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.)

Vassalord by Nanae Chrono

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The description of this manga sounded very promising.

Charley, a cyborg vampire who does the Vatican’s dirty work is the thrall of the local vampire playboy, Johnny Rayflo.  As the two fight crime–and each other–hilarity, violence, and sacrilege ensue!  But can Charley resist his own desperate craving for blood? Find out as the devilish duo go up against a childlike vampire princess, a mysterious branch of the Unitarian Church… and each other.

Hilarity was the only part of this whole combination that had me a little doubtful.  I don’t DO manga comedy very well.  Although at least some of the humor I found inside was clearly unintentional….

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I was raised Unitarian Universalist.  This whole ‘mysterious branch of the Unitarian Church?”  Pretty laughable.

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Unusual for Unitarian Universalists to welcome nonbelievers?

Um.

I think you’re a little short on what UU is, sensei.  You can be an atheist and be a full member of the Unitarian church, in fact most of the people I knew in the fellowship that I grew up in were secular humanists and/or atheists (to be fair, we were a little odd, but that’s because fellowships organize without a minister and so basically this was a social club for aging hippies who wanted to get together on Sunday morning and argue philosophy and drink coffee. For a long time I literally thought “the sacrament” and/or possibly “the holy trinity” was coffee, donuts, and a debate.)  But, that’s the thing about UU.  You can kind of believe anything since you’re already saved, that’s part of the deal. There are goddess-worshiping pagans who are members in good standing in the Unitarian Church (it’s called CUUPS).  So…. you can believe in nothing, a goddess, Buddha, or you can also be Rah! Rah! Jesus and celebrate communion. No shaming in UU.  It’s LITERALLY all good.

So, maybe the funniest part is that anyone would bother to split from UU and form a “mysterious branch”?  Although I did find it interesting that this former Unitarian “reverend” was making a pact with THE VATICAN.  At that point I was like, “AH HA! UNITARIAN SACRILEGE AT LAST! BECAUSE HIERARCHY? WHAT NO!”

So, yeah, back to the the actual story…

The art was probably the most compelling part of this manga for me. Even though I find the whole idea that vampires can turn into bats kinda cheesy, I love the way Rayflo looked when he was doing his bat thing:

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Very “Dracula Untold”…. (which is a compliment). I liked the movie, too, but the visual effects were unquestionably COOL.

But generally, I found the storytelling in this manga to be confused (and not just because I was hung up on the whole Unitarian thing, although that did NOT help.)  Story lines were muddied and there were leaps I was expected to make to follow along that sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t.

That being said, I ended up not only reading all three volumes that the library had for me (this was one of the gay men–in graphic novels and comics titles that my catalogue search revealed,) but I also hunted down the couple extra chapters that MangaReader had available: http://www.mangareader.net/vassalord

There were usually bits and pieces that appealed that kept me reading. Like, late in the story, a vampire-drug (as in the drug turns you into a kind of immortal vampire) dealing Chinese mafia tough is introduced and I found his story fairly fascinating. Plus he was drawn SUPER HOT.

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He’s like a punk Kenpachi…

Technically, our dynamic duo were on the trail of this guy fairly early on–since he is the Vassalord of the title, it turns out!–but getting there was very convoluted and there was NOT NEARLY ENOUGH SEX BETWEEN THE BOYS.

So do I recommend it?  Maybe?  It seems like “vampire + yaoi” would probably yield a prodigious list of titles, so maybe this isn’t the best?  Perhaps I’ll have to take a survey of the sub-genre so we can find out together, eh?

Who’s with me?

As a final thought, I find it interesting that this manga was categorized as ‘josei’ and not ‘yaoi.’  I suspect that might be because while there are a lot of hot bodies on display, mostly we get discretely covered parts and both boys seems to be at least partly bisexual, rather than completely and singularly into each other. Also, the romance is clearly secondary to the plot which is a gigantic BUMMER.

I think I might have liked this better if it had been slightly less plot and more sex.

Kindan no Koi wo Shiyou/ Let’s Make Forbidden Love by Oomi Tomu

My manga reading has been very random since the loss of Bleach. I’m still preferring things that involve very little commitment from me (even 10 chapters seems like a lot to me these days).  So, I’ve hitting the “surprise me” button at MangaPanda a LOT.

Kindan no Koi wo Shinyou was another “surprise me.”

