Yotsuba&! / Yotsuba to! (Volumes 1 &2) by Kiyohiko Azuma

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I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking: “Lyda, where is the porn? We depend on you for all the yaoi porn. Why are you reading this sappy drivel???!!”

I don’t know. My only excuse is that I’ve READ all the yaoi my library has and I had another very sloooooow shift at Maplewood when I picked up Yotsuba&! / Yotsuba to!.

When I hunted around on the shelves, I saw a bunch of other things that I could read–like Hellsing, should I read Hellsing? But, for whatever reason (*cough*Trump*cough*), I have lately gravitated towards simple, sappy, slice-of-life stories about absolutely NOTHING.

Because I’ve read a bunch in a row, I’ve been thinking about slice-of-life for awhile now.

I know why it appeals to me, as a Western reader.  For me, obviously, so much of daily life in Japan is mysterious, foreign.  Just going to the grocery store is kind of an adventure.  I’m not at all familiar with how grocery stores in Japan are laid out, what you can find there, etc., etc.  Because it’s all new to me, all the mundane things have a subtle sort of inherent drama, like the kind of excitement that travel to another country brings.

What do you suppose the appeal is in Japan?

I’ve been wondering how these would read if they were American.  Like, is part of the appeal the ‘wholesomeness’ of these adventures?

Yotsuba is an odd, enthusiastic five year old girl, who is terrible at drawing and invites herself over to her neighbor’s apartment.  The family in Yotsuba&! do the sorts of things you see a lot of in anime and manga, particularly in these kind of slower paced, slice-of-life oriented stories, like a cicada hunt on the wooded grounds of a local shrine. Bug hunting is a thing, apparently.  But, summer bug hunting seems to be somewhat more associated with “life in the country.” So, then, what would that even be in an American story?  What’s the analog? Going fishing at a creek?

When I think about it that way, it all suddenly seems so very… Mayberry.

Which makes me wonder, are there essential Japanese values that are being promoted in these manga?  Especially since there is a tendency in these stories that involve young kids, to have little life lessons about being polite, expected behavior, etc.

….

WTF. Am I reading Japanese propaganda?

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Despite the sinister specter cast by the fact that I might be captivated by what is probably some kind of “conservative/traditional blueprint for the perfect Japanese lifestyle as determined by The Powers That Be/magazine publishers,” I enjoyed Yotsuba&! / Yotsuba to!.

I mean, maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe the appeal to the Japanese audience is similar to the stories we have here in America about the young professional who goes to live in New York. That’s very much an equivalent, I think. There are life lessons learned along the way… I mean, outside of the fact that maybe part of why this feels a tiny bit more like propaganda is that Yotsuba is shounen.

That’s right, this story about a young five year old girl was marketed to the same boys who read Bleach and Naruto….

Mmmm, back to my propaganda theory then.

ANYWAY. Even though I picked up the first two volumes on a lark, I went ahead and requested volume 3 because there is a tiny bit of a mystery going on about who Yotsuba is.

Normally, in manga, because of the way they’re drawn, you can’t easily tell the “foreigners” from the natives until someone tells you.  There’s at least one scene, early on, in the first tankōbon, in which one of Yotsuba’s new neighbors see her in the playground, seemingly baffled by how swings work.  The neighbor thinks, “Is she just weird or is she foreign?”

A lot is made of Yotsuba’s “weirdness,” even her own father describes Yotsuba as weird when asked for a description of her when she goes missing.

This, by the way, is a very curious moment, since, despite the fact that they are clearly in an urban space, dad is super not worried that she, a five year-old, has wandered off, and keeps insisting to the worried adults around him that “she’ll turn back up. She always does.” This, and the later cicada hunt, made me think that Yotsuba and her family are from the country. Especially since the urban adults were all ??? about her being missing and a lot more worried about it, and no one in the urban group had ever been bug hunting before.

So, I started to think that Yotsuba was just “not from around here” which is a different kind of foreign.

Until.

Until we find out that Yotsuba is an orphan.  Not just a girl being raised by a widower, but an ORPHAN.  Dad adopted Yotsuba… wait for it…. “on his travels.”  Dad is a translator for a living, so apparently this job takes him to the places where this other language (it’s sort of presumed by everyone around him, though it’s not explicitly stated, to be English) is spoken.

In an omake that is entirely from the point of view of the neighbors (a household of all women, which contrasts Yotsuba’s family which seems to be made of her father and his… best friend?… Jumbo, who is JUMBO, as in super tall), we hear them speculate that maybe Yotsuba was adopted in Hawaii, since all she has revealed about where they lived previously was ‘far away, very, very far….’ and ‘left’ (as in the direction).

It’s kind of amazing to imagine a single, young Japanese man just randomly picking up an American orphan and taking her home. I mean, maybe this happens? A quick Google search tells me that this does happen IRL, though most of the adoptees are black.

