Plum Crazy: Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat / Kijitora Neko no Koume-san (Vols. 1 & 2) by Natsumi Hoshino

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I’ve reverted to my old ways. When I was working at the library on Saturday, I picked up the first two volumes of Kijitora Neko no Koume-san / Plum Crazy: Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat, which is pretty much a story about owing cats… and not much else.

AND I LOVED IT.

The cats in this story don’t even have thought-bubbles like in Chi’s Sweet Home, though Plum, in particular, is clearly very intelligent.  But, otherwise, yeah, it’s about cats getting up cat stuff.

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I mean not that I’m complaining! I read both volumes and would easily have read the next two if #3 had been at the library.

I’m fairly bummed that no one is scanlating this one for all y’all, because it’s really adorable. (There are four volumes that have been officially translated in English, via Seven Seas Entertainment--a publisher I’ve never heard of, but apparently they also translated My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, which I have been wanting to read since forever…)  Baka-Updates says there are 17 volumes out in Japan.

That’s a lot of cats… just doing cat stuff.

Cats are endlessly entertaining and adorable. The Nakarai family–a mom and her son–run a traditional dance studio, though we see almost nothing of their lives, except for the one time Plum tags along with Taku (the son) to his school to try to get away from the tail-bitting kitten, Snowball, that Plum rescued.

In many ways, I could write this, given that I have five cats at home… and there’s always a lot of tail-biting adventures here. Yet, it’s charming and engaging. The art is particularly adorable, IMHO.

This reminds me, in a semi-unrelated note, I’m SUPER excited that an actual CAT CAFE is opening up in Minneapolis (just across the river from me), called Café Meow.  When it opens, I plan to go and take all the pictures.

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Renai Crown / Crown of Love (Volume 1) by Kouga Yun

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Another one of the random volumes that I picked up at the library’s book sale, was this one: Renai Crown / Crown of Love. 

I guess I should have checked to see if they had the other three volumes, as there’s currently no one scanlating it.  The link takes you to an official preview of this volume at Viz Media’s site.

This would be more of a bummer, if I wanted to read any more of it.  I don’t.

 

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When my son saw me reading this, he asked what it was about–because, really, the cover gets you nothing, other than a vague impression of ‘maybe….romance?’  I described it to him like this:  This guy, our hero, literally bumps into a rock idol on a train.

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He’s from some Japanese version of Julliard, who has apparently never heard of rock music and has no idea who this pretty girl is, but, you know, she’s HOT. So, it’s love at first sight and he becomes a mega-fan, super-stalker to the point of becoming an idol himself in order to pursue her.

I mean, that’s basically it.

I guess, he’s able to get a chance at being a idol because he’s a violin player and the son of an opera star. Plus, Ikeshiba, the fox-like, (non-eye opening sort) manager of Rima, the female idol, spots him and scouts him with a, “You’re just a fan boi, you’re in different worlds. Now if you’re a fellow idol… maybe things will be different….”

Maybe this is marketed as josei because there’s almost nothing healthy about any of the relationships in this manga.

For instance, when our hero, Hisayoshi tells his family he’s going to quit violin lessons and become a rock idol, his dad beats him up.  His dad beats his mom at one point, as well as the manager/fox Ikeshiba.  Dad is a violent creep, and at one point Hisayoshi looks at his parents’ relationship and even says, “Man, I don’t want to end up like them, in a one-sided thing.” Then he literally thinks: “Huh, yeah, except that’s exactly what I’m doing. Oh well!”

I can NOT imagine this is going to end well.

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No one, but come on… even if you two get together, I’m not sure I’m rooting for you.

I mean, maybe it gets better?  If other people have read the rest of this and love it (or hate it), please let me know.

Nana by Ai Yazawa

I’ve been away from MangaKast for a little while because I fell into all 21 volumes of Nana, a rock and roll romantic tragedy about two women with the same name.

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Yeah, it’s been over a week and I’m only just now coming up for air.

Wow, what a ride. I went into it happy to have found another mild slice-of-life story, and by the end I was like, “Wā! Such a soap opera! It can’t end like this!!!”

Of course, when I started Nana, I thought it was complete at 21 volumes, (this will teach me to do my research after picking up a series; I should have learned after Kill la Kill!) Instead, the story skids–almost literally–to an end.  According to Wikipedia, Nana went on an ‘indefinite hiatus’ due to Yazawa-sensei’s illness. Wikipedia seems to imply that the story could continue, but there’s been nothing since 2009.

Which is a shame, because I ended up really enjoying this one… despite myself.

