RTO - Sweet Days

by Rebecca Silverman, Feb 25th 2014

Hello, and welcome to the new RTO! I'm Rebecca, and some of you (most of you?) probably know me as a regular manga reviewer and occasional anime reviewer here at ANN. I'm an omnivorous and voracious reader who has been known to resort to cereal boxes in times of need, and if I'm not reading manga, there's a 100% chance I'm reading something else – mystery, fantasy, literary fiction, some random old book no one's thought of in 100 years...or my semi-guilty joys, cheesy YA fiction and Regency romances. I'm very excited to take over this column and to have the chance to share some of my non-front page manga reading experiences with you, and I hope that I'll be able to do it justice. Carlo's are big shoes to fill, and I'll try my best to do so.

You'll see that we've made a few changes to the column, most noticeably that the letter grades have been dropped in favor of a simpler rating system, and we'll have some new banner graphics for you next time. I hope that you enjoy this latest incarnation of RTO, and let me know what you think in the comments!




SWEET REIN
Vol. 1

(by Sakura Tsukuba, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

A magical romance from the creator of Land of the Blindfolded

Sad at the thought of spending Christmas alone, Kurumi Sagara goes out for a walk. While she's crossing the street, a boy bumps into her, and a rein suddenly appears that binds them together. The overjoyed boy tells her she's his master and that she's a Santa Claus. Kurumi dismisses him as a crazy person, but then he transforms into a reindeer?!

REVIEW:

Even if you are leery of Christmas stories, Sweet Rein is a charmer. The story of Kurumi and Kaito, two semi-lost souls both looking for someone to call their own, is as sweet as a candy cane, although it does still come with a couple surprising edges. The most charming part of Sakura Tsukuba (of Land of the Blindfolded fame)'s Christmas-based romance is the way that Kaito so clearly adores Kurumi, even before he falls in romantic love with her. He's caring and loving in that way only shoujo boys can be, and as Kurumi's icy fears melt, their relationship becomes truly heartwarming. The major fly in the ointment is that the two are magically linked by the rein that allows Kaito to transform into Kurumi's reindeer, and there's an underlying fear that maybe his emotions are generated by magic as much as love. Then there's also the way that Kaito is so utterly happy to be at Kurumi's beck and call, more like a servant and master relationship than one of loving partners. Some readers may find this off-putting, or see Kaito as more of a pet than a boyfriend, which leads the romance into some less savory territory. Luckily Kaito's family helps to provide some background on him, as well as showing Kurumi what real, functional family is like, so that helps to take some of the weirdness away. Also included is a short story about a vampire, which isn't as strong as the main story and suffers a bit more from Tsukuba's sort of sketch-based art style. It isn't bad, but it isn't wonderful either. Overall if you like Christmas stories (and not everyone does), this is a charmer, but it definitely comes with a few caveats that could be a turn off for some readers.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a friend or a library. Sweet Rein is sweet and charming, but it isn't quite good enough to buy, especially if you have any reservations about the master/servant aspect of the main couple's relationship.




NISEKOI: FALSE LOVE
Vol. 1

(by Naoshi Komi, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Love triangle! Comedic antics!! Gang warfare?! You won't want to miss out on Weekly Shonen Jump's laugh-out-loud feel-good manga series!

It's hate at first sight... Rather, a knee-to-the-head at first sight when Raku Ichijo meets Chitoge Kirisaki! Unfortunately, Raku's gangster father arranges a false love match with their rival's daughter—who just so happens to be Chitoge! However, Raku's searching for his childhood sweetheart from ten years ago, with a pendant around his neck as a memento, but he can't even remember her name or face!

REVIEW:

Poor Raku – all he wants to do is go to high school, get a normal job that has nothing to do with his yakuza family, and find the mysterious girl with whom he exchanged a tender promise as a young boy. Things are mostly looking like they might work out when he finds himself serving as the landing pad for a new student hopping over the school wall. Not only does she cause him to lose the memento of his childhood sweetheart, a locket, but she's also the most annoying and abrasive person he's ever met. So naturally she turns out to be the daughter of a rival criminal organization, with whom he has to pretend to have a relationship in order to promote peace. It's not a new premise, and canny readers will see the connections with other shounen titles such as Love Hina or Sumomomo Momomo, but Komi handles it well. The story moves quickly and the humor is pretty well balanced with emotion. Komi's art is appealing, particularly his “funny faces” when the characters are stymied or surprised, and there's just a general clean feeling to the artwork. He does have some weird touches, like the way he does the ribbon on the girls' uniforms or the crazily large size of the lock Raku wears around his neck (he must have a neck of steel), but overall it looks good. Raku is a nice change of hero who isn't cowed by the feisty female in his life, although he never mistreats her, which is important. Chitoge herself is probably the most difficult part of this volume, with her abrasive attitude towards Raku and her over-the-top reactions to most things he does. On the one hand, the poor girl just moved to a new country and got slammed with a fake boyfriend. On the other, wow, she's kind of annoying.