So, I’m kind of intrigued. I doubt it’s going to be revealed that Yotsuba’s dad is a kidnapper, but I’m curious about how the story of Yotsuba’s adoption is going to be played out. There’s always this assumption that slice-of-life stories attempt to be as realistic as possible (I mean, there are supranational slice-of-life, so…), but there’s often this blindspot when it comes to Western culture/practices.  If she is American, I’m curious if that’s also why Yotsuba, at five, seems to have a lot more trouble pronouncing things and seems to know fewer words than, say, the young girl of approximately the same age in Sweetness & Lightning….

I might just keep reading this for the amusement of reading about how someone of my “ethnicity” is portrayed in a manga.

Porn soon, I promise.

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Elegant Yokai Apartment Life / Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou by Kouduki Hinowa / Miyama Waka

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I blame Trump and his administration for my changing taste in manga and anime. I’ve been so stressed out that what I want from my fiction these days can be summed up thusly: GIMME ALL THE FLUFFY BUNNIES WHO LIKE EACH OTHER THE END.

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life / Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou is EXACTLY what I want right now, so I don’t know if it’s something I can recommend in good faith. I love it, but you might be bored out of your mind by it.

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Our hero, Inaba Yuushi, is an orphaned high schooler with moderate goals.  After graduating middle school, all he wants is to get into a business school high school and be a salaryman.  Actually, what he wants more than anything is out of his uncle’s house. His aunt and uncle are nice enough, but he’s always felt like a burden there and he can not WAIT to get the f*ck out and start his own life. As it happens, the elite school he was aiming at has a live-in dorm.

Until it burns down about a month before move-in day.

Now, poor Inaba has to scramble.  Of course, aunt and uncle say he can stay, but it’s clear that no one wants this, and so Inaba, who has a job as a delivery boy, is like, “I WILL SOLVE THIS” and desperately tries to find alternate living arrangements.  But, it’s a month out and a bunch of other students were also displaced…. it seems like there’s nothing to be had.

Except, you know, for that ghost child who approaches Inaba while he’s despairing on a park bench, who points to a shady-looking realtor, who just happens to have not only an open place, but it’s cheap and comes with three squares a day.

What’s the catch? Inaba wants to know. Because, this place seems too good to be true.

Oh, well, it’s haunted.

Dun-dun…. DAH! Cue: adventures!

Except Elegant Yokai Aparment Life / Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou isn’t a horror manga. It’s a comedic slice-of-life manga, whose only real nod towards typical shounen themes revolves around ‘what it means to be an adult.’

Stuff happens in this manga.  There’s magic and some drama around things that happen at school, but, really, at it’s core Elegant Yokai Aparment Life / Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou is a celebration of old-fashioned communal living.  There are a lot of scenes of eating amazing food in the communal dining room, hanging out with the other apartment denizens (who are, in fact, ghosts, ogres, oni, kitsune, yokai, and mystics,) you know, just celebrating and living life. In fact, there are a lot of deep philosophical discussions about what life is for… (Major spoiler: Life is for living, seems to be the prevalent theme.)

I love this crap.

For the record, I’m mostly watching Elegant Yokai Aparment Life / Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou  as an anime. Cruncyroll is simulcasting it, and have, at the time of this review, seventeen episodes of it available to stream.

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I did, however, read the first chapter of the manga and it follows quite closely.  Wikipedia tells me that Yokai Apartment was originally a light novel, which might explain its pacing (when I first started watching this I immediately felt a Free! vibe, right down to the ‘how gay is this guy?’)

You don’t HAVE to agree that Inaba reads as gay, but the relationship he has with Hase Mizuki is very explicitly (albeit jokingly) ‘family’ oriented.  Hase basically adopts a child ghost whenever he visits Inaba at the ‘apato’ and refers to himself as ‘papa’ and Inaba as ‘mama.’  They not only sleep in the same room when Hase visits, but in the same bed. Early on, Inaba is very intent on keeping up with Hase and even writes him letters, but they have a ‘you need to be honest with me’ moment when Hase realizes he’s not getting the full story of what goes on and who/what exactly lives at the ‘apato.’

Yes, actually, I do imagine this all as quite innocent, much the way I thought of the boys of Free! as innocent, but, just because I don’t imagine them sexual, doesn’t mean it’s NOT gay af.

Which is probably the other reason I crave this kind of thing. I love stories where not a lot happens beyond everyone getting along and eating good food, and I double-plus love them if they’re gay.

In a side note, anyone who’s known me for any length of time will instantly recognize (probably in the credits, like my son did,) which character I secretly like best of all.  That would be the scruffy redhaired, Akira Fukase–a character we’ve barely even had the usual backstory episode about, who kind of does nothing more than drink and smoke a lot.  Yeah. I just have a type, and that type is inevitably voiced by someone like Kazuya Nakai, probably best known for his role as Muken in Samurai Champloo (and my boy Ryuji ‘Bon’ Suguro from Blue Exorcist).

So, yeah, if you want a story with not a lot at stake but still tremendous fun, try Elegant Yokai Aparment Life / Youkai Apato no Yuuga na Nichijou. There is a link to MangaReader in the first paragraph or Crunchyroll, if you prefer to watch.

