Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin / Midnight Occult Civil Servants by Tamotsu Youko

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I’m probably in deep trouble.

I’ve made friends with someone locally who has a weekly gathering to watch anime, and last night I went over to their house.

And I came home with a LIST of must-watch/must-reads.

One of them was this one: Mauyonaka no Occult Koumuin / Midnight Occult Civil Servants.

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Since there is currently only one chapter of the manga (10 volumes in Japan; NONE HERE!!!) my comments will reflect the anime, which is also new enough that Crunchyroll has episode five still behind the ‘premium’ pay wall. Alas.

The story follows our hapless hero, Arata Miyako, who has started a new job doing something he thinks is community relations.  Turns out, that description of his job is not ‘wrong,’ so much as incomplete. The community that the Nighttime Regional Relations Department serves are the “Another” population, a.k.a. the supernatural world. It’s kind of like “X-Files,” but with more caution tape.

Things get interesting right away when the reader/audience discovers that Arata is the only person in the entire division who can understand the languages of the supernatural creatures they encounter. This, of course, marks him as quite special. Interesting, in the anime, we get a throwaway line that implies that maybe the civil servants test was actually supposed to weed out people like Arata, who have what they call “Ears of Sand.”

I also kind of love that the anime wastes no time explaining Arata’s special abilities. Turns out, there’s a family legend that Arata’s are distant relatives of Abe no Seimei, a true historical character (he was a onmyōdō, basically a court magician, during the Heian period,) but who has been folded into myth and legend into a kind of Merlin character.

You would think a person could get really tired of the “oh! the hero can see things the rest of the world can’t!’ stories, but I keep finding iterations of this that amuse me. I can’t even entirely tell you WHY I like this? Maybe the magical caution tape? Maybe the legitimate sense of the paperwork involved in running an occult civil service job?

I will admit that I do have my eye on a side-character, the leader of Arata’s three person team, who was introduced in the anime-only as a “former host.” I can SMELL the fan fic possibilities on that guy already, especially since he’s already entangled with his male coworker in a fascinating way, but we’ll have to see if he gets full backstory treatment or not.

At any rate, I highly recommend both the anime and the manga, despite the fact that there isn’t a lot out there to consume yet.

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Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san / Skull-faced Bookseller Honda-san by Honda

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.Gifs of this kept floating past my Tumblr feed and another friend recommended the anime of Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-San / Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san to me the other day, and, so, that seemed like the saturation point. Time to give it a try.

As  I was telling a friend this morning, I found this one somewhat impenetrable.  I know a lot about the American publishing industry (at least in terms of the back end, how novels get published) and I think that may have worked to my disadvantage here. To be fair, I have never worked in a book or comic bookstore, though my wife has. Perhaps this would be highly relatable content to her. There is, for instance, a lot of freaking out whenever stock is delivered. Which, I guess, makes sense, though I don’t exactly find it… hilarious, and I get the impression that I should.

 

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There is not a lot of the manga scanlated.  If you go to the link I provided at the top, you will only find about two chapters at this point. This is a shame because the scanlators do that thing that they do, where they provide translation notes and explanations of Japanese culture to help the jokes and references that would be obvious to a Japanese audience make more sense.

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So, the schtick is that we follow Honda, who is a bookstore employee. Everyone at this bookstore has some kind of mask over their face, presumably because they are loosely based on real people that the mangaka knows/has worked with. Honda, himself, however, is fully skeletonized, for reasons that are unclear–perhaps he is overworked?

There is a lot in this anime and manga that depend on a much deeper understanding of Japanese culture than I currently posses. I mean, as an American I find myself baffled by the things that Honda-san gets “sweaty”/freaked out over. And maybe it’s more that I’m an extrovert? Almost every single customer interaction seems to send him into a panic. I mean, I’ve worked with archivists that were more outgoing! But, I think this is an office culture thing, too–a fear of screwing up. (We really see that particular fear playing out in the anime episode where Honda is forced to go to job training and faces the horrors of role-playing, etc., which I CAN actually relate to, though I found it more accurate than hilarious, you know?)

I think the reason that it kept popping up in .gif form on my Tumblr dash, however, is because the mangaka skewers foreign otaku and, particularly, foreign fujoshi.  There is an entire episode/chapter under the banner of:

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Reads: “Yaoi Girls From Overseas!!!”