The “surprise me” button can be very dangerous because I’ve made a rule for myself that no matter what I get, I will read it.  The only time I make exceptions is if I’ve already read the manga or the chapter count exceeds 100.

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So much of this was not for me…. but for you, gentle reader, I soldiered on.

Kindan no Koi wo Shiyou/Let’s Make Forbidden Love is, I guess, a story that skirts the edges of exploring beastiality, in so much that a lot of werewolf stories do.  Okay, you’re saying, Lyda, that’s not the same.  Werewolf stories are about all sorts of things, but not really about schtupping  a doggie.

You know, you’re right.

Thing is?  In this story Yatou is not a human who becomes a wolf at full moon; he’s a wolf who can become human at night, when the moon is out.

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In fact, there’s an entire chapter in which our young heroine, Hisako, is jealous of a female Huskie who shows up at the shop she works at.  Yeah, I’m not kidding.  There’s a lot of discussion about how Yatou isn’t human, but a wolf, and how it’s much more natural for him to be attracted to OTHER WOLVES.

There’s at least one scene, an illustrated omake, where Yatsou, in his wolf form, licks between Hisako’s legs.

So, there’s that.

But, here’s the thing, I actually LIKED this aspect of the story.  Not necessarily the parts where there was licking (but whatever. Not my kink, but no shame if it’s yours), but I thought that the author did some interesting things in terms of exploring the relationship between humans and their pets/wild animals, which it made the whole werewolf thing feel fresh, honestly.  In fact, I would have probably enjoyed more chapters of that sort of thing (there are really only four, the fifth one is an unrelated vampire story which I didn’t read.) Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fade-to-black sex and Hisako being trapped in the wolf’s amber gaze.

So much gazing.

But I guess that’s part of what legitimately makes wolves fascinating, right? That alien, intense gaze of theirs.

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Yeah, and then there’s the art style.

To be fair to Oomi-sensei, this manga was published in 2000, which is a long time ago now (though this style, for some reason, always reminds me of the late 1970s/early 1980s, probably because I was watching “Star Blazers” at the time.)

If you can’t stand this kind of over-exaggerated, elongated style I wouldn’t blame you. The only thing to recommend Kindan no Koi wo Shiyou is that it’s vaguely interesting and very, very short.

If you’re curious, here’s a link to it: http://www.mangapanda.com/kindan-no-koi-wo-shiyou.

For those of you who may be anxious for me to return to yaoi, never fear, I will be doing that presently.  I had a very SLOW shift at the library the other day and I did some category searching through the catalogue and basically requested every single manga title that fit: gay men–graphic novels and comics.

Sadly, of course, this was exactly three. One of which I’ve already read and reviewed here, What Did You Eat Yesterday?  But, the other two should be coming (as it were!) in the next couple of days. I already got a notice that one of the volumes came in, but, of course, it was the second volume in a three volume set.  I’m going to wait and see if the other two come in the next couple of days. If not, I may just review things out of order!  (It may actually be that I’ll get notified that the others are missing. This happens with a lot of things that are explicit. I think they’re taken both by people who really really crave teh pron and ALSO by people who think such things shouldn’t exist.)

Until next time!  Ja mata! (or, if we’re close enough in your estimation: Ja ne!)

Happy Marriage?! vol. 1 -3 by Enjouji Maki

One of my jobs is shelving books at various libraries.

Today at work, I came across this title because someone had accidentally put it on a young adult/teen cart–this happens a lot because many people, even my colleagues in the circulation staff, don’t read manga and so they tend to assume manga = teen. This is isn’t really a judgement (though more people should read graphic novels and manga!) and I only bring this up because there I was, putting this in the correct section, thinking, “Jeez, it looks like the library has a lot of these. I wonder if they’re any good?”

But wouldn’t you know it, volume four was checked out.  I decided to try the first three, anyway.

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Takanahi Chiwa is a just normal office lady, or so she tells us on the first page of Happy Marriage?! (Hapi Mari).  Except, she’s really not. Turns out she’s working another job as a hostess in the evenings because she’s struggling to pull her father out of debt and keep her grandmother’s house from the foreclosure.  Her friends at the office wonder why se doesn’t date more, but she really hasn’t had time–plus working at the hostess club hadn’t exactly given her the best impression of men.