My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia (Vols. 2 – 8) by Kohei Horikoshi

I’m nearly caught up with the all the tankōbon published in English so far.  Volume 8 of My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia takes us through “Chapter 71: Kota.”  If you’re a super-fan, MangaFreak has all the scanlated chapters up to chapter 153.

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I’m still trying to decide if I’m enough of a super-fan, myself to want to catch up to the “live-stream,” as it were.  I have been very burned by getting that invested in a weekly manga (and its fandom). To add to that, My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia is a Weekly Shounen Jump (WSJ) product, just like Bleach and Naruto, which both ended abruptly and so, so very badly.

I’m not sure that I trust the editorial staff at WSJ to understand *why* their product is successful and to cultivate and lead their mangaka to explore the important bits.

I mean, there’s an obvious canon ship in My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia.  If the numbers drop, are the editors going to be like, “Whelp, that’s a wrap, Hokikoshi-sensei.  Just slam Modoriya and Uraraka together, give ’em a couple of babies,  chop off Modoriya’s hair so he looks like crap, destroy any power Uraraka had on her own beyond being a breeding female, and call it the end, okay??!!”

Not that I’m bitter.

But, you can’t deny, it’s a WSJ trend.

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A lot happens in Volumes 2 – 8.  We get the sports area competition (and Todoroki Shoto’s tragic—seriously tragic–backstory,) the heroes choosing their names (very glad that Midoriya went with “Deku”), the injury of Iida Tenya’s onii-chan, and so, so much more including an internship for Midoriya in which he finally gets a better sense of how to control All For One.

Speaking of the transferable quirk, we also discover that there is an opposing quirk out there called One For All, and that maybe the origin story of the super-quirk is not entirely wholesome.

As I allude to above, there is also the introduction of the Hero Killer villain and his intriguing philosophy…. which was kind of a turning point for me.

Mason saw me reading these further volumes and he asked me what I thought of everything so far.  At the time, I was reading volume 4, and I still wasn’t sure.

As long-time readers of my reviews know, I’m a hard sell.  Comedy is hard for me, but also I really like my stories to have some… meat, some substance.  Barring that, I want a sense of the edges of the world, the places where dystopia and disaffection lurk.  I like action-action-action, but I can get bored of that if there’s nothing more there.  I managed to drop out of Assassination Classroom after having read a ton–almost 11 volumes? So, yeah, I need a strong hook–for me, I especially want a kind of dark hook, something that tells me that the mangaka has created something that could be thought about deeply, in a real-world context.

With the introduction of the Hero Killer, we’re getting somewhere.

And, more importantly, WSJ seems to recognize the interesting bits of this darker side, too.  They’re currently running a spin-off to this manga called, Vigilante: Boku no Hero Academia Illegals. I just started reading that, and might have a review of that up separately.  (I promise I will get back to yaoi, but my heart is shounen, so bear with me.)  This seems to follow people who don’t fit into the hero mode, who still want to do good, but because of the laws of society, they’re illegal–criminals.

Heroic bad guys.

Okay, you’re interesting me, WSJ.

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The other thing that intrigued me in the main story and got me thinking I may have found something deeper is that the heroes of the universe of My Hero Academia get very worried when clips of Hero Killer’s speeches get out.  His point?  The world is overrun by heroes.  All these quirks mean that no one is really special.  You don’t actually have to be heroic to be a hero.  In fact, as we see in the internship arc, some heroes spend their time selling products on TV.

Hero Killer HATES that sh*t.

Plus, and he doesn’t talk about this explicitly, but his quirk has made him physically deformed.  A lot of people don’t get the good quirks.  There’s a lot to find problematic about this quirk-filled world.

So we’re starting to ask the question that has been on the opposite side of of hero, Midoriya’s journey.  His question has always been: what makes a hero?  Like Captain America in the Marvel comic universe, his answer is pure.  It’s your heart.  Quirk or not, being a hero should mean “doing the right thing, even when that’s the hardest thing.”

Now, we’re starting to ask, “What makes a villain?”

In fact,  in these volumes, there have been some serious questions about the hearts of some of our colleagues at UA.  When Hero Killer takes out Iida Tenya’s older brother, paralyzing him, Iida starts to walk down the path of revenge.  Similarly, we see the instructor, Eraserhead, keeping a shadowy watch on Bakugo Katsuki since he is still so consumed by his hatred of Midoriya (he makes them work together on the final exam–which KIND OF works, except he’s still so angry.)

However, the implication of his concern over Bakugo appears to be that UA may have produced villains in the past, and they’re keeping an eye out for villainous behavior–which, of course, FASCINATES me.

So, I mean, this one has got a lot of what I love.  A LOT.

I will certainly follow the volumes as they come out. The only question is… how much further will I fall into it?

My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia (Vol. 1) by Kōhei Horikoshi

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When my son saw that I was reading this, he asked me how I liked it. When I told him I was enjoying it so far, he gave me a funny, vaguely skeptical look.  “Really?” he said, “Because I know how you are with things that are popular.”

Ouch.  But, I can’t really argue there.

I do, however, often have a weakness for superhero stories.