Which, you know, I feel like I need that screenshot from the Facebook complaint box with the option checked, “I see myself in this picture and I don’t like it.”

I mean, if I’m honest, that might be a lot of what I find “meh” about this. I felt the same way with the first several seasons of “The Big Bang Theory.” I don’t find my life particularly hilarious. I mean, it’s not that I can’t laugh at myself, but there is an entire set of panels in this chapter that is devoted to a woman finding a particular mangaka’s work that she loves and screaming about it for joy.

Um.

That’s literally me

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Kind of even looks like me, ya know?

So… am I laughing? Because a fat lady got excited over something she loves in public? I mean, I realize this is the sort of behavior that is not seen as particularly “Japanese,” but even in the manga, as Honda has written it, none of the customers reacted badly. They just ignored the lady, LIKE YOU DO.

This is funny, how?

This is 9/10ths of the humor, so it falls flat for me. I mean, I know Americans/Europeans are weird (believe me, I see it every day), but I don’t generally find cultural differences knee-snappingly comedic?

To be fair, I had this problem with Princess Jellyfish, too, which just makes me an outlier and probably “too sensitive.”  Or maybe I’m just SO ACHINGLY nerdy that I fail to find jokes that point out extreme geekiness as odd because it is LITERALLY my life.

I suspect a healthy combination of both of those is true, actually.

But, it is interesting for the insights into bookselling. One of the things I always enjoy about slice-of-life is exactly this: seeing how people do what they do in daily life.  So, even though I don’t understand the humor in the panicking over re-ordering particular manga because I’m at a loss about the cultural references, I do get the IDEA of it all. I can still appreciate learning that certain things cause books to sell out–like being mentioned on a popular game show or when an author dies.

Those things are true here, too, even if I don’t know WHICH shows or authors are being referenced.

What’s funny to me is that Tumblr has clearly taken the .gif I kept seeing out of context.  Honda meets a “handsome” American looking for what amounts to tentacle porn.

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The .gif and the Tumblr comments make it seem as though Honda’s discomfort is because he finds this guy attractive, but, if you watch/read the whole scene, Honda’s freak-out is actually over the fact that this clueless dad is trying to find R-rated material for his tween-age daughter.

The confusion is over the fact that Honda does seem to find him handsome, but I think it’s meant to be in a more ‘admiring’ way. I mean, I’m all for adding queer content where there is none, but I was suitably disappointed when I watched this because it was NOT nearly as gay as I hoped. Though, they do talk in a later episode (and presumably chapter) about how little true GLBT content there is in manga as opposed to all the BL/yaoi, when a foreign gay couple come in asking after ‘gay’ content and are shown (much like in US bookstores) the tiniest section of a tiny shelf.

Anyway, it was definitely worth checking out.  If you’re interested in this one, at the moment, I would recommend watching it, since you can get 9 episodes at least. It doesn’t even look like you can legally buy the manga yet, and, as I noted, there are only a couple of chapters scanned/pirated.

Orenchi no Furo Jijou / Merman in My Tub by Itokichi

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Orenchi no Furo Jijou / Merman in my Bathtub is a 4-koma shoujo title that looks like it’s yaoi, but it’s not.

The premise is pretty straight-forward, too. Our hero, Tatsumi, is an average high school boy living on his own (which is so weirdly common in manga) in his grandfather’s house. One day, he spies Wakasa beached on the shore of the canal near his home. Wakasa explains that he’s been poisoned by the pollution and algae, so Tatsumi brings him home, where he takes up permanent residence in the tub in the bathroom.  Hijinks ensue.

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I struggle to articulate why I enjoyed all six volumes of this, which I read over the span of about a day and a half.

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The art is decent and the humor is broad enough that I could appreciate it (except for that one chapter that was probably an amazing send up of a game I had zero familiarity with…)

I suggested to a friend of mine that I probably enjoyed it for a reason that I normally loathe things like this: for the queer-baiting.

Wakasa is pretty gay for a merman. He’s always explicitly adopting the female role in things, including following advice in women’s magazines–all for humorous effect, of course. There are innumerable panels in which Tatsumi says, “He’s imagining himself the woman in this?”  Wakasa is also routinely mistaken for Tatsumi’s girlfriend.

