Gangsta. 44 by Kosuke

The latest Gangsta. chapter came out yesterday.

I read it twice, but I still feel like maybe I’m missing something that might have been explained in the spin-off, Gangsta.:Cursed, which I admittedly gave up reading because it was so bloody (and I was having a hard time finding a scanlation of it. Looks like I could buy it on Amazon now. I may have to.)

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The chapter opens up with a crowd of Twilights demanding entrance to the Guild. The Guild has closed its doors, however. The only interesting thing about this scene is that we discover that normally a Twilight can buy the protection of the Guild.  When told to move along, one of the women in the crowd says, “Come on, let us in. We have money.”  Someone else complains that they are “the paying customers here” and that the Guild should fire its “useless commodities” to free up room.

This confuses me as to how the Guild works. To be fair, my only previous sense of it is that they kind of act like the military police for the Twilight population, as well as the “regulatory body” in that they are the ones (I think!) that issue tags and class designation.

Then we flash to a series of what I believe are Worick’s memories, possibly triggered by the presence of a fly. Or maybe the fly is just a dramatic/thematic image.

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I love the blood trail on the floor leading to the desk

The scene then shifts to Big Mama’s, where the girls are complaining about not being able to hear something (I’m not sure what) and Worick is standing in the background, looking grim, listening to reports on Marco, aka Spas. Just hearing about Marco, Worick gets a memory flash of Connie.

Mama must have the same thought because she suggests that they (the Destroyers?) are “tying up loose ends” from the Second Destroyer gang from 15 years ago using that woman as bait, she continues, suggesting that Tag-hating Uranos wasn’t officially involved, but she happens to know that the plan was to leave Spas at large with the hopes that he’d switch sides again.

Worick laughs at this idea saying, “That’s a huge miscalculation on your people’s part.”

As he’s saying this we get a series of images in current time of one-armed Connie and Bareta in the fight.  We also seem to get a panel of the fly’s legs, and I’m not sure what that’s supposed to signify–maybe that this whole thing is rotten? Or that there’s nothing left but death and decay?

The next several panels are the fight between Marcos and Striker. Striker continues to be gross and Marcos continues to tell the Destroyers to f*ck off.  It looks to me like Marcos gets a second wind and maybe actually takes out the rape-y lady (Bereta).

We get a couple of silent panels that are clearly intended to be meaningful that I think work better if you’re up on the spin-off.  Through the clearing smoke, we get an image of Marco rushing Striker. Then in grayed-out flashback we get what I assume is Striker’s memory of Marco/Spas leaving, and Striker reaching out a hand to him, as though to try to stop him or beg him to stay.

Next we get Connie struggling to her feet in real-time, shouting something not articulated, and then a grayed flashback to her (I assume) standing in a warehouse as a young girl, possibly when first reaching out to Marco, because she reaches for him now. This reach seems to be a symbol between them, since she did it earlier in this chapter, right before Marco got his second wind.

Then we get a full page spread of their hands clasping, which seems to be in real-time as those are the gloves Marco is currently wearing.

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After this line, which I believe is Marco speaking, saying that the only thing left of “that thing” (meaning Spas) is Marco Adriano, we flash to Worick continuing, “who is utterly worthless,” by which I assume he means to Uranos’s cause, because Worick insists that Marco won’t return to those guys ever.

I’m going line by line here because this plan of Uranos’ literally makes no sense.

To be fair, I only read the first chapter of the Marco spin-off, but I can tell you that from what I read? Spas’ life was grim af. Why on EARTH would anyone want to go back to that kind of living where you kill women and children for sport? Also, only a moron would think that Marco is just screwing around with Connie, she was WEARING HIS RING around her neck.

Also, why is Marco such a hot commodity? He’s not a Tag, he’s one of the superhuman normals, who, if I remember this correctly, have Twilight superpowers without the drawbacks (some better form of Celebre? That part is a little lost to me, but I do remember that the surprise is that Monroe has this, too, and has some kind of mind control ability associated with it, since he could control Delico to shoot Yang in the back, and something weird happened a LOOOOONG time back involving Worick and Monroe’s “smell,” anyone else remember that? It was shortly after Striker was introduced.)