RECOMMENDATION: Unless you have something against romantic comedies, buy it. This is a fun start to a series with potential, and even Chitoge's outbursts can't take away its humor and charm.




ALICE IN THE COUNTRY OF CLOVER: CHESHIRE CAT WALTZ
Vol. 7

(by QuinRose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru, Seven Seas, $13.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

"We trumped your trump. We win." The shadowy figures stalking Alice finally strike! In desperation, Boris makes an unlikely alliance to rescue his love. But the Cheshire Cat isn't the only one making strange bedfellows--with Alice in peril, the warring residents of the Country of Clover now share a common goal. These bitter enemies must put aside their petty differences and form a motley force to be reckoned with. In a climactic battle, it's more than Alice's relationship with Boris at stake--it's the fate of the entire Country of Clover. Nothing is certain in Wonderland, except this: in love and war, everything ends with a bang!

REVIEW:

And so we finally get some answers. Perhaps the most significant part of this final volume in the main adaptation of the Alice in the Country of Clover otome game is that we at last find out what happened to Alice's older sister Lorina, although of course there are still some questions about it. After all, QuinRose still wants you to pick up the other books in the franchise. But this small nugget is enough to make readers feel like the journey was worth it, as is the appearance of Edith Liddell, the younger sister of real-life Alice and Lorina. The story itself resolves well, with Alice and Boris overcoming obstacles to find True Love in both the main section of the volume and the conclusion to the Alice in the Country of Hearts side story. In terms of the non-romance plots, Alice finally comes to accept herself, which is perhaps the most rewarding part of the series. Additionally, both versions included in this book have some interesting things to say about the faceless denizens of Wonderland, and how Alice's vision of them may be rubbing off on the Role-Holders. Perhaps everyone loves an outsider because she can change how they see their world? On the down side, Blood loses pretty much all of the character development he gained in the other six books, and Fujimaru still has some serious trouble with anatomy, especially feet and torsos. Breaking up the book (and its predecessor) into “Hearts” and “Clover” sections also breaks up the story, so it's really almost worth it to get both six and seven and read the two stories in their entirety separately.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. Honestly, you've read this far and aren't going to finish it ? This is also a good series to enter the franchise with, for the Alice-curious.




YU-GI-OH! ZEXAL
Vol. 4

(by Kazuki Takahashi, Shin Yoshida and Naohito Miyoshi, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

In a futuristic city, augmented reality Duels are all the rage. Duelists, using devices called D-Gazers, can interact with their environment and their opponents as never before. With more awesome monsters and unbelievable cards, the future of Yu-Gi-Oh! starts right here!

The mysterious Luna suddenly appears and challenges Shark to a duel. At stake is a new card and a new power! Elsewhere, Yuma and his friends form the Numbers Club, dedicated to finding the powerful Numbers Cards and stopping the plans of the evil Dr. Faker!

Card included with the first printing only.

REVIEW:

Things are really heating up in the Numbers Hunting business, with not just one, but two new and potentially dangerous recruits for Yuma and Co. to fight against. Both have been recruited by different factions with differing goals for the Numbers Cards, and it looks like no one group can agree on what they mean and what should be done with them. What's most surprising here, however, is the full revelation of Shark's past, which not only has a bearing on the character, but also on the Numbers Hunt as a whole. It's always nice to see a formerly one-note character get developed, and Shark definitely wins that prize in this volume. There are, of course, several drawn-out card battles, which rely much more on text than action to convey what's going on, something that is a major strike against an action manga. Some of the larger summonings are difficult to fully understand on the page as well, so the panels aren't always in their optimum layouts. Kotori and Cathy also get reduced by their teammates to “lovely ladies,” which given all that Cathy is doing to help the cause is very off-putting – a manga can be for boys without dumbing down the girls, although that's really reserved for these two specifically, with Luna holding her own. Really, this volume is at its best when its delving into Shark's history or showing us everyone's awesomely sculpted hair, and it provides some information that is going to be crucial going forward.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a friend or a library. Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal's fourth volume is getting things moving, but it doesn't have a whole lot of re-read value and has a few outright annoyances. However, if you are collecting the special cards that come with the volumes, buy it quickly, because only the first printing includes them.




PUELLA MAGI KAZUMI MAGICA
Vol. 3

(by Masaki Hiramatsu and Takashi Tensugi, YenPress, $11.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

As her teammates look on in horror, Niko succumbs to the taint that has overwhelmed her soul gem and she transforms into a terrifying witch. But there is little time for the Pleiades Saints to grieve-this new witch has gone on the attack! Left with no alternative, Mirai strikes down her friend to save the rest of the girls. Is there any power that can save the Magical Girls from their fate?