Plus, I learned my lesson from One-Punch Man.  This looked like it might have a lot of humor and parody, so I watched two episodes of the anime of My Hero Academia before delving into this tankōbon.

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The story takes place in a world, like Tiger & Bunny, where superpowers are commonplace.  It’s so common to have a “quirk,” in fact, that the fact that our hero  Izuku “Deku” Midoriya  was born without one makes him stand out.

This being shounen, not having any power whatsoever and being a total weakling doesn’t stop Midoriya from wanting to be a hero, though.  In fact, he’s kind of a hero fanboy, a hero otaku, he’s so desperate to be one.  He’s been keeping notes on all the heroes and their powers since forever. Despite knowing there should be no way in, Midoriya strives to get into the elite hero school, U.A.

This devotion to what seems to be a lost cause annoys his arrogant friend, Katsuki Bakugo.  Bakugo got his quirk at the usual time. He also lucked out and actually pulled a cool one (as opposed to randomly sprouting a tail) where he can make energy blasts from the sweat on his palms.  He’s sort of a natural brawler, so this suits his temperament, which is… well, temperamental.  Bakugo is kind of a classic red oni, heavy on the oni.

It’s Bakugo that gives Midoriya his nickname “Deku,” which comes from a reading of the characters of Midoriya’s name which can mean a ‘scrub,’ as in someone who isn’t skilled.

The relationship between these two middle school friends/rivals is the core of the first volume of My Hero Academia /Boku no Hero Academia (and the first couple of episodes of the anime), because Midoriya manages to pass the entrance exam to U.A., despite being “quirkless.”

I have to admit that when I first heard about this set-up, i.e. someone with no superpowers in a superhero school, I was hoping that what this meant was that Midoriya had no powers whatsoever.  I figured the whole gimmick would be that he was basically Batman, a really smart guy who could hold his own against Superman because he’s just that brilliant/devious/clever.

That’s not actually what’s happening in My Hero Academia.

It sort of is, but as it turns out, there’s an aging superhero known as All-Might who is in need of a ‘vessel.’ He has an extremely rare quirk called “All For One” that can be passed down from generation to generation.  He’s never found anyone worthy, even though a crippling injury from a fight against a super-villain has necessitated that he speed up the process of finding an apprentice.

After seeing Midoriya run towards danger when Bakugo is being attacked, All-Might figures he’s found his vessel.  The only problem is that Midoriya isn’t transformed by this gift. He’s still a ninety-eight pound weakling, and any time he uses the “All For One” power it nearly kills him.

But, it is enough for him to gain entry into the elite academy and his journey towards becoming a hero begins.

I should note that the story structure varies wildly between the manga and the anime.

The anime starts* with Midoriya already in the Academy, squaring off in a training session with his frenemy Bakugo.  Some of the other main characters are introduced in situ: Ochako Ururaka (float girl) is Midoriya’s partner in the exercise and the serious, bespectacled Tenya Ida (speedy) is Bakugo’s.  All-Might is already an instructor and is, in fact, sort of presented as the headmaster (not as the brand-new teacher starting the same year a Midoriya, as he is in the manga). The backstory comes as flashbacks in between all the action.

The manga is a much slower build.

In the manga, the reader is introduced to the world of the quirks, like, literally from their beginning in “Keikei City, China.” Then the story jumps to when Midoriya and Bakugo are still in middle school, and they stay in middle school throughout most of the chapters collected in the first tankōbon (1-7).  We also get the adoption/apprenticeship/training of Midoriya by All-Might (the discovery of his secret, etc.) in “real time,” as well.

In fact, the volume ends on orientation day at U.A. We meet Eraserhead and have a few tests that Midoriya naturally fails miserably. Then, All-Might introduces the idea that there will be battle in the next class (and we see the characters finally dressed as we first see them in the first episode of the anime.)  In the manga, there is also the hint that a mysterious group of villains in on the move, targeting All-Might.

I’m not sure how I would have reacted to this with just the manga, honestly.

The first two episodes of My Hero Academia are very compelling. Bakugo is presented in his full raging a$$holery bada$$ness, but we immediately see how torn up he is by his defeat at Midoriya’s hands in the training exercise in a way that makes him much more immediately sympathetic than his middle school bully persona.  Getting his arrogance in small doses via the flashbacks made me think of him as tortured and broken, rather than just a completely horrible human being.

The manga also breaks the fourth wall regularly in order to point out how “differently All-Might is drawn” from the rest of the cast.  (He is, in fact, always more heavily-shaded.)

There aren’t exactly overt panty-shot type fan-service moments, but the costume of Mt. Lady hugs her butt pretty darned closely, and she’s almost ALWAYS seen in a provocative, slightly bent over, butt-centered pose.

Mason may have had a point.  I could see myself having bounced out of this manga pretty easily if I had not first had the backbone of the story introduced to me via the anime.

Thus, my recommendation to anyone new to My Hero Academia (if such a thing still exists?) would be to follow my lead. Either just watch the whole anime, or start with a few episodes before picking up the manga. Midoriya is a very compelling character if you like the shounen trope of the guy who fights his way to the top by sheer force of will… and I do.  A LOT.