And, maybe that’s it? Maybe Uranos and Monroe were/are counting on whatever brainwashing Marco had at the start to kick back in?  But again, what for? What does having Marco gain them, except possibly a full cadre of Destroyers?

Because then we shift to Loretta Cristiano, whom we discover is the figure collapsed on the desk (I had initially thought it was Worick). She’s calling the Guild head, Paulkee, and apologizing for the delay but telling her that “the person our organization was trusted with managing” Marco/Spas will be terminated / disposed of.

Which leaves me feeling super confused again.

Let me see if I understand what’s going down with Marco.  Somehow, Uranos and Monroe thought hurting Connie would make Marco return to the Destroyers and that was something they WANTED?

Meanwhile, the Guild and the Cristiano gangs have some OTHER connection to Marco (well, we know the Cristiano one, he was basically her bodyguard/mentor/father-figure,) which involved an agreement that would somehow self-destruct/sniper Marco if he gets out of hand?

Okay, I get Cristiano’s stake in Marco, but why the f*ck is the Guild involved?

Marco is not a Twilight. He’s a super-human. Granted, I have long suspected that the Destroyers are part of a government sponsored/initiated program to eradicate the Twilight ‘problem.’  I feel like a government connection was pretty strongly hinted at in the first chapter of Gangsta.:Cursed, and as soon as the Destroyers first showed up in this.  So, perhaps the Guild is keeping an eye on Marco, because they believe he could be turned back to his wicked ways?  Maybe Cristiano looks so depressed because she thinks she’s lost him and now must destroy him?

I guess I could buy that if the idea is supposed to be that Monroe and Uranos think that Marco has some kind of brainwashed trigger built in to his programming that guarantees he’ll switch sides, no matter what.  I’m still not sure why they want that, unless they really feel that Marco + the Destroyers can wipe out all of the Twilights. To be fair, we have certainly seen evidence that the Destroyers are good at this particularly nasty job. They came damn close to taking out Nic (and they got Doug — *sobs*)  But, what we haven’t seen is what would happen if someone like Paulkee or her lover, Ginger, who are at least S/0 class goes up against these supped-up humans.

It also doesn’t entirely explain why the Guild has closed its doors to the Twilight population of Ergastulum.  Unless, Paulkee has decided that she’s only going to protect those who can protect her interests? (But what ARE her interests if not the Twilights of Ergastulum?)  Anyway, seems to me like a dumb strategy. I’d personally take all comers, even whatever’s below D class, with the idea that there’s strength in numbers.

I suspect, as I said above and throughout, I would probably understand why Marco is the lynchpin here if I’d been keeping up with Cursed.

Scum’s Wish/Kuzu no Honkai by Yokoyari Mengo

Sometimes I confuse ‘seinen‘ for josei because both deal with mature subjects, but it seems pretty obvious to me that Scum’s Wish/Kuzu no Honkai was written with a male audience in mind.

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Yokoyari-sensei knows what boys want: boys want girls who are sexually available, but emotionally distant.

The set-up goes like this: Awaya Mugi and Yasuraoka Hanabi are, to everyone at their high school, the perfect couple.  Each harbors a secret, however. They’re in love with someone else, someone unattainable.  For Mugi, it’s the music teacher at school.  Hanabi wants her ‘onii-chan’ who is thankfully not ACTUALLY her older brother, but someone who functions that way (he might be a step-brother, I’m not 100% clear on that.)  Onii-chan is also a teacher at the high school, who happens to have a huge crush on the music teacher.  Mugi and Hanabi decide to date each other based on their mutual sexual frustration.

As the song says, “If you can’t be with the one you love; honey, love the one you’re with.”

