Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Vols. 5-7) by Tsubaki Izumi

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A few weeks ago, a reader accused me of having crappy taste because I don’t like anything popular. Well, here’s an exception for you.  At least according to Wikipedia, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun consistently places in the top 20 of Oricon’s weekly manga list (which appears to be analogous to our Billboard 100.)

My taste might still be crappy, but I share it with a lot of Japanese folks, because I think Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is incredibly cute and charming.

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Volume 7, which is available in English (despite what it looks like in the image above,) brings the reader to chapter 71 (out of 85, at least on MangaReader).  Volume 8 will be officially available from Yen press on July 18, 2017.

As I said above, I’m still enjoying the heck out of this manga.  Normally, humor doesn’t work for me in text, but something about Nozaki-kun breaks through and I’m able to enjoy it. There are still puns that sail over my head, but I like the characters and the tone of this manga enough that not getting it doesn’t bother me as much as it usually does.  It’s very possible that I’m still able to enjoy the written humor because I was so very, very fond of the anime —which I can NOT recommend enough, keeping in mind my fondness for slice-of-life. If you prefer high-octane action, this is not for you.  But, say, if you liked Free!, I would think Nozaki-kun would be a good bet for you.

One of the things I’m charmed by in the manga is how, over time, you see the rest of the high school accept Nozaki-kun and Sakura as a couple, even as the two of them continue to be blissfully… well, not exactly unaware of the sexual tension, since Sakura is still in full-pursuit mode, but more like… blissfully unaware of how comfortable they’ve become with each other in the way of Real Life ™ lovers.

Maybe this is why Nozaki-kun is getting the designation of ‘shounen’ despite being a romantic comedy.  The relationship is, despite the humor and classic rom-com antics, really very realistically portrayed (even while all the shoujo tropes are being parodied by Tsubaki-sensei).

The other thing I love about it (and the anime) is its gentleness.  For all of the shoujo send-ups, there’s hardly a mean bone in any character’s body and you can easily root for all of them.

Of course, being me, I also appreciate all the insights into the editorial and production processes in manga publication.  There’s a scene in volume 5 or 6, where the two editor characters Ken Miyamae and Mitsuya Maeno are in a planning meeting for a themed issue of the magazine “Let’s Fall in Love” (Nozaki’s manga) is serialized in.  I found that, and their “all-nighter” in which they wait for a mangaka’s overdue pages to come in (not Nozaki, he would never do that), totally fascinating.

This is the kind of slice-of-life stuff I live for.

I would suspect much of it is fairly accurate since Tsubaki-sensei not only has a lot of experience as a mangaka herself (her other long running series is Oresama Teacher), but, apparently, she has a sister who is also a mangaka (though Wikipedia did not say who that was, exactly.)  She also started publishing while in high school, just like Nozaki-kun. So, that’s kind of a fun detail.

 

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Princess Jellyfish/Kuragehime (Volume 1) by Akiko Higashimura

I picked up Princess Jellyfish because a friend recommended it to me and I saw that the library had it.

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The premise of this is kind of fun. Tsukimi Kurasita, 18, lives in a commune of self-proclaimed fujoshi and otaku. (If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘fujoshi,‘ it means ‘rotten woman’ and is usually a designation specifically given to otaku/fannish/geek women who are obsessed with BL or yaoi.  The translator’s notes in the back of Princess Jellyfish also implies that in the case of the women in this manga, it’s more that they are generally geeks, but that there’s specifically an element of defying patriarchal expectations of what makes a ‘good girl’ for anyone who self-defines as fujoshi.)

Tsukimi’s geekery is jellyfish. She’s been obsessed with them since she was a little girl.  She reads about jellyfish, she draws them…. everything. She even has a tragic backstory involving jellyfish and a dead mother.

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The inciting incident of this story happens when Tsukimi happens by a fish store and discovers that someone has mistakenly put a moon jellyfish in the same tank as a spotted jellyfish. They are incompatible in way that’s deadly to the spotted jellyfish and Tsukimi tries to get over her social awkwardness/anxiety to tell the clerk this, but is unable to until a brash ‘stylish’ shows up and bullies the clerk into giving Tsukimi the spotted jellyfish in order to save its life.

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Tsukimi is pretty horrified to discover that after their big rescue of the jellyfish, the ‘stylish’ has stayed over.

Worse, this super-cute girl turns out to be a boy–a beautiful boy named Kuranosuki.  Bringing home one of the cool girls would have been bad enough, but boys are strictly verboten in their commune, which they jokingly call the ‘Amamizukan’ the Nunnery.

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Tsukimi accidentally pulled off his wig and was trying it on in the mirror.

Kuranosuki insists that he is not okama, but cross dresses as a ‘hobby’ and as an easy way to get away from his high-powered political family. (Sure, honey.)