And it’s ENTIRELY played for laughs: “But, ho ho! They are both men, you see!”

There’s even ‘Black Butler-esque’ fan service, where, a scene is intentionally taken out of context to make it look as though the mer-octopus, Takasu, is sexually assaulting Tatsumi (it’s just a massage, but there are scenes of the tentacles sliding under shirts and up pant legs. You’ve seen tentacle porn. You can picture it.)

So, normally, I’d be turned off by this.

Yet, maybe because there’s an underlying kindness to Tatsumi and Wakasa’s relationship, I found it compelling.

I also really loved the cast of characters that come to visit Wakasa… it almost feels like a faux harem of magical creatures, ala Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Besides, the octopus, there’s a mer-snail, a mer-shark (who is mute and was my favorite), a mer-jellyfish, a mer-crab, a mer-starfish, and a mer-clownfish that changes gender (just like real world clownfish.) There are a couple of other human characters, too. Tatsumi has the requisite younger sister who has a older-brother complex, a best friend, and a creepy uncle who is trying to score with the ladies by making experimental bath salts. Tatsumi’s grandfather, even though he’s passed, is an emotionally present character in many ways, as well.

So.. there was a lot more going on here than a gag-manga.

Would I recommend you lose a day and a half to it, like I did? I’m not sure. I ended up recommending it to the class I talked to last night, only because I was talking about how free-form a lot of these stories are. A merman in your bathtub? Why not?

There is a thirteen episode anime available on Crunchyroll. The episodes are no more than 5 minutes long, and focus mostly on the broad humor, which leaves out, what is, in my opinion, the very best parts of the manga, which is a lot of the heartwarming stuff. I didn’t watch all of them, so it may be that one of the episodes touches on the ‘broken vase’ chapter, but a cursory glance did not make it look like it. (Basically, Tatsumi is talking about memories of his grandpa and shows Wakasa a vase that he made. It gets broken and that almost ends their friendship for good.)  The opening music scene, however, it 100% AMAZING. It looks like a hardcore anime, ala Bleach or DeathNote, complete with screaming heavy metal…. and then it’s a merman in a tub.

It’s worth the five minutes to just experience the whiplash between opening credits and content.

But, it’s kind of silly?  I’d say read/watch only if you’re in the mood for something truly brainless.

Kakuritsu Sousakan Mikoshiba Gakuto / Probability Investigator Mikoshiba Gakuto by Kaminaga Gakuto

Normally, I don’t read a lot of shoujo, but… MATH!  Murders! Sexy nerds!

Did I mention: Math!!??!

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I’m really sad to report that the three chapters available for Kakuritsu Sousakan Mikoshiba Gakuto / Probability Investigator Mikoshiba are probably all we’re going to get.  In fact, it doesn’t even look like it’s been licensed in English, and the last time anyone bothered to scanlate it was over four years ago. I mean, it’s basically a rip-off of any number of crime dramas that involve geniuses, but I really liked the heroine, Niizuma.

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Our heroine, Niizuma Tomoki, has recently been on administrative leave from the police force for brawling with another officer.  Like, she punched the dude OUT.

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She’s a good cop, however.

Thing is, she punched her partner because he was bullying a rape suspect into a confession.  You may not know this, but getting arrested in Japan already sucks.  There’s not nearly as much of this whole ‘you’re innocent until proven guilty’ bulls*t. Even with that, Niizuma decides her partner is crossing the line when basically shoves the pen into the suspect’s hand and forces him to sign.

I pretty much fell for Niizuma at this point.  You don’t see a huge number of female protagonists quite like this–well, almost anywhere, but they seem especially rare in shoujo (please feel free to prove me wrong. I don’t read a ton of shoujo and so I might be missing out on some amazing heroines!) I love that she’s not necessarily any more aggressive than your average manga heroine UNTIL she’s faced with a moral choice. Then she takes her partner f*cking DOWN.

This is normally the sort of attitude you see from heroes, you know?  Guys get to be mousey and proper and yet deeply honorable and willing to fight when push comes to shove.

It’s super-refreshing to see this in a lady.