Maybe I’m sexist, but this is where everything starts to feel like a big dude wish fulfillment thing to me, because Scum’s Wish get’s pretty darned explicit.  Whenever the two of them are frustrated over the romance between the objects of their affection, a lot of sexy times ensue. Mugi claims he won’t have sex with Hanabi at one point, but there’s an under-the-covers hand job that happens, so I guess by ‘sex’ he means the traditional tab a into slot b thing. (If that’s the only definition of sex, then as a lesbian, I’m a virgin. And, maybe you think I am, but over here we just call that being a “gold star lesbian.”)

Speaking of lesbians, the story get complicated because there’s all sorts of unrequited love flying around including Ebato (Eci-chan) Sanae, Hanabi’s very best girlfriend who really wants to be a girlfriend of the romantic, rather than platonic, variety.  She was my favorite character, of course.

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D’uh! YOU!!!

Of course, when this question comes up, Hanabi instantly guesses that the answer is “yes,” but never figures it’s her.  So, of course, her next suggestion is, “Let’s have a sleepover!” ostensibly to talk boys, but of course this is torturous for Eci-chan and she ends up kissing Hanabi… who gets a LOT of action for someone not into anyone other than her onii-chan.

But, even this lesbian affair seems to have the male-gaze written all over it. Eci-chan really just wants to get into Hanabi’s pants at any cost, even her self-esteem, because she offers herself as a female version of a sex toy, since she’s found out that Hanabi isn’t all that into Mugi.

I think the other problem I have is with this is the “bad apple,” (that’s her chapter’s title), the music teacher, Minagawa Akane. Her entire chapter is devoted to showing the reader that Akane will sleep with anyone because she has an almost sexually-motivated desire to play people. She especially likes stealing men from other women, which is why she’s working Hanabi’s onii-chan.

Is that gross or sex positive?  Currently, for me, that feels kind of gross.

Like my sense is that the women in this manga are getting kind of a short shrift.  I’m not sure how I feel about it.  There’s something, like I said, that puts me off a bit, yet, I have to admit that I read all 15 chapters available at MangaReader in one sitting.  So… there is a kind of soap opera appeal to it all.

Maybe I should go watch the 12 episode anime or the live-action show?  I guess the anime is available on KissAnime.  You can watch the live action on YouTube.

Oishinbo by Tetsu Karina / Akira Hanasaki

Cover art of Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Food! Glorious food!

There are so many manga about food, and Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine (January 20, 2009; à la Carte volume 20) and Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza (May 19, 2009; à la Carte volume 2) are only a couple (–and the only two in this seven volume series that my library had.)

As I read them, I had to wonder: what is the appeal of reading about people appreciating good food?

This is a phenomenon true of things like The British Baking Show and The Iron Chef and a whole slue of cooking competition shows, too, and I’m not sure I entirely understand it. I APPRECIATE it, because I always end up getting deeply sucked into these things, but I’m really not sure what it is about them that makes them at all compelling.

Is it because food is so universal?

We all have to eat.  Most of us, even those of us with unrefined taste, would love to eat delicious food, prepared by experts.

Certainly, for me, reading about Japanese food as a Westerner has the extra layer of getting to learn new things about stuff I’m deeply curious about.  (To be fair, that’s the appeal of any slice-of-life for me.)

Plus, most of these food-centric manga also provide some kind of story in the background.  Even if it’s the kind of gentle concerns of regular life, like you find in What Did You Eat Yesterday?/Kinou Nani Tabeta. Obviously, there are high-drama food-centric manga, too, like Toriko and Food Wars!

Oishinbo is more in the vein of What Did You Eat Yesterday? in that it follows the day-to-day adventures of two food critics/food experts, Shiro Yamaoka and his partner, Yūko Kurita, particularly as they try to gather ideas for a feature article on the “Ultimate Menu.”

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There’s not a lot to spoil in these manga.  They really mostly are about two food critics that work a prominent food guide, going about their business, eating a lot of food, and discussing it.  There are mini-arcs that involve little dramas, like the two twin sisters who married two twin brothers who used to run a ramen shop together until they were awarded a third star and began to argue about who deserved credit for the upgrade. Their fight became so acrimonious that one of the brothers opened up a shop across the street both claiming to be the “original,” and they’re destroying the remains of their customer base by always arguing in the streets.  Shiro sweeps in and discovers that actually their ramen is terrible separately, but amazing together.

