RTO - In the Knight Kitchen

by Rebecca Silverman, Mar 11th 2014


Among the books I collect, some of my favorites are the children's series books from the early 20th century. After years and years of collecting, I really only have one complete series – Lucy Fitch Perkins' Twins books – but the thrill of finding each new book never fades. Recently I lucked into a nearly complete set of Ruth Fielding books at a thrift shop. That's one of the ones that was ghost written under a group pen name, and wow, could I tell when the author changed between books four and five. Suddenly Ruth went from making taffy to bludgeoning a wolf to death with a cow bone in gruesome detail. It was like turning a page in Love*Com and finding that Higurashi: When They Cry had taken over.



SANKAREA: UNDYING LOVE
Vol. 4

(by Mitsuru Hattori, Kodansha, $10.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

WE ALWAYS EAT THE ONES WE LOVE   A strange foreign doctor warns Rea that her "turbid period" is approaching... and that it will bring with it an insatiable desire to eat Furuya's flesh! Realizing she may not have much time left to live as a sane, normal girl, Rea works as hard as she can to enjoy her first, and maybe last, summer festival with Chihiro. But is it already too late for them both?!

REVIEW:

Darin might be kind of annoying as far as characters go, but she also, it turns out, is no fool. She previously warned Rea that she'd soon want to ingest that which she loves most, and as it turns out, that day is coming faster than anyone anticipated. Rea's hunger for Furuya's flesh is framed as an almost sexual want – she talks about wanting him inside her, but she means “in her stomach” rather than a sexier alternative. When she finds herself torn between her desire to snack on her love and her will to remain human, Rea finds herself in the same sort of unhappy emotional state she was in initially, so Hattori's decision to move the action back to the abandoned hotel works very nicely. Less charming parts of the book happen when Furuya confronts Rea's mother at the Sanka mansion and Hattori proves unequal to the task of really capturing her anguish...or her figure. (He's much better at fanservice with smaller breasts.) Darin also remains a detraction, because all of the knowledge she might have is trapped behind her unwillingness to share and the fact that she is simply self-serving and feels like a trope inserted into an otherwise more interesting story, and that's too bad because the tension is rising and she could really help with that, both as a character and as a plot device.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a tough one. On the one hand, we're getting some really good answers that explain Rea's past and the tension is increasing. On the other, it's just not moving fast enough. Unless you're utterly invested, I'd say borrow it from a library or a friend.



HAPPY MARRIAGE?!
VOL. 4

(by Maki Enjōji, Viz, $9.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

In order to help her father, Chiwa Takanashi agrees to an arranged marriage with the company president, Hokuto Mamiya—a man she doesn't know—at the request of Hokuto's grandfather. Chiwa believes the arrangement isn't binding, but her new partner seems to think otherwise. Can two strangers living together find their way to a Happy Marriage!?

Chiwa Takanashi has married a total stranger—company president Hokuto Mamiya—to get her father out of debt.

With her first attempt at making love with her husband foiled, Chiwa starts going out drinking every night with Yu Yagami. Hokuto blames himself for what happened, but how long will Chiwa allow her husband to keep her at a distance?

REVIEW:

After three volumes of will they/won't they dancing around, Happy Marriage!?'s fourth volume finally gets the job done. Eventually. After a few false starts. Essentially, this volume of Maki Enjōji's romance is like a josei version of Yamada's First Time, with Chiwa and Hokuto desperately trying to have sex despite myriad interruptions, including family, a kidnapping, and a trip to the hospital. Both Hokuto and Chiwa basically do everything wrong on an emotional level, which is simultaneously very funny and immensely frustrating for readers. On the other hand, it also allows us to get inside Hokuto's head a bit more, which definitely helps to make him a more appealing romantic hero...although he still can be quite the jerk. Chiwa's immaturity is also a hindrance to a satisfying romance, with her seeming more like a high school girl who just happens to work in an office than an actual adult. Fortunately Enjoji is good at playing the two off of each other, and her little post-chapter commentaries do show that she is aware of her characters' faults and flaws. Her art is also very appealing – clean and attractive with a pretty good grasp of basic anatomy, which comes in handy this time around as we see a fair amount of Chiwa's naked body. Happy Marriage!? isn't quite as mature as Viz's other current josei offering, Midnight Secretary, but it still good Harlequin-y fun.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy it. If you like romances, especially the smutty ones, Enjoji pens a good one. Both Chiwa and Hokuto are a little annoying, but the basic romance plot is fun. Besides, this is the volume some of you have been waiting for!