I wouldn’t have thought a sappy romance story about a Japanese rock band would be for me, but, what can I say? I’ve been such a sucker for this kind of thing lately.

 

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The meet-cute for Nana is based on the title: two women with the same name, who meet, by accident (or is it fate?) on the train to Tokyo.  Both of them are headed out to start a new life in the big city.  Nana “Hachi” Komatsu, our main character, is following after a boyfriend… something she does a lot.  Nana Osaki is striking off to start a career in music…sort of also following a boy, but also not.

I shouldn’t like either of these women.  Both of them are really fairly dependent on their men/the men in their lives, but I ended up really liking their friendship… and the resulting emo/drama.

Nana Komatsu gets her nickname from Hachiko–the famously loyal dog.  In the end, she earns that nickname in a powerful way, but initially Hachi is more like the yappy annoying dog that follows Nana around.  Which is weird, since Hachi is the main character. We start the story with her and her love-at-first-sight problems, and she remains the narrator throughout, even when the action is more focused on the rock star drama.

And, OMG, the rock star drama.

Nana Osaki is a troubled woman. Her boyfriend Ren was the bass player in the band she started in high school, “Black Stones” (“Blast,” for short).  She and Ren are very much modeled on the punk rock icons, Sid and Nancy, complete with drug addiction.  Except in this, Ren leaves Nana’s band to become the bassist for a more successful group that already has a record label, “Trapnest.”  Determined to beat “Trapnest” on the charts, Nana moves to Tokyo and reforms “Blast” without Ren.

Hachi’s part in all this is to be an early fan, a supporter through tough times. That is, until she randomly sleeps with the guitar player from Ren’s band, a guy called Takumi… and gets pregnant. Even though, she was kind of seeing someone in Nana’s band, a kid called Nobu.

You see the soap opera drama?

Yeah, and like I said, I totally got addicted to each twist and turn. I can see how this series became a best-selling shoujo title, even though the main character is stuck in kind of an awful situation, since she ends up marrying Takumi, despite him being a womanizer and a cold-fish and Hachi still mostly loving Nobu best. I say “mostly,” because this is josei, so Hachi kind of loves the one she’s with, even though that’s not at all a satisfying story. (This is why josei drives me crazy.)

There’s this huge push-pull between Ren and Nana that’s never resolved.  Speaking of things I hate about ‘josei,’ a random car accident happens and a major character dies and then people disappear and no one is happy, THE END.

To be fair to Yazawa-sensei, she didn’t necessarily intend to leave it where she did.  You could see, however, from the flash-forwards she started giving us several chapters before the hiatus, that she’d planned for the tragedy and its aftermath.  So, it’s safe to say that this josei ended much like the other one that famously burned me, Kids on the Slope.

Yet, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the ride in both instances.  So, would I recommend it? Yep. Just be prepared to get to the end and have this reaction:

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I literally spent this morning while doing the dishes (a time I usually watch anime), starting out the window with an expression much like the usually unflappable Takumi (the guy with the dark, long hair).  Internally, I had Kobu’s expression, because what happens in this manga is legitimately traumatizing.

Good story, though. Really not my usual, but it was very good none-the-less.

If you prefer to watch rather than read, you have two choices. There was a live-action movie made as well as an anime. (The Hulu link said it was unavailable for me and I didn’t try out the KissAnime link, so I can’t vouch for the quality/availability of either of them.)

Princess Jellyfish (vol 05) by Ahiho Higashimura

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This volume contains chapters 45 to 54.  Considering that MangaHere has 81 chapters, we’re only at about the halfway point.

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I keep waiting for the plot to progress beyond what I skimmed in the Wikipedia’s entry for the anime, and it’s really not rushing to get there.

Mostly, this is becoming a romance.

Tsukimi and Shuu (with the help of the smooth-operator chauffeur, Hanamori,) go out on a bunch of dates which culminate in an awkward proposal.  They end up on a rooftop restaurant during a blustery evening and their hands touch while both reaching for a falling candelabra:

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She says ‘yes,’ but, of course, she’s not sure how to deal with all this romance being a geek girl.  I do like that for the majority of their ‘dates,’ Tsukimi dresses like her authentic  self, glasses and all. I have no particular ship in this armada, and I like Shuu well enough. I was fairly charmed when he decided he needed to buy ‘cute’ stationary upon which to write his letter of marriage proposal.

