it's thick and white and the blacks stand out superbly.

Also, [livejournal.com profile] vom_marlowe! It uses lots of wordless sequences! And I love how the panels focus on the small details -- a hand reaching out to another, someone bending down to kiss another person and then deciding at the last minute not to. I just love how spare and lovely it all is; there's so little dialogue, and yet, the mangaka nails the moods perfectly.

I am going to hunt down her other translated manga now.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I managed to randomly pick out a shounen ai title at the bookstore without completely squicking myself out! Yay!

Unfortunately, I've pretty much forgotten everyone's name already, due to downloading entirely too much manga over the weekend. Anyhow Boy 1 and Boy 2 have been best friends forever. Then for a reason that is solely the author playing god, they end up kissing. Boy 1 is completely freaked out about this. Boy 2 is mostly not affected. Boy 1 then discovers that Boy 2 has been in love with him for forever, a tiny bit of angst ensues as Boy 1 proceeds to be very clueless, but not quite as clueless as some CLAMP characters can be (*ahem*Legal Drug*ahem*Watanuki*ahem*).

It's not very deep or meaningful or anything, but it's cute and sweet and while there is a bit of interaction that begins as slightly non-consensual, I like very much that Boy 2 cannot go through with it and falls back to being his nice, cute self.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Like Emma, this is set in Victorian England. There are four short stories about Shirley Madison, a 13-year-old maid, and her employer.

Since I read this in Chinese, I have absolutely no idea what her employer's name is. The scanlations said "Cranry Bennett," but I'm pretty sure "Cranry" is her last name, not her first. Anyway, I guess I'll refer to her as Ms. Cranly.

Ms. Cranly owns a small coffeeshop; she's single and self-employed and decides to take on Shirley despite Shirley's young age. They have a pseudo-familial relationship: Ms. Cranly gives Shirley a doll, Shirley watches over Ms. Cranly.

Part of me had small squidges related to the fuzziness of the master-servant relationship and the power differential, but really, the stories are so small and sweet that I didn't want to be too grumpy.

I adore Mori's art and her panel layout so much. I found out that Emma, and presumably Shirley, was published in a seinen magazine (? because of the maid fetish thing?), which explains the boxier panels and the more structured layout. But there's this great little sequence where Shirley gets her new maid outfit. She stands in front of the mirror, than slowly discovers the swirly skirt, and a small smile starts to blossom on her face.

It's about two or three pages, all wordless, but you know exactly how she feels.

There are two other maid-related short stories in this volume, "Mary Banks" and "Nellie and I," but my favorites are still the Shirley ones.
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I picked this up because I loved Nishi's stories in Four Shoujo Stories so much. This is another collection of her short stories, selected and translated by Matt Thorn, a very early fan and scholar of shoujo manga.

Also, it's taken me several months to blog this, so my memory is really fuzzy.

The first story, "Love Song," is on a woman who ends up being the abuser in a relationship; even though she knows she's destroying the relationship, she can't seem to keep herself from doing so.

I don't remember much of "Jewels of the Seaside" or "The Signal Goes Blink Blink;" the first is a comic mystery with three sisters and one man, and I can't even remember the second any more.

The final story, "The Skin of Her Heart," didn't impress me too much, but I may have been in a bad mood at the time as well. I do remember liking the art, which was very spare and very different from the other stories. It's a quiet, sfnal story that focuses more on the character than the world.

I'm not sure I would recommend this to everyone; I ended up liking Nishi's two stories in Four Shoujo Stories much more, but I'm still glad I got it. Also, I hunted down some more of her manga in BookOff, so maybe more later.
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This is one of Viz's very first forays into the world of shoujo manga. I suspect Matt Thorn, the translator and shoujo manga scholar extraordinaire, picked the stories that would be included.

The four shoujo stories consist of Nishi Keiko's "Promise" and "Since You've Been Gone," Hagio Moto's "They Were Eleven," and Sato Shio's "The Changeling."

I was rather disappointed by the Hagio, given that she's a near-legendary shoujo mangaka, but I suspect her better work is in her longer series, like The Heart of Thomas. "They Were Eleven" is an SF novella in which Galactic test-takers are aboard a ship, in which there is an unknown eleventh member. There's some interesting bits on gender, but all in all, it was rather predictable, with too many info-dumps for me. Also, it took me a while to get used to the very early seventies art (stiff figures, large sparkly eyes, giant curly hair).

I had similar problems with the Sato, though the art there was more early eighties (I think). There were too many info-dumps as well, and having read a lot of SF, the surprise twist wasn't very surprising at all to me. There were some poignant bits regarding Sephiloth and his relationship with his ward, and for some reason, I kept thinking that it'd be a take on The Tempest.

Nishi's stories though... I ran out and bought her short story collection Love Song based on the strength of her stories.

The art is still a little dated, but it's wonderfully sparse and evocative. I can't quite say exactly why they caught me as much as they did. "The Promise" is on a girl trying to deal with her mother's new boyfriend, with the help of a mysterious friend, and "Since You've Been Gone" is on an adulterous husband and his wife during an earthquake. Neither of the stories are particularly surprising or go to unexpected places, but there's a certain wistfulness to both that struck me, and that, combined with the quality of the art, really made me fall in love.

I think I liked them because they were so unlike the Hagio and the Sato; Nishi's stories are very realistic, very small in scope. There aren't any grand worlds or twists, just people and their emotions. All the realizations are such small ones, and yet, so large.

Also, I am very glad I found Nishi via this book, particularly because I can hoot even more about finding this at cover price in a small corner of a small comic book store, since it's woefully out of print.
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This is a very beautifullly produced manga with four only slightly interconnected short stories. Actually, the structure reminds me a bit of all those romance anthologies, with stories united only by a certain element. The element here is supposed to be Shirahime-Syo (The Story of the White Princess or something... translated as "Snow Princess"). Shirahime-Syo is apparently the white lady; snow supposedly falls when she cries.

I have no idea what all the stories have to do with her. I mean, they take place during winter and they are sad, and they invoke the legend of Shirahime-Syo, but it all seems completely inorganic, as though CLAMP were just tossing in the snow and the sadness so they could have a story in the book.

I did like that it took place in historical Japan (or ancient Japan, given the level of fantasy); most of the manga I've read lately has very little to do with ancient Japan on the surface level and much more to do with assorted fantasy/gothic worlds and modern day life. The art is also gorgeous, and there's one colored frontispiece (I think).

Lots of fluff with no real bite, unfortunately. But very pretty fluff.


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