Maid Sama 2-In-1 Volume 8

After 16 volumes, you’d think Fujiwara would have plumbed the depths already and come up empty. But 15 and 16 were a surprise as both Usui and Misaki have to deal with the ghosts of their pasts. There are, of course, other lighthearted moments but for the most part, these two volumes focus nearly solely on our favorite couple and their trials and tribulations.

9781421581378_86003.jpg

Story: As Usui is thrown a huge birthday celebration befitting a person of his status, Misaki is once again reminded of how far apart socially they exist. But she is well past the point of giving up or questioning Usui’s affection for her. When Usui’s prep school classmates visit Misaki’s school, Misaki’s sister is the unwanted focus of one of the prep school’s ‘beauty makeover’ experts. When a hero appears, does little sister also have a suitor? Meanwhile, Usui has decided to finally confront the Walkers and ask to be formally emancipated from the family. But what he will find is a not only a nest of vipers but also truths long kept from him about his mother and father.

There were some nice advances to the story in these two volumes and it was great to see some progression in the overall plot. But with only one 2-in-1 (the final volumes 17 and 18) this looks to tie up nicely and with a great final ending. There are a few small side stories and Misaki’s sister’s story was very cute as well. Fujiwara continues to mix the humor with the pathos beautifully. In all, looking forward to the final 2-in-1 so I can see how it ends! Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews, contemporary, manga, romance | Leave a comment

Anonymous Noise 2 by Ryoko Fukuyama

Now that the story was established in volume 1, of course we can delve more into the glamour, fashion, and pressures of the music industry as Momo agrees to join Yuzu’s band. But, surprising no one, Momo suddenly appears and avoids poor Nino. So we have the love triangle established firmly now as Momo begins to scale the music industry with her unique voice in this quirky manga title.

32919038.jpg

Story: Yuzu is coming around to Nino singing in his band, even if his ex-girlfriend and former lead singer is hot and cold on the subject. When Nino randomly chances upon a mention of a producer with Momo’s name, she is sure she has finally found her missing only love. Little does she know he attends the same school she does. Nino decides to get Momo’s attention through an audience for one of the bands he produces – but is heartbroken when he refuses to attend her audition. Worse, if she succeeds at the audition, she will not be able to be with Yuzu’s band any more. But Nino knows what – and who – she wants and she will not give up.

Anonymous Noise definitely has a quirky feel to it. From the main character always wearing a breathing mask to Yuzu’s band all wearing breathing masks and eye patches, it’s all very odd but in a good way. Author Fukuyama gives Nino a very bland and almost cliche shoujo heroine personality and then pairs it with outgoing/brash Yuzu and enigmatic/driven Momo. Both boys start out saying they want nothing to do with Nino because she will prevent them from writing for some reason. Yuzu has already gotten over his problem with her so now the manga turns to Momo, whose sole interest is money so he can get his family out of debt.

So yes, although there is nothing new here, Anonymous Noise is fun and quirky and very modern-feeling. It’s easy to see why this is popular enough to warrant an anime. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, contemporary, manga, romance | Leave a comment

Anonymous Noise 1 by Ryoko Fukuyama

Anonymous Noise begins with the time honored shoujo manga cliche of girl meeting her ‘love’ at a very young age, he/she moves away, and then when starting high school, he suddenly appears very changed and not the same person (but, of course, still in love with our heroine). And in this manga’s case, author Fukuyama ups the ante by adding a second boy and a music obsession. cue hospitalization for a medical condition that prevents singing and yes, we’ve seen this plot before with, e.g., Full Moon O Sagashite. But Anonymous Noise does have its own charm and certainly it has all the energy and exuberance of a Tanemura title – just with an older heroine. It also feels much more modern and a bit edgier.