Enter, hotty in an expensive suit, Mamiya Hokuto. He saunters into the Hostess Club and tells her she should quit her job because it’s ‘meaningless.’  When she explains she’s working to pay off debts, he tells her she shouldn’t be selling her body with so much pride.

Dude slut shames her.

Not a great introduction to this guy.

Chiwa agrees and tosses a drink in his face.

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You go girl. This guy is a jerk!

Of course, when she goes back to work the next day–after being fired as a hostess–Chiwa discovers that Mr. Slut Shamer is her big boss, the company’s president.

And, he wants to marry her.

It’s kind of convoluted why this is a good idea.  Apparently, Hokuto’s grandpa, the board chairman, was in some way indebted to Chiwa’s grandma.  He wants to repay her kindness by offering to take care of Chiwa’s family’s massive debt on the condition that she marry his grandson. Hokuto, meanwhile, is up for anything that mollifies the old man and which shows that he’s a team player because he’s got his sights on owning the full extent of his family’s businesses.

But, why grandpa thinks the marriage part is necessary, I’m not sure.  Reasons of plot, is all I can determine.

There are some cute interactions as Chiwa and Hokuto figure out how they’re going to live together.  A lot of the wacky hijinx that ensue revolve around the fact that, again for reasons, they need to keep their marriage a secret from the office and the press.

There’s also quite a bit of titillation around the fact that Chiwa is a virgin.  At one point, Hokuto is sick–having given himself heart arrhythmia from overwork–and Chiwa falls asleep at his bedside.  He pulls her in under the covers and they sleep-sleep together for the first time and it’s actually quite sweet (considering what a massively possessive pinhead this guy usually is.)

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If you’re getting the sense I never warmed to this guy, you’d be right.

The problem I have with Hokuto happens in volume 2, chapter 7. Chiwa is feeling like maybe she’s in a sh*tty position.  She’s married to a guy who is also her boss.  He’s threatened her job already at least once to get her to do his bidding. So when an old college classmate of hers, Sakuraba, shows up with a friendly smile and a job offer, Chiwa is sorrily tempted to jump ship.

A lot is made in this chapter of the fact that Sakuraba listens to Chiwa and appreciates her office skills.  He really believes in her and wants her to grow stronger.  Maybe he’s hitting on her a little, but he’s also sincerely recruiting someone he thinks will help his start-up company shine.  Chiwa is thinking really smartly here. Here’s a chance for her to shine and she can get out from under Hokuto’s thumb. They can still be married and all that, but she doesn’t have to work for him. He won’t have the power to threaten her job ever again.  She tenders her resignation and ready to make a go of things.

Then dickwad shows up.

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Your smoldering eyes sure are sexy, but you’re still a possessive piss pot.

Okay, you straight ladies out there, I get it.  I understand that this kind of talk from an alpha male is supposed to make me weak in the knees.

Problem is? This situation.  Hokuto isn’t swooping in to claim something he loves in some romantically manly way.  He’s stopping Chiwa’s freedom, her happiness.  The only reason he’s doing this is to retain his power over her.

Serious dick move, Hokuto.

I mean, yeah, plot says they should be stuck together in all the awkward situations, which includes her working for a man she married.  But, in the previous chapter, Chiwa overheard that Hokuto is fine with not having sex with her because he’s using her as a pawn in his family’s power struggles. So, this moment isn’t even charged with ‘ah, but he secretly wants her by his side because of LOVE’

At least not explicitly.

Implicitly, we’re supposed to assume that Hokuto is just having some kind of jealousy fueled hissy fit. It’s obvious we’re supposed to find his possessiveness sexy.

Sure, okay. You could; I don’t.

Thing is, Hokuto initially told Chiwa, at the very start, that he went to meet her at the Hostess Club because he was curious what kind of woman she was. Then, when she stood up for herself and tossed a drink in his face, he thought: ‘here’s someone who could be my partner.’ Chiwa liked the sound of that, as did I.  And, those words are partly why she agrees to this ridiculous arrangement.  But, that’s the ONLY time Hokuto ever thinks about her as a partner–after that she’s something he owns, a contract he’s brokered.  He’s constantly using phrases like, “You belong to me” and “Mine.”

RED FLAG, CHIWA.  RUN.

I kept reading, though, like you do.