Kuranosuki, who usually hangs out with the cool girls, suddenly discovers the joy of nerds.  Like, they talk about more than sex and clothes! What are these wonderful creatures? I must pet them and hug them and call them my own!

Yes, it’s true. Nerds make much better friends than the clubbing sort. However, the Amars (nuns) as they call themselves, do NOT want men in the commune, so Tsukimi is the only one who knows Kuranosuki is a boy.

But, even as a lady Kuranosuki rubs the Amars the wrong way. They tell Kuranosuki to get lost.  Repeatedly. They have a quiet life. Go home; you’re too friendly.

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But like every privileged rich dude everywhere, Kuranosuki ignores their request and worms his way into their hearts by being persistent AF and buying them stuff. (Niku! The answer to unlocking nerd girls’ hearts, apparently? ‘Niku,’ aka meat. Seriously. Bring fancy meat to hotpot night is apparently the ticket.)

Then, Kuranosuki decides that what Tsukimi needs is a makeover.

And, let’s face it, ladies, makeovers are magic, am I right?

I mean I saw Grease. I know how this works. You get the big dance number at the end and the Happily Ever After if you ‘dress to impress.’

And, sure enough, when Tsukimi is all dressed up, that’s when she stumbles into Kuranosuki’s older brother and she finally feels chemistry for a guy.  Of course, he’s only hot for her when she’s dolled up. In fact, he doesn’t even recognize her when she’s in her natural otaku form.

There’s a subplot that involves the house being bought by a corporation, but mostly, in the first volume (the one I have might be a two-in-one because I have 380+ pages–12 chapters) is about the little three-way that’s forming:  Kuranosuki developing feelings for Tsukimi, Tsukimi’s interest in Kuranosuki’s nii-san, and Nii-san’s attraction for made-up Tsukimi.

I’m not sure how I feel about this aspect of the story.  It will depend on how it ends. I have a very bad feeling that Kuranosuki’s influence is going to end with all the nerd girls dolled-up.  He already has them convinced at the end of this volume that make-up is their “armor” and a weapon they can use as an advantage in the world.

He seems to be right about this.

This depresses me.

But, I’m hopeful that maybe that’s not going to be the point. I’m hopeful, given this is a josei, that maybe we’ll get something more out of it. Although, maybe not, maybe like Kids on the Slope, the whole point will end up being that the nail that sticks up will be hammered down and settling for less-than-your-dream is just fine.

So far, I’m in it for the side characters. I like Tsukimi okay enough to keep reading, and I would like Kuranosuki much more if he WERE an okame or trans, but he’s very NO HOMO, so whatever. I have only so much patience for pretty rich boys.

Currently, my favorite character is Mejiro-sensei, a mangaka shut-in that we never see. She lives behind a door that never opens, and apparently she’s only been seen a few times. She communicates via notes slipped under her door, and sometimes also solicits help finishing her BL manga close to deadline.

I also like Mayaya, who is a Records of Three Kingdoms nerd. I think I like her because she reads the most like a anime fan, plus she’s drawn very non-binary/gender non-conforming.

So, you know, I’m kind of in it for the ensemble cast; I could take or leave the romance.  I’ll definitely get the other two volumes from the library, though. I like the somewhat unconventional art style quite a bit, and I kind of want to see if this whole thing is going to be about the magical GIRL power of make-up and a good hairstyle. (If so, expect angry rant when I finish this series.)

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon by COOLKyoushinja

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A friend of mine started watching this anime, so I thought I’d check out the manga.  She described it this way, “O.M.G. It is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a semi-lesbian harem anime about a dragon who falls in love with an office worker and decides to become her maid.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it.

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I’m discovering something about myself.  As you know, gentle readers, I often have trouble with comedy manga.  I bounced out of two really popular manga because of humor: Assassination Classroom and One-Punch Man.

But, here’s the thing, I decided to try watching One-Punch Man to see if I had more tolerance for humor/parody when it’s animated (as opposed to static).  Turns out?  I do.  In fact, I’m on episode 10 out of 12 already and quite enjoying it–and I could barely get through volume one of the manga!

I think that’s going to be the same for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.

I read the first five chapters of the manga and… well, let’s just say I’m not surprised to discover that COOLKyoushinja-sensei has also written a number of ecchi titles, since Tooru (our dragon maid) ends up stripped naked in public randomly, and there’s at least one cup size joke (D for Dragon!)

There are a LOT of boob wiggles both in the anime and the manga.

Apparently, COOLKyoushinja-sensei is most famous for something called I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying/Danna ga Nani o Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken and Komori-san Can’t Decline / Komori-san wa Kotowarenai (both of which also have anime.) So, if you decide you really, really like his work, there’s a lot more to choose from.