32919037.jpg

Story: Elementary school age Nino Arisugawa (nicknamed Alice) has lived next door to and been best friends with Momo for most of her young life. Their passion is music and Momo writes for his Alice to sing. But financial troubles culminates in Momo’s family cutting and running – leaving town permanently and leaving Momo devastated. When another boy hears her calling out to the waves at the ocean hoping Momo will hear her voice, he helps her get over her grief by writing a song for her. But she can only see him one day each week and then he suddenly disappears as well. Now in high school, Momo still sings to the waves hoping either of her two friends will some day find her. And then one does at the first day of high school – Yuzu is back but angry with her for some reason. What’s more, Yuzu is in a band writing songs for lead singer ‘Alice’. He had been in a slump until he found Nino and now suddenly is inspired again – causing all kinds of problems with his girlfriend and lead singer – the fake Alice.

This first book is about Nino (Alice) meeting her quirky friend Yuzu again. He isn’t all that interested in being with her at first and clearly that becomes questionable as Nino finds out more about his band (and how everything seems to center around his memories of her). She soon begins to realize that brash and outgoing Yuzu isn’t as unaffected as he appears. At the same time, Yuzu begins to realize that his Alice’s heart will always belong to the quiet Momo – a person he hopes she never finds again, even if that is why she is willing to join Yuzu’s band (so her voice can be a beacon for Momo to find her).

It’s all a big complicated and the energy is somewhat frenetic. Nino is the typical clutzy, shy, unassuming girl who gets noticed because she is a ‘speshul snowflake’ (her voice has presence). Most of this first volume is Nino being told she has no technique, just talent, and that she needs to build it up. Nino and Yuzu feel the power of music and are drawn to each other as a result.

In all, although we aren’t breaking down any new doors here, Anonymous Noise is an enjoyable series with an interesting ‘music’ hook.

Posted in Book Reviews, contemporary, manga, romance | Leave a comment

Ten Count Volume 4 by Rihito Takarai

With volume 4, we’re given Shirotani’s backstory as well as tantalizing hints that all is not perfect with Kurose, either. And in contrast to volume 3, there is less sex and more plot to follow. Readers hoping to understand Shirotani a bit better are rewarded for the wait by several chapters devoted to the event/situation that translated into Shirotani’s mysophobia. But more tantalizing are the hints that Kurose is just as ‘defiled’ as Shirotani.

26196915.jpg

Story: When Kurose attempts to be honest with Shirotani after their recent encounter, Shirotani is put off and avoids him for two months. But a chance encounter brings them together again as both have to face the realization that they need each other equally. Shirotani believes he defiles anyone who touches him – that he is irrevocably dirty. But Kurose has some admissions of his own and isn’t afraid to tell the disbelieving Shirotani that he has been and will always be in love with Shirotani from the beginning; specifically because of the mysophobia. But how will Shirotani accept that if it means Kurose only wants one part of him?

Clearly, we have both men trying to communicate, each in their own way. Kurose hinting and trying to tell Shirotani that his desire is due to be just as ‘defiled’ but Shirotani assuming Kurose is saying he only wants him for his mysophobia. Willful misunderstanding has long been the heart of melodrama in this genre (shoujo) but Takarai writes in such a way that it does make sense and isn’t someone being stubborn to the point of stupidity.

We’re building to a love story in here but certainly it is in its very own unique way. This was never about a taboo doctor/patient relationship since Takarai never said that Kurose was acting on his medical background but instead saw something in Shirotani that he himself experienced (a traumatic event).

The backstory of Shirotani’s illness is nicely explained and of course it will be interesting to see if the pertinent parties (his father and father’s young girlfriend) appear in future volumes. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in ARC, contemporary, manga | Leave a comment

Ten Count Volume 3 by Rihito Takarai

I have to appreciate the risks taken by Viz/Sublime in bringing this title to the West; it flouts so many Western conventions and is a title that is very much rooted in Japanese culture. The themes here are uncomfortable and especially in this volume, the sex becomes extremely graphic even when it still ends up being more of a tease/prelude to the act. By volume 4, Kurose’s actions do become much more explained (Note: there isn’t one person with a mental illness in this title). In order to further the impact of the story in future volumes, author Takarai takes the two to a much more forceful and darker place first. But yes, most Westerners will understandedly back away quickly by the end of this volume even if the plot isn’t to support the plot (as with other titles in the genre like Crimson Spell).