REVIEW:

Just what is the deal with these girls calling themselves “The Pleiades,” and why do so many other magical girls hate them? The answer to that is finally revealed in this penultimate volume, which is the strongest of the series so far. We also learn the truth of Kazumi's memory loss and the meaning behind the series' subtitle “the innocent malice,” so this is a great book for getting to the bottom of things and it sets up for a fairly epic finale in volume four. Unfortunately it still isn't as good as the original series, and while it tries hard to expand on the magical girl world established by Puella Magi Madoka Magica, it mostly winds up being kind of confusing. This is not aided by Takashi Tensugi's very busy art, which uses blacks and grays to cover up structural deficiencies and makes following the action difficult. The fixation on the girls' breasts and crotches can get uncomfortable at times as well. The best done section of the book (and the whole series) is the flashback, and since that's arguably the most important part of the volume, that almost makes things okay. Each magical girl's unique outfit is still a draw here, and Mami stops by in a brief cameo, which once again really helps to explain how Kazumi ended up an amnesiac in a trunk in the first place. Hopefully the next volume can maintain this momentum, because this certainly ups the enjoyment factor of this mediocre spin-off.

RECOMMENDATION: Borrow it from a library or friend. Puella Magi Kazumi Magica tries really hard and has some good moments, but difficult to decipher art and a story that spins its wheels in favor of battles that don't explain much make it a tricky read. That this volume is the best of the three so far isn't as high praise as it sounds.



Untranslated Gems


In this new incarnation of Import of the Month, I'll look at titles that have somehow passed the English-language market by, and let you know some language alternatives for reading them.


KAGEN NO TSUKI
3 Volumes

(by Ai Yazawa, publisher and pricing vary by country of publication)

FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:

Injured by a car accident while looking for her missing cat, Hotaru, an elementary school girl, was hospitalized. During her stay in the hospital, she met an apparition of a friendly high school girl in her dream, who gave her a ring as a token of friendship. After her recovery, Hotaru and her friends set out to find the mysterious figure, not knowing they are about to unravel a stranded love story beyond their comprehension.

REVIEW:

The best books stay with us forever. Those who only know Ai Yazawa from NANA and Paradise Kiss may not associate her with ghost stories, but her single entry in this genre is simultaneously heartwarming and heart-wrenching, grabbing onto you and never really letting go. The story follows elementary schooler Hotaru, who while looking for her missing cat finds herself at the gates of an abandoned house. A lonely young woman is there, apparently trapped with no real memories other than those of a man named Adam. Calling the girl Eve, Hotaru begins to uncover a tale of lost love and longing that dovetails with the story of a modern day high school girl named Mizuki, crossing time periods and supernatural boundaries to truly understand the power of love beyond the grave. While we know that there can be no completely happy ending, this scant three volume series still pulls us inexorably towards its finale, wrapping us in the beauty of its sadness. There are some sections that drag while the kids try to figure things out, and it's hard to care about the Mizuki storyline as much as the Eve one, but on the whole, this is easily one of Yazawa's best titles. Some of you may know Kagen no Tsuki from its live action film starring GAKT, released with English subtitles by Geneon back in the day, and while that film makes a good effort at capturing Yazawa's work, it pales in comparison to the original manga. Bittersweet and haunting, Kagen no Tsuki helps to prove that manga can be as literary as any prose or verse book.

DON'T WORRY! READ IT IN:
French, Italian, Chinese, German



Digital Spotlight


In this new section, we'll look at some manga solely available through the various legal digital outlets.


HAPPY GO LUCKY DAYS
2 volumes

(by Takako Shimura, eManga, $7.95 each)

FROM eMANGA:

A young woman going through a divorce finds a kindred soul in a bar one night and wakes up the next morning in his bed. On the opposite side of town, a boring high school teacher is met with a startling confession and an equally unexpected encounter with his family. A lonely girl who lives with a ghostly house guest meets the (living and breathing) man she could be destined to marry, while twin boys who don't quite see eye to eye encounter love and lust in the most unexpected of situations. Take a moment to sit back and watch life through the eyes of these ordinary people, a series of happy-go-lucky days colored by intersecting lines of sex, love, and longing.

REVIEW:

Most of us associate Takako Shimura with stories about children finding themselves, so it's a bit of a surprise to read this sex-filled series. Comprised of loosely related short stories across two volumes, Happy-Go-Lucky Days is slice of life at its finest, offering us brief glimpses into the lives of the happy, the not so happy, and in some cases, the dead. A lot of the stories revolve around casual or revenge sex, with characters hooking up for various reasons that rarely turn out for either good or bad – most of these people simply are. The one notable exception is a story about a middle (and later high school) girl who uses her own promiscuity as a weapon against her mother, seducing as many as she can in order to make her point. This is also the most uncomfortable story, given the age of the protagonist, but also one of the more powerful. Another story about a haunted apartment is very bittersweet, as is the story of twin brothers growing up and realizing that that may also mean growing apart. Drawn with Shimura's usual spare style, the stories here are the kind that have to be thought about before you can really come to terms with them, and you find yourself with them on your mind at odd moments. The same compassion that we find in Wandering Son is present, but in a more adult form. Happy-Go-Lucky Days is an interesting tour through lives barely connected that invites its readers to ponder just how we might fit in with Shimura's stories.

RECOMMENDATION: Worth reading, and since eManga lets you download their manga, there's no worry that it will just vanish if the site folds.



That's all for this week! Be sure to leave some feedback in the comments!


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