A very special ramen episode!

I also really liked the story where a hapless friend of Shiro’s has finally found the girl of his dream.  The problem? She comes from a fancy, upperclass family and he knows nothing of fine dining.  He begs Shiro and Yūko to double-date with him, so he doesn’t flub it.

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As you can see, the art style is very clunky and old-fashioned.

Shiro gets his friend through the meal, but the pressure of it all breaks him. At the end of the meal he shouts, “No! This is dishonest! I’m not this kind of person, I’m just a simple ramen and rice guy! I can’t do this fancy stuff!”  Yūko suggests that if this was so dishonest, maybe they’d better try again at a place he feels comfortable.  So, a few days later he takes them to a hole-in-the-wall for an amazing meal of simple fare.  The love interest has never been to a place like this because all her paramours think she needs the fancy stuff, and so she makes her love confession, and everyone lives happily ever after eating the authentic food of their social class!

There’s an overarching story of the deep rivalry between Shiro and his father, who is a master of all arts (calligraphy, pottery) and also famous for his culinary genius.  Shiro is forever being corrected in the proper Japanese way of doing things, and dad is always being surprised by Shiro’s clever, foodie innovations (though he won’t admit it.)

Alas, none of these volumes are available on-line anywhere I could find; Baka-Updates implies no one is scanlating them.  Otherwise, I would recommend them if you’re interested in food and liked What Did You Eat Yesterday? but wanted a tiny bit more “action” to the plot. If you’re super-curious, you can download a sample chapter of it from its official site on Viz Media. (And of course, they’ll let you buy it right there, if you decide you like it!)

Cover image of Oishinbo

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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5 Centimeters per Second / Byousoku 5 Centimeter by Shinka Makoto/Seike Yukiko

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Seinen stories depress me.  Nearly all of those I’ve read or watched have left me wondering if anyone is ever happy in Japan. 5 Centimetrs per Second is no exception.

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My library had 5 Centimeters per Second collected in one big, fat volume which made me even more depressed because I could look at the thick book and think, “Wow, I read all that just to feel like this.”

The manga is billed as a love story between Tono Takaki and Shinohara Akari, but that’s straight-up bullish*t.  Not only is this story not romantic, but half way through, Akari’s story is dropped completely.  Instead, the manga focuses entirely on Tono and follows his “love” (more like lack-of-love) life with various other women he meets after his initial, seventh-grade crush on Akari.

I’m pretty sure the moral of this story is: having an intense romance when you’re young f*cks you up for life.

That theme is underscored when, after Tono is forced to move to some island he meets Kanae who falls for him hard, even though his heart is still focused on Akari (even though they gave up on even pen-paling after a few months.)  Her life gets completely and utterly screwed up by this devotion, too, to the point that, when, after Tono has gone off college and is living a depressing life as a salaryman, Kanae still won’t date the SUPER HOT SURFER DUDE WHO IS SUPER INTO HER (even though she’s mostly otherwise gotten her sh*t together).

WTH is wrong with these people??

I literally don’t know.  I spent the last half of the book muttering, “OMG GET OVER IT” under my breath.

I guess it’s romantic to wreck your life over some girl you loved in seventh grade?  No, actually, it’s not. It’s stupid. Look, I had some very intense crushes when I was young.  IT DID NOT RUIN MY ABILITY TO GIVE MY HEART AWAY TO OTHER PEOPLE.

I dunno, maybe the cherry tree (of the title, as supposedly cherry petals fall at this rate of speed) is cursed. (Although that doesn’t explain Kanae, whose life is also ruined by young love.)

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My take away: stay away from creepy trees.