34462188.jpg

Story: Shirotani fights a war within himself. His desires war against the cold hard logic of a heart that had been hardened in the past: the manifestation of his mysophobia. As Kurose continues to push boundaries, he will use a slow but determined assault on closing physical boundaries in order to eventually open up emotional ones. Shirotani is conflicted over Kurose’s ebb and flow of attention and doubts himself and ability to appeal to another person. And in one night, boundaries will be crossed as sensuality is used as a tool to seduce.

Obviously, I’ve carefully worded the above summary. The sex, such as it is, takes up most of the book. There has always been a cultural more in Japan that sexual partners who say no are doing so to be missish (which is considered more attractive and not as accepted in Western cultures) or because they don’t know their own mind; in other words, desire trumps all obstacles and a person will have sex with a rock if it looks sexy enough. It can lead to some very inappropriate places, unfortunately, in Japan (e.g., pedophilia) and perhaps here. This is contrasted with Western cultures which are more and more emphatically stating that no means no. So the question of Kurose ‘healing’ Shirotani as an excuse for pushing beyond boundaries becomes very complex and your view on this will likely be a decider if this series is for you (well, that and your interest in graphic M/M sex). Ten Count isn’t a story of love so much as codependency.

As always, the art is superb and perfectly captures the ‘stillness’ of their characters’ outside appearances in contrast to the turmoil underneath. With this volume, we begin to see more of the enigmatic Kurose’s point of view – in little throw away lines that become more significant by volume 4. So yes, this is a series that will divide readers – if they decide to continue past volume 3, the sex tones down a bit as the focus is more on Kurose and why he pursues Shirotani. And yes, being a Westerner I was both ambivalent and uncomfortable with this Volume 3 read.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews | Leave a comment

Echoes by Mike Richardson Gabriel Guzman, Java Tartaglia

Echoes is a book that looks to have begun from a short story. The writing and illustrations are solid, if not quite unique, and the story flows smoothly. If at times it felt like it could have been even shorter, that perhaps is a quibble from an otherwise decent graphic novel. Admittedly, Echoes isn’t something that will stick with me in another week but I did enjoy the experience while reading it. Certainly, we need more stories with antiheroes and a bit of redemption in them.

29726951.jpg

Story: Fred Martin is a bitter and unhappy man. His mother died when he was very young and he was passed from foster home to foster home. Now, 30 years after her death and still alone, he has no kind word for anyone and goes about his business of flying charter planes to remote areas. But when he hardheadedly ignores warnings not to take his plane out into a storm, he awakes from a plane crash to find he is back in the past – his past. Worse, it is the week everything changed for him, when he tried to stop his mother’s boyfriend from beating her and instead caused her death. Now, armed with knowledge he did not have as a little boy, he sets out to wrong the rights and rewrite his life story.

Again, this isn’t a book to expect some big plot twist at the end. The book is more about the journey than it is the result. So while we can guess what is going to happen, it is still fascinating to see the lead up to how we get there. Because the story is fairly simplistic, there does seem to be a lot of filler and that the plot could have wrapped up in half the space. Subplots of the people who aid the unpleasant Fred as well as the FBI hunting him down for ‘counterfeiting’ currency that is 30 years in the future, are not as interesting as the scenes of Fred confronting his mother. We see as Fred does the beginnings of the abuse and his mother’s inability to separate herself from it. As well, it is interesting to have the perspectives of those who also see but do not act on the abuse.