So, I’m definitely going to stick with this.

I just finished watching the 25 episode season of Pandora’s Heart’s anime, and so I think I will put the two seasons of My Hero Academia into rotation.  When I go into work today, I’m going to see if I can pick up the next several volumes of the manga.

I mean, what the heck. I can like something popular now-and-again, can’t I?

 


Edited to add:  * I am apparently a moron and started watching episode one, season TWO. So, my bad. Too bad that’s not how the anime starts, though, because it totally hooked me!

 

Ao no Exorcist (chapters 90-93) by Katou Kazue

After a fairly long hiatus, new chapters of Ao no Exorcist / Blue Exorcist are now out. In the way of Katou-sensei, there is a bunch of fun fluff and a serious continuation of the plot.

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First, the fluff. Ryuji ‘Bon’ Suguro and company return home for a New Year’s wedding.

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Mom’s first reaction??  My baby has stopped dying his hair!  (She’s so happy).

We find out that grey-haired Miwa has a girlfriend back home (sort of, it’s more she has a crush on him, and has done since forever,) who is pink-hair traitor Shima‘s youngest sister. Shima has, in point of fact, a gigantic family. So many that I can’t entirely keep track of everyone–not that it entirely matters.

There is mochi shaping and Yukio is his usual grim, too-serious self, which puts Rin to mind of their last big fight, which was over Yukio’s desire to know why they were born. Meanwhile, while everyone is eating and drinking, Bon sneaks off to check-in with Lewin Light.

Immediately after getting off the phone with Bon, Light jumps up and heads out to do some mischief.

Yukio confronts Bon about what he’s doing, and Bon puts him off. Sitting outside in the cold is pink-haired Shima who is thinking back to having been ‘marked with slyph bell.’ He’s upset because he ‘can’t go back like that’ (presumably to the Illuminati? I can’t actually remember who marked him or why).  Shima asks the demon in his staff, Yamantaka, if he can help.

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That’d be a big, ol’ nope.

Yamantaka, having been released, is spoiling for a fight. Being his usual, lazy self, Shima is not up for it.  Miwa comes out of the toilet and is surprised to see Yamantaka in release since he hadn’t been aware that Shima could control his staff’s demon yet.  They have a heart-to-heart about which one of them is luckier.  The doofus brother of Shima, Kinzo, breaks up this love fest to announce that the bachelor party is going to be a drunken staff battle.  Yamantaka is happy about this, pink-hair is not.

On New Year’s eve everyone heads, like you do, to the shrine to hear the bells toll.  Doofus Brother Kinzo is apparently in charge of the party and can’t seem to remember anyone’s name. I only bring this up because I kind of adore Kinzo’s nickname for plant-girl Shiemi, “Shiroomie” (which, of course, sounds like ‘shroom), and Rin, “Satan-boy,” which is nicely straight-forward IMHO.

The two separated ones, Rin and Shiemi, end up also having a heart-to-heart.  Rin starts out just reflecting on the year and ends up on what’s been plaguing him: WTF is up with Yukio:

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Nothing comes of this confession because they’re found by Kinzo, and then we flash to New Year’s Day and the big wedding, which takes up most of the next chapter.

The next chapter starts with Bon helping his dad get ready to officiate the wedding. There is some nice father-son bonding in which Bon’s dad tells him how proud he is that Bon has apprenticed himself to a big shot like Light.  Bon’s a little leery about accepting that praise and starts to ask his dad about Rin and Yukio’s foster dad, Father Shiro Fujimoto.

ONCE AGAIN, someone interrupts this conversation just as it’s getting interesting.  Gozo (another one of Shima’s onii-chan) takes over for Bon and they discuss some ongoing investigation into summoning a demon that has possessed someone else, which has been a bust. Dad suggests that they could exorcise the demon Karura from someone named Todo (which the wiki reminds me is the guy who had run off with the left eye of the Impure King) and then re-summon it, but that’s a no-go because if a demon and their host become too closely bonded, the demon could be injured.

Then it’s off to the marriage, where Bon and Yukio are seated next to each other. Yukio asks directly if Bon is sniffing for info on Father Fujimoto. Yukio knows about the visit to his home and the death of the monk that happened there.

At this point we switch to somewhere in Romania, where Light is getting up to his funny business. He approaches this ridiculous-looking guy…

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…with the equally ridiculous name of Drac Dragulesc. Light, then, proceeds to wish him a Happy New Year, and punch him in the face. Light calls up his little ‘and so on’ demon fairy and accuses Dragulesc of being associated with the Illuminati. Dragulesc tells Light he’s insane (likely) and that there’s no way he could be in the Illuminati because he took the contract of Morinath.  Light, being Light, is all, ‘yeah, how is that even possible? That’s the mystery I need to solve.’  Light then explains that he’s already made up his mind and what he needs is proof, so he’s going to torture Dragulesc until he gets the confession he wants. Turns out, Light is also known in the Order as ‘The Torturer.’

Not what I would call a surprise reveal there.