Apparently, there is a movie. Probably the movie is not only beautifully rendered, but also POIGNANT–which I think is what this was going for, but utterly failed for me.  Also, could we PLEASE just stop with the message that after the age 15 adventures stop, and that everything afterwards is some kind of soulless compromise?

 

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.

House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono

Ever since I started working at the library, I’ve been intrigued by this manga series.  I even read the first chapter some time ago, and the idea of it–a hapless ronin samurai who falls in with a kidnapping gang–stuck with me.  Last time I was at work, I saw they had all eight volumes, so I finally decided to pick it up….

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House of Five Leaves is written and illustrated by the same mangaka that did Ristorante Paradiso, which I reviewed some time ago.  I had some of the same problems with this manga as I did the first. The art style is really… funky.

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On top of that, Ono-sensei has a tendency to skip a lot of what, in writing, I sometimes refer to as “connective tissue.”  What I mean is that the action will make sudden, un-signalled jumps from a major moment–say a main character’s arrest (!!)–to weeks later, with no real sense of how people reacted to the news of the arrest or even any scenes going to the jail, etc., etc. (i.e. the connective bits).   It’s very disconcerting. You get a kind of emotional whiplash from it… and/or it serves to add an unnecessary distance, as though you, as a reader, just aren’t allowed in close enough to feel the feels with the characters–instead, you’re like a rock skipping over the surface of a lake.

While I really ended up enjoying House of Five Leaves, the writing and art style were things I fought against at every turn.  I mean, I find Ono-sensei’s art… compelling, in its own way, but it’s quirky af.

Same with her writing.

Of course, as I’m sure I’ve said here many times before I have a real weakness for stories involving the criminal underworld of Edo Period Japan (or, really, any time.)  I loved Samurai Champloo (which, tbh, is also quirky af.)  House of Five Leaves has a very similar vibe… and theme, really. It’s about a bunch of lowlifes/samurai who end up making their own kind of family/find a place in the world, together.  Both have a sense of secret pasts and a vague sense of foreboding that has the reader/watcher vaguely , yet constantly anxious for our heroes, worried that the police might catch up with them or fate or whatever is lurking in the darkness.

Samurai Champloo, at least, has it’s odd, light moments.  House of Five Leaves really doesn’t.

I mean, I guess House of Five Leaves has Masanosuke Akitsu, who is relentlessly hopeful and kind.  He’s a charming character who, at the start, really is pretty useless.  I loved watching him grow throughout the volumes.  He started as this big buffoon who basically trips over his own feet to a guy who can stand up to the toughest gang in region… as well as his disdainful younger brother (much harder/scarier!)  I wasn’t sure how fond I was of Masa, as he’s called a lot, but he really grew on me.

The character I adored was Yaichi.  Physically, he reminded me of Gin Ichimaru from Bleach.  Likewise, Yaichi is foxy and dangerous and sexy and strange…. and very, very secretive.  Like Masa, I pretty much fell for Yaichi from the moment he walked on the stage, as it were.

(Ironically, the voice actor for the anime version of Yaichi, who so reminds me of Gin Ichimaru, is played by Kira Izuru’s seiyū.)

Even though, at times, the volumes’ pace is almost leisurely, the conflict is always present in the form of Yaichi.  We–the readers and the gang of the House of Five Leaves–is tense when he’s away, upset when he’s threatened, and in danger when he’s close.  I will admit that the ending actually made me very tense and it might have been a tiny bit dusty in my house when Masa met Yaichi on the bridge.

I would not be surprised to find Masa/Yaichi as a pairing on AO3, but I actually sort of liked them as unrequited and ridiculously loyal friends, mostly because what I liked about their relationship by the end is how much Yaichi resisted admitting he already had a family an how important it was for him to be rescued by someone who loved him for who he was, warts and all.

I love sh*t like that when it works out in the end, you know?

Yeah, so I didn’t go into to a lot of the plot detail because this is totally a series I recommend you read.  I could not, easily, find an on-line, free version of this, however.  There is a twelve episode anime, so perhaps that’s something you could watch, if you’re curious.