CRIMSON EMPIRE: CIRCUMSTANCES TO SERVE A NOBLE
Vol. 3

(by QuinRose and Hazuki Futaba, Seven Seas, $13.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

The dramatic conclusion to the shoujo trilogy by the author of New York Times bestseller Alice in the Country of Clover In the final volume of this trilogy, the relationship between Sheila, Prince Edvard, and Prince Justin is not what you'd call "normal." Sheila, born into a life of hardship, is now Price Edvard's head maid, but is caught up in a desperate love triangle between Edvard and his brother Justin. As the three continue their dance of courtship and skullduggery, Sheila must come to terms with her own true feelings. When the smoke clears, which prince will she choose and who will sit upon the throne? The gripping conclusion to a three-part tale of romance and court intrigue!

REVIEW:

Calling the romance in Crimson Empire a “desperate love triangle” is laying it on a bit thick. This concluding volume of the otome game adaptation sort of fizzles at the finale...not that it was ever particularly enthralling at any point. Sheila the pig-tailed assassin maid has always felt more like a stereotype than a character, with her tragic past and blank-slate personality, and the conclusion of her romance feels both far-fetched and uninspired. Do we really care if she ends up with Justin or Edvard? Does she? The answer to both questions feels very much like “no,” and if your series is a romance, that's a problem. That Hazuki Futaba's art skills show major variation in how characters look from scene to scene doesn't help, and if Seven Seas hadn't included the cast of characters in the front, we'd never know who any of the elaborately dressed men are, but flipping back and forth to figure it out is hardly conducive to smooth reading. Sheila's devotion to her job and her willpower are both very impressive, but they get lost in the mess that is the rest of the story, as does her more subdued out-on-the-town outfit. Basically Crimson Empire's final volume is just as much of a mess as the previous two, and never really convinces us that either of the parties involved have any real romantic feelings for each other. This isn't even cookie cutter romance – this is a lump of romance dough that someone forgot to shape into a cookie in the first place.

RECOMMENDATION: Skip it. There are better romances and maid stories out there, which is a shame for reverse harem fans, because this had potential. Sadly it doesn't live up to it.



I'VE SEEN IT ALL Vol. 1
(by Shoko Takaku, June, $12.95)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

Handsome Dr. Chihiro Saikawa has the gift of incredible insight! But his faultless powers of perception are put to the test when he runs into an adorable salesman. What can the doctor do to get close to his heart's desire? And will his hunch lead him straight into the lap of love?

I've Seen It All tackles the sweet torture of trying to land the perfect mate! Can a jaded physician be cured of his workaday blues by a beautiful young man? Or will the tug-of-war to suppress his unbearable urges totally consume him?

REVIEW:

Dr. Chihiro Saikawa is a doctor, as the back cover proclaims, but what they don't mention is that he is a men's health specialist – he spends his days looking at diseased and malfunctioning penises. This has given him the urge to stare at beautiful male appendages, and since he apparently has x-ray vision, when he spots the lithe and lovely Ayumi on the street, he immediately knows that the man has a perfect penis. So naturally he pursues him, and thus is Chihiro's quest for penile perfection fulfilled. As yaoi plots go, this is actually pretty inventive, and the lack of euphemisms in the text is kind of refreshing, especially given all of the different words for male genitals available. There's a sense that Takaku did some research about men's reproductive health, which certainly gives the story a leg to stand on even without the romantic or humorous plotlines. The romance is sweet, and once Chihiro gets past Ayumi's perfect wang, there's a real feeling that the two actually do love each other. We get inside both of their heads, which really helps to build a believable love story. The supporting characters are interesting as well, with Chihiro's co-worker in the clinic being a lot of fun. All in all, this is an entertaining book, and the (unintentional?) hilarity of Chihiro's obsession gives it the ability to be more than just another love story about hot guys in suits, even if it is, at times, patently ridiculous.

RECOMMENDATION: If you like yaoi, this is a buy. It's funny, sweet, and sexy with attractive art and a nice twist with Chihiro's profession, no matter how silly the premise. If you're only yaoi curious, however, I'd suggest borrowing this one, since it's a bit much for My First Yaoi.



CAGE OF EDEN Vol. 13
(by Yoshinobu Yamada, Kodansha, $10.99)

FROM THE BACK COVER:

THE MYSTERIOUS SPIRAL   Yarai's finally made it inside the mysterious lighthouse by the sea, but like everything on the island, it's more than it seems, full of locked doors. At the top of the tower, a desiccated corpse, crouched in a barrel with a key under its tongue, will give Yarai answers he never bargained for... Meanwhile, Akira and Mariya are still trying to discover the secret to the spire, when two well-dressed ruffians threaten to tear their group apart!