I admit, I would have liked to see Fred given a different perspective on the abuse when he goes back. But there are no new insights other than that he knows what all the signs of abuse are leading up to – and the horrible repercussions for his young self. But the pathos in the scenes with his mother and little Fred are extremely well written and well illustrated and make up for some of the lack of originality/creativity.

The illustration work is clean, nicely detailed, and the cover is a good representation of what you will find inside. As with the plot, there’s nothing particularly unique or distinct about the illustration work; but it carries the story nicely and the time/place of the 1980s is well captured.

In all, I enjoyed Echoes. Fred is an interesting anti-hero, all bitterness and bile. In coming to terms with his past, he gets a chance to finally go beyond all that unhappiness and maybe even move on. One can’t help but think there is a bit of magical realism, atonement, or purgatory-like experience rather than a magical storm that throws him back to the most pivotal moment of his life. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews, contemporary, graphic novel, urban fantasy | Leave a comment

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell

It was around 60% that I just had to stop reading Garden of Thorns. What I had hoped would be a darker, edgier, and perhaps deeper YA fantasy ended up being a wooden, unbelievable sop-fest of a romance disguised as fantasy. The main characters were overidealized, their situations and personalities simplistic, and the plot so full of gaping holes in logic that one could drive a truck through it (or a large cart, in this case). Honestly, it all felt very silly.

30118749.jpg

Story: Rose has been a performer in a traveling circus called ‘The Garden” for seven years. In reality, she is a slave kept in a cage with other girls. The performers are kept in line by bonding them with a partner who is then the ‘sacrifice’ if the girls do not perform or behave. Rose’s best friend is Fern and Fern bears the scars of taking Rose’s punishments. But Rose is not an ordinary girl and when Fern is found out to be a rebel and spy, her death will be the impetus for Rose to finally escape. Unfortunately, she chooses the wrong person in the crowd and ends up fleeing with the head of the rebellion – the young heir to the throne, Rayce. Romance ensues.

So, yes, this is a YA romance first – with all the cliches intact – with fantasy thrown in. Instaluv, speshul snowflake, sniffing of the guy all the time, interrupted confessions, rudeness that in real life would have ensured the girl was killed, a love interest who is so perfect that likely little birds comb his hair in the morning, heavy handed deus ex machina situations to make the heroine look good, create a romantic scene, or the hero look angelic, etc. etc. abound. Let’s not forget that we have the typical girl cat fights and our speshul snowflake will be so full of admirable mettle that she’ll turn enemy into friend! There wasn’t an original word in the entire book.

Perhaps most problematic for me wwere the glaring plot and logic holes. It all felt wrong – that these aren’t the way people would behave in the situations we are told they are in. Our feckless heroine has no emotional scarring that I can tell, the prince completely trusts her, shows her all his secret rebel spies/contacts, even takes her to his stronghold – because yeah, that would be smart. They have magical weapons that are a mystery to everyone – even though there is only one place you can get the magic rocks to power them AND someone has not only built the weapons but the knowledge to make the ‘magical tattoos’ that power them. And hey, of course our heroine has a secret connection to the prince AND the magic. But she has to keep all her speshulness a secret – because otherwise the plot would have been over by the first chapter. There are many, many, more plot and logic holes. I just couldn’t turn off my brain enough to really ignore the problems.

The characters were wooden, overidealized, talked like modern teenagers (Heroine, “Excuse me! I can hear you whispering about me!”). The prince is handsome, worries about his people and takes big responsibility for them over his own well-being, and even bakes bread to our heroine while worrying about someone he sent on a mission. At one point, I kind of felt that this was the author daydreaming of the boy she hoped her daughter would bring home one day. There were no nuances, depth, or verisimilitude in any of the characters.

It’s a shame I could only get through 60%. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by the end since the ‘surprises’ and secret backgrounds were very well telegraphed. I think those who are undemanding readers will enjoy this as a sweet little romantic Summer read. As for me, I’ve read enough books that I expect much more. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, romance, YA | Leave a comment