I will say that despite the MASSIVE RED FLAGS, I ended up liking Hokuto a bit better in volume 3, when we meet his crappy family and discover he’s an actual bastard, as in born out of wedlock, that the family only barely recognizes.  I suspect the subsequent volume is going to deal more with whatever’s up, politically, with them.  That might make an interesting read.

If I end up continuing, however, it will likely be because volume 4 falls into my hands, literally–not unlike how I ended up with this first volume. But since I work at the library, this could totally happen.

I am, at least, kind of intrigued by the fact that Wikipedia tells me there’s an Amazon Prime live-action version of this out there.  I might actually have to see if I can find it, just out of curiosity.

Ristorante Paradiso by Natsume Ono

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A josei, slice-of-life story about Nicoletta, a young twenty-something woman who has come to Rome in search of her birth mother, Olga.  She finds Olga at a charming little restaurant in Rome, staffed entirely by older men in glasses.

Yeah, that’s kind of the whole schtick.

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I picked up this weird little seven chapter volume and its companion piece, Gente, at the library I worked at today.  I almost put the volumes back on the shelf because of Ono’s art style, which you might know from her other work, in particular: House of Five Leaves.

The art takes some getting used to, but I decided to tough it out for the promise of slice-of-life, which, as I’ve said here many times before, is one of my all time favorite manga genres.  This one really embraces slice-of-life.  In fact, I found some of it so ‘realistic’ as to be a little jarring–the action jumps forward jerkily in places.  For myself, I could have used a few more scenes drawn out, but, instead, we get a series of snapshots of the action.

But, like with the art, I got used to that, too.

The basic story is about Nicoletta figuring out her life.  Even though she initially comes to the little Italian restaurant to cause a scene to disrupt her mother’s life, she begins to realize that her mom has made a nice life for herself here–surrounded by good food and interesting, kind people.  Nicoletta is particularly charmed by one of the older gentlemen servers, a man named Claudio.

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Thus, instead of bursting her mom’s bubble, Nicoletta decides she’s going to play the part of “the daughter of a friend” and insinuates herself into life at the restaurant, partly to get closer to Claudio, but also just because.

For the most part, that works out for her. She slowly learns the stories of all of the people working there, including that of her mom’s new husband, Lorenzo.

Because this is josei, Claudio mostly stays out of reach. There’s no instant shoujo love confession after two or three meetings. In fact, at first, Claudio tells Nicoletta that he’s just not that into her, but Nicoletta quickly discovers that Claudio still wears a wedding ring, despite being divorced.  Turns out, he’s still pretty hung up on his lawyer ex-wife, Gabriella, the best friend of Olga, Nicoletta’s mom.  Nicoletta steps back and doesn’t push things, but by the end of the volume they’re fairly close, kind of, mostly dating or at least enjoying the heck out of each other’s company.

Which seems like a pretty happy ending for josei, from my experience.

The companion piece, Gente, tells a series of shorts about backstories of the minor characters in the original.  Probably my favorites are the ones that feature Luciano and his grandson Francesco.  Though I did enjoy Vito’s backstory as well.  The others were fine, but not as stand-out in my opinion.

Apparently, there is an anime of this, available on Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/ristorante-paradiso.  A number of the reviews use words like “relaxing” and “gently-paced” which is actually kind of selling it for me.  There are only 11 episodes, which is also in the plus column for me. I may check it out and see what I think of it.  I really, really enjoyed Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, a historical drama, but which also had a slower pace.

What can I say? I’m an old lady.

Speaking of which, can I just say how amusing I find it that there are so many other reviewers of this manga/anime who have to take a moment to talk about how vaguely horrified/shocked they are that it features OLDER PEOPLE?

*gasp*

Old people exist!???!!

Yeah, we do. And, we have romances, too.  Maybe people are thrown by the fact that there’s a whole crowd of women who come just to see the hot older guys.  Probably this is a foreign concept: hot, older guys.  But think: Richard Gere and Sam Elliot.

I guess maybe the May-December thing can be kind of unexpected, too, but, as Nicoletta’s mom says to her at one point, attraction is like that–it can strike you in unexpected ways.  Olga is the one, in fact, with the fetish for older, bespectacled gentlemen, but the man she fell in love with is a bear-like younger man with a goatee and 20/20 vision!  So, you know, love is blind and can blindside you!

That’s amore!

Would I recommend it to you?  Only if you’re as fond as I am of slice-of-life.  Otherwise… maybe?

As an Italian grandmother might say: try it, you might like it!