REVIEW:

Answers! We're getting some real answers in this volume of the survival story, and all of a sudden it's starting to feel less like Lost and more like The Island of Dr. Moreau. The volume begins with Yarai's group exploring the tower they discovered in volume twelve, and it very quickly becomes clear that there was at some point a large group of people living on the island, doing...something. That it related to the extinct animals is almost certain, given the ruins that Yarai and his gang find. Meanwhile, two strangers have shown up at the obelisk where Sengoku and his crew are camped, claiming to have come from a third human-built structure, a pyramid. It's currently ruled by a despotic doctor, and Akira just can't stand that, leading to our requisite cliff-hanger ending. But even before that, this volume is tense. With answers finally within our grasp – not to mention the fact that many of us have figured out what was written below Miina's name on the plaque – there's a real sense of racing against the clock. It's also rather frustrating, because as readers we know at least twice as much as the heroes, and the urge to climb into the book and just tell them is strong. Luckily this is the only such issue, as Yamada has basically stopped his “_____ attacks. Group learns to fight it.” formula. He has not stopped the fanservice, which is increasingly out of place in some cases, although one must allow that bathing scenes, nipple-less though they are, are perfectly reasonable. Kodansha's excellent liner notes, some of which expand on the text, remain some of their best, and all in all thirteen volumes in, this is still a compelling read.

RECOMMENDATION:
Buy it. No real reservations about this one. The story is still tense and fast-paced, the characters are still developing for the most part, and we're tantalizingly close to solving the mystery. Inappropriate fanservice and one annoyingly horny character can't bring this series down.


DIGITAL SPOTLIGHT


PANDRA RESTAURANT! Vol. 1
(by Riri Sagara, Renta or Emanga, 3 tickets or $7.95)

FROM RENTA:

There's an unusual restaurant located in the suburbs of Japan, and we invite you to take a look at the livelihoods of its staff. Does it appeal to your senses to mention they're all cookware personified? Pandra Restaurant begins with a cutting board's journey to find his own place in the restaurant - it's not easy being a plastic cutting board amongst more experienced utensils, but he'll make the most of it!

REVIEW:

At Pandra Restaurant, all of the workers are actually cooking utensils! I think. Actually, it is never made clear whether in the world of the story, utensils are just shown as people or if they actually are people, and the imagery doesn't really help to make that obvious – we see them using their namesake tools, but we also see them floating in test tubes later in the volume, so the whole thing is really quite confusing. The tableware is the same, with Teacup worrying about being cracked when handled roughly, so if logic is something you care about in a story, be warned that you won't find it here. There also isn't much of a plot, with each chapter divided into mini adventures as Cutting Board (plastic and germ resistant) comes to work at the restaurant and learns about the quirks of his fellow utensils. There isn't a whole lot for shippers either, although everyone does look pleasantly moe – no one really has enough of a personality to make pairing them off a whole lot of fun. Simply put, this is a fujoshi-aimed work with little plot to speak of an art that is terribly generic to the point where it barely feels like its trying to work with the story, none of which has to make it feel like an uninspired book, but that's how it comes off.

RECOMMENDATION: I'd skip this one – there's better stuff out there. If you think you'll enjoy it more than I did, I'd suggest reading it at Renta rather than Emanga – at Renta you can “borrow” it for 48 hours for the equivalent of about $3, whereas at Emanga you'll own it forever for $8.


THE UNFINISHED
In this section, which will run opposite Untranslated Gems, we'll look at some of the series that never finished their runs in English, for better or for worse.

THE QUEEN'S KNIGHT 12 of 17 volumes released (by Kim Kang Won, Tokyopop)

FROM THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:

While visiting her composer mother in Germany, Yuna injures herself and finds herself saved by a mysterious long-haired knight who dubs her his queen. When Yuna returns to Korea, she is faced with trouble with her family and classmates. She goes to bed crying at night, which causes the knight, Rieno, to worry about Phantasma, the country she has become queen of and whether it will see anything beyond the bleak winter of the queen's sadness.

THOUGHTS:

Kim Kang Won, author/artist of the also unfinished high school romance I.N.V.U., spins a fascinating time travel tale of Yuna, a Korean teenager who finds herself transported to a magical land not unlike medieval Germany. There she becomes the queen, and she quickly learns that the world's well-being depends entirely on her emotions...specifically, her romantic ones. She's soon presented with a choice of suitors, one of whom she must fall in love with in order to ensure Phantasma's prosperity. This leads to a very conflicted Yuna, as she struggles between who she ought to love and who she does love. She's a strong, interesting heroine who rarely gives in to her problems, and the men she interacts with are also mostly removed from the reverse harem stereotypes we see so often, with Ehren being among the most interesting. The world is classically fantasy medieval, more like what you'd read in a Western fantasy novel, which definitely enhances the Germanic feel of the story and Won uses some medieval history to help build it, making it feel very real. Tokyopop never released the final five books that let us see who Yuna chooses and what happens to Phantasma...and having finished the series, that might be a good thing. The ending is mildly disappointing and seems to backtrack on some of the characters' progress, so it may be best to just create your own version of what happens. But it is available in French if you want to find out how Yuna's tale ends for yourself.


And that's all for this time! Come on by the forums and let me know if you have any suggestions for the next Unfinished!


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