And if we needed reminding, we flash back to Yukio who gives Bon a hard look and says, “You wouldn’t get involved in something like THAT, would you?”  Of course, this pains Bon deeply, but he’s sworn to secrecy so he says he can’t say anything about an on-going investigation. Yukio backs off fast, almost creepily so, and then they’re saved from further awkwardness by the arrival of everyone else and the start of the wedding.

During the reception, Bon gets a call from Light asking him to hurry up and translate some documents. Overhearing this, Yukio puts a gun to Bon’s head and demands answers to how he and Rin were born.

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Bon says, “Are you really going to shoot me?” and that causes whatever is possessing Yukio to fade away and he’s all like, “Oops, ha. ha. my bad. Forget this happened, k?” Bon is having none of this and grabs him by the shoulder demanding to know what’s happened, why he’s acting like this. Yukio goes all cold again and tells him to let him go, as an order, from his superior.  Bon is such a good guy, he follows orders, and lets him go.

In the hallway, Shima confronts Yukio by saying, “Watch yourself. I told you to get ADVICE, not threaten.”

Yukio gets all existential about this and is like: how does advice help when we’re all such different people? Then he gets a call from Sword-Boob lady Shura to “turn on the TV.” Apparently, demons don’t take New Year’s holidays and they’re popping up all over various cities, and more and more people are able to see them. Everyone rushes off… well, everyone with a ‘key’–which is Yukio and Shima. (The hilarious stuff is that when Shima leaves, he says, ‘hey, us spies have keys too! Bye!’ and Bon is all, ‘and we have to let him go…’)  On the train back, Bon is working on the translation that Light sent him and decides to tell Rin that they need to talk.

Boob-Lady is fighting a cyclops-demon and gets her butt handed to her because she doesn’t have her magical sword any more, not really. Light shows up and infuses her sword with ice-powers and they are able to defeat the monster. But, it’s broken some seal or other that has let loose even more demon-y things.

Light then has this fun interaction with Yukio:

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Not cool, dude.

Yukio is surprised Bon has tattled on him so quickly, to which Light is like, “Well, he wanted permission to tell you about our investigation, but, of course, I told him no.”  Light asks, ‘So what is it you want to know so badly?’ Yukio won’t say, so he counters with, “If you won’t say, neither will I.”  They trade some insults after that and Yukio storms off. Light watches him go, saying, “Ryuji [Bon] is a good boy. But you can only help someone who wants help” and it’s clear Yukio doesn’t want help.

This does seem to be pretty true. Honestly, if Yukio had answered Light, he might have told him something. Although, Light is slippery af, so who knows what he might have actually done?

Then we find out–are reminded?–that it was Light that put the bell spell on Shima (who was watching from behind a tree) and Shima begs him to remove it.  He says he will,  but only for a price.

Suddenly, this bada$$ arrives:

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And arrests Light.  He resists them long enough to lean in and whisper a password to Yukio (I Love Sushi 1047Aaa). Bon shows up in time to see his master hauled off, and gets the “hey, so, I might not be around for awhile, but finish the report, k?”

Later, Yukio finds a flash drive and realizes that Light slipped it to him.  The chapter ends with Yukio opening up some files.

The next chapter starts with a flashback to Yukio asking Father Fujimoto why Sir Pheles lets them live, Fujimoto says he can’t tell him right now but he will, when the time comes. Yukio is thinking the time is now when he opens up the Section 13 files.  Yukio is called out to rejoin the fight and thinks about what he’s learned. He tells us he hasn’t learned much about his mother or Satan, but what he has figure out is that the Knights of the True Cross are as bad as the Illuminati.

Yukio is so upset he starts to fight recklessly and is sent home. Only, he doesn’t want to go home.  He ends up at Plant Girl Shiemi’s shop. Standing there, he has a memory of confronting his foster dad about why Boob-Sword Lady is overseeing them. Yukio has heard that she’s forging Rin into a weapon.  On that night he ended up running away to the garden shop, and now he’s found himself at the same door craving Plant Girl’s company again.  He’s headed to the door when he spies Shiemi coming in at the same time.  She offers tea and company.

They chat a bit and, when Shiemi asks him what’s wrong, he confesses that he feels all alone:

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Which is his usual bullish*t, actually, and Shiemi tries to tell him he’s not, that he has her… and Rin. Saying that last bit sets Yukio off and he lashes out at her.

Having pushed her freaks him out (as it should) and he decides that all his inner turmoil is just hurting everyone around him, so he might as well end it all.

And he shoots himself in the head.

His glasses fly off and we hear a demonic voice calling him weak, while his eyes light up with blue fire. Yukio identifies the demonic voice as Satan.  Shima shows up and says, “You’re finally getting the right look in your eye.”

Which… makes me uncomfortable, because I’m thinking, maybe Rin failed as a weapon, and you’re take 2, Yukio.

Then we get a random break in the action to where Mephisto is on TV as Johann Faust (which is of course a reference to the legend of Faust who famously sells his soul to Mephistopheles) and is coming out to the world as a Knight of the True Cross and explaining the Order’s mission.