It’s  even more refreshing that she gets REWARDED for this behavior.  Yeah, sure, she’s been put on leave. She punched a colleague, what are you going to do?  Niizuma is also seriously considering tendering her resignation because she’s uncertain who would be willing to partner with her after such an outburst.

But, she has an ally.  A guy we ever hear from again, who was a friend of her father’s, puts in a good word.  Dad was also a cop and, he, too, was an honorable person.  He’d never give up, says the family friend, and neither should you.  In fact, the family friend has recommended Niizuma to a special division, Special Investigations Counter-Measures Unit.

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She even gets the ‘hero faced with the decision to keep fighting’ shot… standing at your father’s grave, are you as strong a fighter as he was??

She goes for it.

And, maybe this is where other people lose interest, because the ‘love interest’ is the titular math professor, Mikoshiba Gakuto.  He’s a bit of a ‘genius’ stereotype, right down to the mild Asperger’s.

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He doesn’t get metaphors or proverbs, preferring straight-forward, logical thinking. He’s anti-emotions because he thinks they get in the way of clear thinking, and, of course, he mocks Niizuma for being “a biased, emotional woman.”  He’s weird, too. When they first meet, he sniffs Niizuma just to make sure she’s not an alien (even though this is contemporary times and there are, for all I know, no evidence that extra-terrestrials are walking among us in this story’s universe.)

Even though Mikoshiba is a Sherlockesque rip-off, I ended up kind of enjoying their developing relationship, anyway.  Mikoshiba and Niizuma are good foils for each other, and, in the course of the three available chapters, they satisfactorily solve a mysterious case.  I was particularly satisfied because I was able to do that thing you want to be able to do with well-written mysteries, in that I figured out the true guilty party exactly one step ahead of the protagonists. (But, then maybe that just means the mystery was obvious?  I don’t read enough mysteries to know for sure.)

I guess I’m just trying to understand why the scanlators lost interest in this particular manga.  I mean, I realize that often they just can’t get enough volunteers together, etc., but I can’t help wondering if that inability to find people to work on this manga happened because I’m alone in liking a main character like Niizuma. (There’s plenty of material left to translate: there are three full volumes available in Japan. We only got half of the first volume here.)

As someone who has published mainstream romance in America, I do wonder if there are similar biases against certain types in Japan.  Shoujo is it’s own marketing category, of course, being aimed a far different audience then the adult women I was writing for, but there are still these THINGS that romance often conforms to.

Kakuritsu Sousakan Mikoshiba Gakuto / Probability Investigator Mikoshiba does do that whole BUT I HATE HIM! HOW COULD I EVER LOVE HIM?! set-up.  Mikoshiba spends a huge amount of time disrespecting Niizuma’s intelligence, and, just as classically, by the end of the third chapter, they’re well on their way to mutual respect.

CLASSIC.

But, then there’s Niizuma. She’s not overly voluptuous. She’s pretty, but in a very understated way… and what she has as a salient character trait is one that most shounen heroes get to have: honor–honor she’s willing to fight for, physically, if necessary.

She’s also, we discover, a good investigator. Her ability to ‘be emotional’ isn’t a weakness, of course, but a strength.

This is not the sort of stuff that’s kept me away from shoujo titles.  Normally, what I dislike in shoujo is all the heteronormativity–girls being girlish in the most traditional ways and boys getting to have all the fun. Girls blush, boys strut.  Girls swoon, boys carry them off heroically.

In this one, what I love is that it’s not JUST a reversal (though Mikoshiba is definitely the silly one), but that they are both equally interesting and equally STRONG.

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I’m fine, too, especially if you’ll date ME, Niizuma,

Who knows, maybe the pirate translators gave up on it because they read ahead and discovered that all the stuff I love about it gets subverted by the end. (I wouldn’t put it past publishers and editors, honestly.) Maybe I’ve been spared another OMG I HATE THIS F*CKING ENDING IT RUINS EVERYTHING moment.

I guess I’ll tell myself that.

In the meantime, if you’re curious, go for it. It is very short–though, at least, the murder mystery *is* solved in what we have.

If those of you out there that love shoujo know other manga with a heroine like this one, PLEASE recommend it to me.  I’d love to have my knee-jerk biases against this genre go the way that the ones I held against romances did when I started reading more of them.

Ojisama to Neko by Sakurai Umi

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Something new to fulfill my desire to read heartwarming stories about absolutely NOTHING!!!!