Even though I’m poo-pooing all the boob wiggle, I’m absolutely willing to try watching this.  I mean, why not? After I finish the next couple episodes of One-Punch Man, I’ve got nothing in my queue, especially since I’m not willing to try season 2 of Attack on Titan, given how much I ended up LOATHING the manga.

Humor works much better for me when it’s moving by me quickly, I think.  I’m too judge-y when I have time to ponder and consider, alas.

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One-Punch Man by Yusuke Murata (One)

Since all the cool kids were doing it, I thought I’d finally get around to checking out One-Punch Man.

I read the first volume and I sort of feel like my review could be summed up by this (web) comic strip from Questionable Content: “I can’t tell if it’s a brilliant deconstruction of shounen anime tropes or just garbage.”

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Yeah, it’s pretty brilliant parody.  I mean, I guess.  I don’t fail to see the humor in a guy who “over trained” and can now defeat all his enemies with one punch. I kind of even adore that he got into hero-ing for “fun,” (although the author seems to change his mind about this backstory and there is, at least, some sense that Saitama has a well-honed sense of justice that go him into hero-ing even earlier.)

But, will the joke sustain me?

Eh, I’m not sure.

This is where I get into arguments with people who try to tell me that the best comic book superhero movie of all time was “The Incredibles.”  Yes, it’s a good movie.  But, to say that “The Incredibles,” which is intended as a send-up, a parody,  is the best superhero movie  is to actually discount what I LIKE about superheroes, and to only enjoy the ways in which people make fun of superhero tropes.

I feel very similarly about shounen.

I know it’s cheesy. I know it’s melodramatic.  I know that so many of the fights are unrealistic and drawn out and could just be over if someone would just Do The Thing (or if the villains weren’t quite so OP, too.)

But, okay, one of my favorite themes is good conquering evil–and part of that story is always how HARD good has to fight to win.

I dunno.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for this.  Probably it’s better consumed as an anime, even though it was the web comic that went viral.

The robot is cute, though. I now at least understand the copious amounts of fan art of him. And I do kind of love this art style when it crops up:

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So, I don’t know. I guess I’m going to go against the grain here and say, “whatever.” Have fun with it, kids. I’ll just enjoy your fan art instead of canon, k?

Kuma Miko / Girl Meets Bear – vols. 1 & 2 – by Yoshimoto Masume

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Comedy is a hard sell for me, but I found myself paging through Kuma Miko at Shoreview the other day. I know next to nothing about Shinto shrine maidens (miko) and I’m endlessly fascinated by other religions, so I thought I might as well take this one home and give it a try.

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I find it interesting that at some point this got translated to Girl Meets Bearsince even with my limited Japanese I know this says “Bear Shrine Maiden.” Possibly, though it’s not obvious to me by looking at the Mangahere site, that “Girl Meets Bear” is actually the title of the first chapter.

The back cover flap reads: “In the deep mountainous regions of the Touhouku area, the comedic story of the miko of bears, 14-year-old Machi, and her childhood friend, the talking bear, Natsu, takes place as Machi struggles to qualify for city-life with Natsu’s assistance.”

What’s important to note is that, while Machi really, really wants to go to high school in the city, the story actually never gets her there (at least by the ending of volume 2, BakaUpdates seems to think it’s on volume 7 in Japan and still on-going.)

Given the set-up, I initially thought we were going to leave shrine life and the humor would be all about a fish-out-water/country bumpkin lost in the big city (with a bear companion.)  But, no.  The joke is that Natsu tells Machi that she COULD go to the city, but she has to pass a series of tests to prove that she’s prepared… so we end up with jokes about watermelons (a homonym for the JR rail pass, apparently,) that go so far over my head that I’m thinking I should be studying this book myself, before I consider heading to Japan.  I almost wonder if some of the native appeal of this manga is that a lot of people can relate to how baffling life in the big city is.  As an American, unfortunately, the jokes are mostly just baffling.

Even though it’s comedic, you get a sense of life in the deep recesses of rural Japan.  We find out, for instance, that there might be electricity in a mountain village, but not gas.  There’s also another scene where the town councilman finds out that the old people in the town are expecting a ritual, but no one is exactly sure what it’s supposed to be.

Also, it’s just pretty:

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Wikipedia tells me that there was an anime of Kumamiko (as one word) that aired from April to June of 2016.  The only place I can find to watch it is a fan site, KissAnime. However, there also appears to be a controversy around the ending episode.

I’m not sure I’m going to actively pursue this manga, but I would probably pick up the third volume if it showed up at the library.  If for no other reason that I’m fascinated by the in-jokes I won’t get and the details of life we see.

Diabolic Garden by Ichigo Shiraki

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Diabolic Garden is pretty much everything I would NEVER chose to read on my own.

But, once again, I decided to press the “Surprise Me” button on MangaPanda to see what it might find for me.  When this popped up, I thought, ‘No way!’