Bon, meanwhile, has decoded the file Light sent him.  As he’s figuring out how to get the document to the Vatican, he runs into Rin. He tells him he wasn’t sure he should, but he’s going to tell him something critical about Yukio.  That’s when Shiemi bursts in, in tears, saying that something has happened to Yukio.

I have a very bad feeling we’re getting to the end of something BIG.  I’m concerned that Satan has found his vessel and it’s not going to be Rin, after all, but Yukio, and Rin’s desire to “kill” Satan may involve murdering his own brother.

I do not see how this is going to go well.

But, I have a lot of trust in Katou-sensei’s storytelling ability, and this manga has been so shounen up to this point that I don’t *think* it’s going to end as a complete tragedy.  (Hopefully, I’m right about that.)

Anyone else reading this? Care to comment?

Pandora’s Heart (vols. 1 – 24) by Jun Mochizuki

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I’ve been absent from reviews for a while because I was reading… I read all 24 volumes of Pandora Hearts.  What is Pandora Hearts…?  Well, I described it thusly, when I was only a couple of volumes into it: “Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki is about… huh, how do I describe this thing? There’s a rich/tragic little lordling named Oz, who gets caught up in a supernatural adventure, probably because he’s the key to some mystery involving “the Abyss,” and ends up in a contract with a devil.”

I’d say that’s fair. At least as an introduction…

SPOILERS

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…now, for the rest of it.

I kind of liked the beginning of this series.  The set-up is neat. After being tossed into the Abyss for the crime of “being born,” Oz ends up making an ‘illegal’ contract with Alice, a “chain.” Chains are basically Abyss demons with superpowers. Alice uses the power of B. Rabbit (a giant, scary, scythe welding black rabbit) to spit them back into the Human World… only the Abyss is a little like fairyland. For you, you might think you spent ten minutes in the Abyss, but years might pass in the Human World.  So, Oz is actually reunited with his valet, only to discover that Gil has gone from being a wimpy little kid to  a grown-up, gun-totting hottie.

Gil has also joined a secret demon hunting society called Pandora.  Oz and Alice get roped into helping hunt down various paranormal criminals–mostly other people with illegal contracts.  Why exactly anyone needs to hunt very hard is a little iffy, since they all have this giant tattoo on their chests, counting down the time left on the contract, until they and their Chain are dragged down to the deepest pits of the Abyss.  Problem kind of solves itself, no? Well, I mean, I guess the point of stopping them early is because most Chains seem hellbent on destruction, murder, and mayhem.

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Ostensibly the trio is also searching for Alice’s memories, which got shredded at some point.

But, not one of them remembers anything, really.

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What am I forgetting?  Oh, right…. LITERALLY EVERYTHING!

In fact, they’ve–all three of them–forgotten major sh*t. REALLY, INCREDIBLY MAJOR SH*T.

And the characters who have been around for a couple of hundred years, who later seem to have been damn well aware of a good portion of this major sh*t, conveniently chose not to say anything more than a few coy, existential hints.  “Where are you, Oz?” (Where is he? That’s what you’re gonna ask, Xerxes Break??  HOW ABOUT WHAT THE F*CK EVEN ARE YOU, OZ??)

A lot of the mysteries are cloaked in a veneer of tragedy.  Why does Oz’s father despise him so much, when clearly little Oz just needs a cuddle?  Is Gil’s brother, Vincent, a rape-y sociopath or just in desperate need of a hug? Why does Alice understand loneliness so well (would bite-y kisses help)? What is the mystery of the eternally reincarnating Jack and Glen, could all this immortal animosity just be hugged out???!!?  HOW ABOUT A TEA PARTY? I HEAR TEA PARTIES HELP!

Look, I’m an a$$hole, okay? I just never really warmed to any of the characters, despite my extremely determined efforts. This came highly recommended; it’s extremely well-received on Goodreads. Clearly, I am a heartless anomaly with zero taste in manga.

In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out what is wrong with me. All day, since I finished this, I’ve been wondering why I had such a profound ‘meh’ reaction to so much of Pandora Hearts.

I mean, I was certainly engaged enough to keep reading volume after volume after volume.

So what happened?

I do know that I suffered a bit of attachment disorder. The lives of fated-for-great-things aristocrats does nothing for me. The only poor person in this entire series turns out to be the Big Bad–a really twisted Stalker-y Non-Love Masquerading as Love-Becomes-World-Ending-Obsession kind of Big Bad. Even the devoted servants turn out to be Lost Princes with a Special Destiny–both of them. That’s just a tough sell for me, personally.  Everyone looks lovely dripping in jewels, but, for reasons entirely my own, I’m just not there for them.

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Except this guy. If only he hadn’t been so, so STRAIGHT…. *sigh*

I ended up semi-attached to Gil (gun-toting hottie manservant, which is good because he’s kind of a surrogate main character), but, ultimately, I find servant/master devotion that goes beyond the grave to be… not something I can relate to?

This is where I started to wonder if I was just not enough of a Romantic (yes, I capitalized that intentionally,) for this series, because normally, as a hardcore shounen fan, I’m all about the Precious Friends Forever.