Ojisama to Neko / The Gentleman and the Cat is ridiculously adorable. It’s kind of the manga version of the children’s series, Mr. Putter & Tabby, because you have an older man–a widower, living alone–who wants an older cat, the sort that other people pass by in the shelter because they prefer cute kittens.

This story, unlike some of the other cat stories I’ve reviewed, does give several scenes from the point of view of the cat.  Honestly, in this case, that makes the story that much more heartwarming.  Our ‘neko’ hero, for instance, has never had a name in all his life, having spent most of it in a pet store, waiting to be adopted.  He was happy to be called anything, even ‘Snotty.’

When our ‘oji-sama’ very carefully picks a name, a GOOD name, we get this:

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This whole freaking manga makes me eternally so happy.

It’s just chapter after chapter of these two being adorable and loving… I MEAN WHAT MORE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT????

Cat!

Nice old guy!

CAT!

There are, as of the publication of this review, only 5 very short chapters available.  It’s brand-new (2018) and they’re being scanned just about as fast as they’re coming out in Japan.  My son Mason, in fact, first saw this on Tumblr a few months ago, before any of the usual pirate sites had picked it up.  I’m really happy that MangaRock (linked above) and a few other folks are starting to put it in their roster. It’s as useless as it is AWESOME. I mean, by chapter five the most thrilling thing that has happened is that the Gentleman went shopping for cat supplies and the Cat got a name.

AND YET I’M SO SATISFIED I FEEL ‘ETERNALLY SO HAPPY.’

Ore Monogatari!! / My Love Story by Kawahara Kazune / Aruko

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Remember how I told you that I picked up a bunch of manga volumes at my library sale? Because the price was so good (five for a dollar!), I grabbed ANYTHING with a first volume.

ANYTHING.

Any. THING.

My Love Story!! / Ore Monogatari!! is normally the very last thing I would pick up for myself to read.  As you know, loyal reader, comedy is such a tough sell for me that I bounced out of One-Punch Man (I know!  Look, don’t kill me, I ended up loving the anime.)

Shoujo is also a category I can take or leave–though, mostly, I leave it.

I kind of dug My Love Story!! / Ore Monogatari!!

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The story follows Gouda Takeo, a giant, red oni of a high schooler.  He’s not your typical romance hero in that he kind of looks like a brick wall.  His childhood friend, Sunagawa, is the classic chick-magnet: wispy, floppy-haired, and lanky.  All the girls are into him, but he’s… “meh.”  In fact, he tends to flat-out tell the ladies, “I don’t like you,” and makes them cry.

So, when Takeo ends up saving a girl, Yamato, from a subway groper, he assumes that she’s fallen for Sunagawa, like all the others before her.  Only this time? Cupid’s arrow has struck true and it’s Takeo that Yamato likes.

They actually get together pretty quickly as these things go, because the real conflict of this manga seems to be the odd couple nature of the two of them–actually, three, since it seems kind of obvious to me that Sungawa is ‘meh’ on girls because he’s ‘yatta!’ on Takeo.   Though I could be very wrong about that.  I’m only two volumes in, so Sungawa could get ‘no homo’d at any point.

What I like about this manga (and why I suspect it’s won so many awards*) is because the reader falls for Takeo in the same way the characters do.  His personality really does make him attractive; the more you read of him, the more likable he becomes.  He’s a good-hearted buffoon, but not in an always-the-butt-of-the-joke way, either…

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Except when he is, because this might be the most accurate picture of a cat in the history of all manga:

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But, yeah, maybe I have a type.  I mean, LOOK at those sideburns.

The manga is still being scanlated.  Mangago has five volumes (out of 15 in Japan.) There is not only an anime, available on Crunchyroll, but also, it seems, a live-action film.

Would I recommend it?  Eh, it’s fun and it reads fast, so why not?


 

  •  According to Baka-Updates, My Love Story!! / Ore Monogatari, “Won the award for Best Shōjo Manga at the 37th Kodansha Manga Awards and was nominated for the 6th Manga Taishō in 2013. Was also nominated for the 18th Annual Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize “Reader Award” in 2014. Won the 61st Shogakukan Manga Award for Shoujo.”

 

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.)