The art style was a big turn off and it had that label ‘comedy’ which is my least favorite.  I actually moved my cursor to hover over the button again, thinking I’d just try again,  but then I noticed that the manga looked to be complete at 10 chapters, so I thought ‘I can read ten chapters in one sitting, so why not?”

What a phenomenally bad idea.

Plus, this is another one of those manga that people just stopped scanlating. MyAnimeList.net tells me that what I have is about half the completed story.

In another weird turn of events, all the information I could find about this manga is in French.  According to the French Wikipedia (which Google helpfully translated for me): “The French version is published by Ki-oon in three volumes released between November 2010 and May 2011.”

So, you know how we’re always saying so-and-so is ‘big in Japan’?  Well, apparently, in Japan, Ichigo Shiraki is saying, “I’m big in France, you know.”

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The manga starts with a fake-out.

The first few pages looks like we’re starting middle-battle in some fantasy fairy land, but it turns out that what we’re reading is a manga being presented to an editor of Monthly Gothic Fantasy by a high schooler/wannabe mangaka named Makimura Kotone.  The editor tells Makimura that she needs some fresh ideas.  Her stories are getting repetitive.

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I tend to actually really enjoy manga about mangaka.  I read all 21 volumes of Bakuman and watched the entire first season of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun (which is also a manga that you can read here: http://www.mangahere.co/manga/gekkan_shoujo_nozaki_kun/.) I also really loved the anime of Barakamon, even though that one is about a professional calligrapher, not a mangaka, per se.  For reasons, I tend to find the writing/artistic life–particularly struggles within the industry–endlessly fascinating.

Thus, at this point, I thought ‘oh, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad.’

While wandering around town, trying to think up ideas for her gothic fantasy manga, Makimura stumbles across a spooky-looking teashop.

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Yes, they sell TEA, not books….

Here, Makimura meets the mysterious Tsukasa, his clown-like demon doll assistant Kanon, and uncovers the secret garden of Hell plants.  For reasons of plot, Makimura breaks into the garden uninvited and accidentally ingests some Hell-devil fruit in the garden, which she mistakes for a strawberry (I see what you did there with your name, Shiraki-sensei!)  The side-effect of this devil fruit is that Makimura now exudes the odor of the very tastiest in demon food, which of course makes her deeply attractive to them.

This is actually kind of bonus for Tsukasa, whom Makimura instantly crushed out on, but who previously had zero interest in her.  Turns out the tea shop isn’t exactly popular among humans, given that most of Tsukasa’s concoctions taste like crap to us, and so he makes his living as a demon hunter.

All those books you see? They’re actually sealed demons.

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Um, yeah, that’s not vaguely horrifying at all, why do you ask?

The next several chapters involve ways in which Makimura gets herself into trouble with various demons and Tsukasa gets her out.  At the end of chapter five, we meet up with the local boss demon and his mouse yokai assistant, Geschtalt.

Geschtalt is kind of a classic bumbling demon assistant, who generally doesn’t have a bad heart, except for the fact that he’s working for the bad guys, you know? Plus, he turns into an adorably fat little mouse. What’s not to love?

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Weirdly, this guy was one of my favorites. I blame Stockholm Syndrome at this point.

Turns out that it was good that I didn’t invest a lot of my energy into Makimura’s character because for the next four chapters, she completely disappears.  Her storyline gets entirely dropped and instead we follow Tsukasa’s younger sister as she, the mouse, and the clown doll demon attempt to infiltrate a Goth rock band that’s been infested by a demon, who has been leeching life-energy from the bands’ followers.  Luckily, the Goth band is holding a contest for a fan-band opening act, and it just so happens that Tsukasa’s younger sister is an expert vocalist who specializes in Goth glam music.

The series ends just as our heroes get on stage to do their audition piece to hopefully impress the demon band.

I probably would have kept reading to the end, despite myself. As you can tell from my review, there were things I thought were moderately nifty about the universe of Diabolic Garden.  What I’m not focusing on, however, is the so-called comedy.

Humor is one of those things that doesn’t translate terribly well.

I get that.  So, milage may vary.  For me, a lot of the humorous moments in this manga fell flat.  For whatever reason, a lot of the humor in Diabolic Garden is of the sort where one character basically says something cold or cutting to other character… and so the humor seems biting and unkind.  I’ve run across this kind of humor before, particularly in Tactics. I get that it’s supposed to be funny from the reactions of the other characters, but it always leaves me cold, and certainly not in stitches.

Because I failed the humor, there was a good half of this manga that I didn’t appreciate at all. Also, I didn’t find Tsukasa hot in any way, shape, or form, so I failed the romance, too.  The supernatural stuff–now that kind of almost worked for me.

So, would I recommend it?

Maybe if you’re French.