And, these guys have GREAT hair.

Seriously good hair.

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That braid goes past his butt, friends! 

I will say, too, in the plus column, that I feel that Mochizuki-sensei is a good writer, in that, for the most part, all the big reveals were well foreshadowed. I didn’t get the sense that she was scrambling for an ending or dropping outlandish plot twists just for the shock value or to make the sales numbers climb.

The plot was convoluted af (especially the stuff around the Intention of the Abyss), but it all felt earned, if that makes sense.

This did NOT suck. Nowhere near.  I just… didn’t love it.  Which, it maybe ironic, given how important love is to the plot.

I think, ultimately, it just wasn’t my cup of tea despite all the apparently delicious cups of tea contained therein.

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Would I recommend it to you?

Actually? I would.

I suspect my problem with rich characters is some kind of pathology, and that the majority of manga readers / human beings out there do not share it.  I just never had princess fantasies as a girl. Nor did I want to be the prince. The one I wanted to be was the rough-and-tumble rogue: Han Solo, all the way, baby!   This story lacks Han Solos. That’s not the mangaka’s fault, she wanted all the princes.  That’s not a matter of good vs. bad; that’s a matter of taste.  (And there’s no accounting for taste. I like rough-and-tumble so much that I watched that whole Girl vs. Boy anime and secretly enjoyed every minute of it.)

Thing is, I can acknowledge that this did not suit my tastes, but it was still a fine story.

Pandora Hearts has interesting characters and ends well (which is more than I can say for my once-beloved Bleach).

Haikyu!! (Vols. 1 & 2) by Haruichi Furudate

This is another anime that I love that I decided to read a manga.

Cover image of Haikyu!! Volume 1

Sports is not a thing that usually gives me Feels.

In Real Life ™, I tend to find sports very boring. I would rather watch grass grow or paint dry than sit though football or soccer or baseball (live or on TV).  Plus, sports kind of traumatize me, generally. I was a nerd all through high school. Participation in gym was required and so I suffered through it. Gym was always the one class this A-student was perpetually on the verge of failing.  I always the worst at everything, always picked the very, very last because absolutely no one wanted me on their team.  When Calvin of “Calvin & Hobbes” described gym class as “state-sponsored terrorism,” I felt a deep kinship.

Thus, it shocks me how much I love this manga.

SPOILERS

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I should definitely hate Hinata, Haikyu!!‘s main character.  Often described as freakishly athletic, he’s nothing like me–well, outside of being short, but his character profile puts him at 5’4″ which is two inches taller than I am. He’s the kind of jock for whom the sport is LIFE.

But, Hinata is SUCH a shounen hero, I can’t help but love him.

Hinata is spellbound after catching a glimpse of a high school player called “The Tiny Giant” in passing on a TV in the window of an electronics shop. After that point, he pursues his goal relentlessly. Very shounen.

Hinata is so shounen, he’s even prone to giving in-game speeches to rally his teammates like this: “Listen, the most important thing to remember about volleyball is that EVERYBODY on this side of the net is your ally. NO EXCEPTIONS!”  Which, because Hinata isn’t actually that smart, is literally something he’d been told by one of the upperclassman not five minutes ago. But, that’s the thing about Hinata: if you tell him a thing, he BECOMES it.

Like a good shounen hero, Hinata (or the entire team) will also get power-ups as needed during critical moments during a game.  When Mason and I were first watching this anime, Mason mocked the heck out of this trope.  He was actually almost a little turned off by how over-the-top some of this shounen stuff gets.  Me? I ate it up!

Plus, look at these action shots!

Interior panel: Haikyu!!

 

Aitsu! (That guy!) Am I right?

But, what I love about Hinata is that, outside of these natural bursts of athleticism, he’s not actually very good at the game. He doesn’t really even understand all the rules, and certainly doesn’t have any sense of strategies.  Hinata has mostly been practicing on his own, because no one in middle school was as into volleyball as he was.

A classic rivalry is set up when Hinata manages to get enough of a team together to play in a middle school tournament.  It’s a disaster.  Especially since they’re up against the team who has a naturally gifted “setter,” Kageyama.  Kageyama has the nickname “King of the Court,” but for all the wrong reasons. It should mean that he’s the star, but his teammates all see him as a greedy tyrant who wants everything done his way. Even so, Kageyama’s team wipe the floor with Hinata’s.

Hinata vows to get better, because all he wants is to spend time in the game!

Of course, when high school rolls around, Hinata and Kageyama find themselves as teammates.  A good portion of the first volume is them figuring out how to be allies, instead of enemies.

Can I admit something?

I’m enough of a sap that when we learn Kageyama’s origin story (basically he became such a tyrant that no one was there when he set up the ball) and Hinata vows to ALWAYS BE THERE, I might have teared up a little bit.

What?

Look, I sign up for shounen because this is what I want. I want people fighting together, for each other, and giving it their all, and making vows to ALWAYS BE THERE, and Haikyu!! might be a little over-the-top melodramatic in its shounen-ness but that’s LITERALLY what I want from shounen.

Bring it!