Kuranosuke is trying his best not to feel sidelined. Instead, he focuses on the fashion plot, in so much as there is one.  A lot of the ‘plot’ in this installment involves how expensive it is to launch a fashion line, how much money they’ve already lost, and thinking up ways to circumvent this problem.  ….Something involving a casual line? Knock-offs? I’m really not invested enough to follow that closely.   The thing that’s interesting about that for me is how Kuranosuke is desperately trying to find out how to give the Amars a fashion that they would actually enjoy, since what he really wants to to spread the love of his fandom (being stylish) to the rest of the world (like any fan.)

I also thought the self-talk Kuranosuke gives himself about how, in this story, he’s the wizard and the wizards never get to run off with the princesses and he should comfort himself that at least he has his fashion magic was clever… if….

…Very josei.

Which is to say sort of settle-y and depressing.

Meanwhile, the eviction plot also moves at a snail’s pace.  The land-shark lady (Inari) continues to woo the kimono nerd’s (Chieko) mom who owns the place into selling. There is a rather hilarious protest that the Amars stage that involves cosplay. I kind of adore that all of the resident nerds have “always wanted to protest.” This was me, in the 1980s. (Now, it is my life.)

For whatever reason, the humorous asides worked a bit better for me in this volume (maybe I’m getting used to Higashimura-sensei’s stye… or it’s Stockholm Syndrome.)  The playboy chauffeur, Hanamori, is fast becoming my favorite.

The romance is really the only plot moving at speeds.  It jumps leaps and bounds in these chapters and it seems to be heading in a very straight line, one without any unexpected curveballs. The only surprise is that, so far, Kuranosuke isn’t deciding to fight for the princess, too.  Given that there are a lot more chapters to go, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t eventually make a play and possibly win her hand, but I don’t know. Josei, being what it is, could be heading for just what it looks like: Kuranosuke sidelined and okay with it.

Honestly? I would actually be quite happy if that were the outcome. There’s nothing wrong with the Shuu/Tsukimi romance. If they just followed along the usual path and got married, that’d be fine with me. There seems to be mutual, genuine affection between them, even if Tsukimi’s side is filled with princess fairytale fantasies.  *shrugs*  I mean it’s alien to me, but common enough a trope.

I _do_ love that when the Amars finally tell the resident recluse mangaka about the romance, she writes back a bunch of ‘bloodthirsty’ replies outlining how Tsukimi could be used to their advantage in the eviction fight and against the politician (Shuu is the PM’s eldest son). So, there’s room in the plot to go that direction, if Higashimura-sensei eschews the traditional battle royale between the two rivals for the princess’s hand in marriage.

I kind of hope she does, because, frankly, the other has been done to death.

So, it retains my interest. I will read the next volume as soon as the library has it.

Bunny Drop / Usagi Drop

On Wednesday night, it was very, very slow on my shift at the library.  I was on “the machine” (a book sorting automated thing) that requires enough attention that it can’t be left while you go off, say, shelving books or something.  So I looked around the backroom for any manga that had a first volume…

And I found this:

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Bunny Drop / Usagi Drop. The back cover copy reads thusly: “Going home for his grandfather’s funeral, thirty-year-old bachelor Daikichi is floored to discover that the old man had an illegitimate child with a younger lover! The rest of his family is equally shocked and embarrassed by this surprise development, and not one of them wants anything to do with the silent little girl, Rin. In a fit of angry spontaneity, Daikichi decides to take her in himself!”

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I’m a sucker for stories like this–the ones that are sort of fish-out-of water fatherhood tales.  Kind of literally nothing much of consequence happens in the first volume, though. Our hero, Daikichi, gets to know Rin and does a lot of fretting about daycare.  It’s only by the very end of the volume does there seem to be a mystery brewing about the identity and whereabouts of Rin’s mother.

Even so, I enjoyed it in the same way I love all slice-of-life manga.  Daikichi’s worries about taking on a job that doesn’t require so much overtime just underscored how different Japanese office culture is from American.

Speaking of work, the lights are hardly even all the way flicked off before most of us library workers have bolted out the backdoor and are in our cars, revving the engines.  I can’t imagine living somewhere where I was not only expected to work after hours, but also hang out drinking and socializing with my co-workers.  Sounds a bit like hell, to me.  (Maybe this is why the office ladies in these manga always quit when they get married and have babies? I think I would FAKE pregnancy to get out.)

Daikichi is likable in that he seems to take his new role as caretaker very seriously, even though little girls clearly baffle him.

usagi_drop_c004.pngI give it a thumbs up.  If you want to read Bunny Drop / Usagi Drop, MangaFreak has it.  If you get super into it, there appears to not only be an anime, but a live-action film, as well.

Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish (vol. 4) by Akiko Higashimura

The library coughed up the two-in-one volume 4 of Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish, which takes me up to Chapter 44, “If She Turns Around, Is it Love?” or, alternatively translated in the official volume, “I Turn Around and Find Love” (which, given the translator’s notes is the appropriate title, since it’s specifically a reference to a Nobuhiko Obayashi film of the same name, “Furimukeba Ai.”)

 

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According to one reviewer on Goodreads, this volume does begin to diverge from the anime.  Having read the episode synopses, I will say, instead, that my sense is that the manga is actually still back in time in some respects, but fills in the story more.  For instance, there is the introduction of  an Indian garment company and its employees: Prez (for president) and his little sister, Nisha.

Enough orders for dresses have come in from the fashion show that Kuranosuke realizes that there’s no way the Amars can do this on their own, not if they hope to get them produced in any decent amount of time.  So, he asks a friend in the fashion business, who tells him that most dresses are made overseas, anyway.  India is the best.

A lot of this two-in-one volume involves winning over Prez and Nisha to the idea of doing a little charity work–or at least giving the Amars a deep discount.  Kuranosuke also manages to get Shuu, (his nii-san), to give him an extended loan to cover the capital investment.

The other big development is how much Shuu has changed his tune. He’s still being forced together with land-shark lady by his politically-minded father, but in this volume he really only has eyes for Tsukimi.  In fact, so much so, that Kuranosuke ends up accidentally outing himself at the fashion show because he shouts for Tsukimi to have eyes only for “this boy!”  (I’m guessing he used the pronoun ‘boku,’ and actually said something less awkwardly constructed like, “Keep your eyes on me!”)

The Amar slowly come to realize that maybe Kuranosuke is a guy… ? It’s not entirely clear they GET it, because, mostly, they seem just as comfortable to keep thinking of him as her.

The other bit of plot is that we discover that Kuranosuke’s mom is still alive. I’d gotten the distinct impression that she’d died, but it might be that she was simply banished because she was the mistress.  Regardless, she makes a reappearance in these volumes.  After having seen Kuranosuke on TV in one of the Jellyfish dresses, she calls up nii-san, Shuu, and places a secret order.  She wants one of those dresses for herself.  Shuu is put in an awkward position, but decides to use Tsukimi as a go-between.  They have more cute interactions, including one in which she ends up hiding with him under a table at a coffee shop.

Given how many pages there were in these two volumes (about 355), I was surprised how little plot was actually advanced.  Land-shark lady continues to be the villain, but she doesn’t really do much in these chapters other than call up Tsukimi to congratulate her on the success of the fashion show and to taunt her by saying it’s all ‘useless’ and how they’ll never get enough money to halt the wave of development and progress.  Tsunami is enough of a nerd that the taunt breaks her, and then she sends the rest of the Amars into similar depressions when she confesses what’s bothering her.

At the end of the volumes, it sort of looks like the Amars are broken up, because with the Indian company taking over the dress making, Tsukimi and Kuranosuke are the only ones with Jellyfish business to occupy them. The rest are feeling a little used and abused.

Tsukimi is still obsessively making dress designs and even when approached in a kind of peace offering (without being explicit, of course)…. she turns down hotpot night!

Dun dun DUN!!

I don’t know. Given what I’ve read in the episode guide, it sounds like there are other plot developments to come that we haven’t hit yet. In their place we got reams of fashion talk, including Tsukimi being dragged out to experience fashion so that she can better choose the fabrics she wants the Indian out-sourcing dressmakers to use. I have to admit that I skimmed a lot of the fashion stuff. That doesn’t interest me in the LEAST.  I like the nerds and the otaku commune and I’m moderately shipping Tsukimi and the elder brother, Shuu. I’m sure I’m supposed to ship Tsukimi and Kuranosuke, but I kind of would prefer it if Kuranosuke were gay or ‘new half.’  But believe me, the author spends several panels making absolutely clear that there is NO HOMO here. Crossdressing is just a hobby (and, you know, that’s fine–in fact giving straight, cis men a chance to crossdress is cool with me.–but Higashimura-sensei, you told us already… several times.  Put down the ‘no homo’ spray, we get it.)

But that does lessen my enjoyment of this manga.  The only queer characters left are not explicitly so, so…. and given that this manga seems very determined to pair-up and feminize our otaku ladies, I’m not holding my breath for any queer canon couples. Alas.

It’s still fun, though.

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.)