Futari no Renai Shoka / Our Romance Bookshelf by Yamakazi Kore

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I found Futari no Renai Shoka / My Romance Bookshelf by hitting the “surprise me” button at Mangareader.  Normally, I’m not much for straight people romances, but this one was cute (and complete in two volumes.)

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The premise is pretty straight-forward. Kanako and Akio are two book nerds that fall in love.

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The complication is that when they meet and Kanako blurts our “marry me!” she’s a college graduate and he’s in middle school.

I’d be more squicked about the age-gap, only he’s not drawn like a middle schooler and, perhaps more importantly, Kanako is only partly serious when she says it.  Akio has eidetic memory and can repeat full passages from books he’s read. When he recites one of Kanako’s favorites, she has the same moment I had when it was revealed in Dream Daddy that Damien had Naruto fan fiction in his library. I turned to my son and said, “I’m sorry, I have to marry this man.”

A lot of the rest of this manga is occupied with the question of how people are like books, and, particularly, the thought: sometimes you just like what you like.

There are some weird familial issues, too. Akio moves in with Kanako while still a high schooler, which he’s able to do because he’s that manga/anime phenomenon of the abandoned child of business workers, who just left town for a better job and abandoned their adolescent at home alone, sending the occasional packet of money home. (I just tried to do some Googling on this, and it does not seem to be a Real Thing, or is at least certainly not as prevalent as it is in anime and manga. If you have a source that proves me otherwise, PLEASE link me. I’d love to know more about this, if it’s a Done Thing in Real Life ™. )  Kanako, meanwhile, has a father who stopped caring for her after her mother died because “all his love was used up.”

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A lot of that is resolved by the end of the second volume, except Kanako’s parents. They’re just gone.

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But, beyond being baffled by some people’s (realistic?) lack of compassion, I enjoyed this manga and you might too.  It is, you could say, a ‘book’ you could curl up with while warming yourself under your comforters/kotatsu.

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My Neighbor Seki / Tonari no Seki-kun (Vol. 1) by Morishige Takuma

I actually picked up all nine volumes of My Neighbor Seki /Tonari no Seki-kun that my library had in hopes of having a manga to last me over winter break. It should have been right up my alley being a light, slice-of-life, low drama sort of story.  That’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been craving lately.

Alas.

I stopped reading this one after about a volume and a half, because the gag seemed repetitive.

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The story is about a middle grade girl, Rumi, and her desk neighbor, Seki. Seki brings toys to school and plays imaginative games with them that Rumi gets emotionally invested in… to the point that SHE’S the one who gets in trouble for goofing off, not him.

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This seems to be a never-ending gag.  I could have read the remaining eight volumes that I’d checked out of the library, but I just didn’t trust that the story would ever move beyond this. TBF, normally, I don’t need it to.

If this turns awesome a few more chapters in, let me know. I can always check it out again. But, this time, for whatever reason, I was just much less willing to push forward on my own.

As long-time readers of MangaKast know, I’m a really hard sell on certain types of broad humor–in manga (often the exact same stuff will work just fine for me in anime.) Luckily, there is an anime for this manga: Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time, which is available on Crunchyroll (linked above.)

I haven’t tried it out yet, but I will put it in my ever-expanding queue.  I mean, I went from feeling “meh” about One-Punch Man to absolutely loving it, so just because I bounced out of the manga, doesn’t mean I won’t love My Neighbor Seki / Tonari no Seki-kun in a different format.

Renai Game by Chidori Peko

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Once again, I discovered that this set of chapters, “Cinderella and the Shoemaker” (Act 1, 2 and extra,) have actually been hived off from its original volume and is presented as a stand-alone.  But, I read them this way, and the other chapters follow separate characters, so…. I’ll just review this as it is (though, it will be tagged by the volume’s title.)

Oh! And, Happy New Year, to you all!

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The story is basically as advertised: a very loose retelling of “Cinderella.”

I mean, okay, if there’s no fancy dress ball, no actual prince, nor a fairy godmother…. yeah, no, actually, it’s just a guy whose name is an apparent homonym to the Chinese Cinderella, Kaji, who ends up falling for a guy whose name is basically prince (Mao).  Oh, though there *is* a scene where Kaji runs off without his shoes.

In this version, however, Mao has MADE the perfect pair to fit, because he’s a slutty shoemaker that Kaji initially tried to apprentice to.

Mao didn’t really want to take on an apprentice–he’s never taught anyone before–and so when Kaji shows up and begs him to teach him his magical shoemaking ways and says, “I’ll do ANYTHING,” Mao decides to have a little fun.  Only, this isn’t the rape-y version, so Mao just has him dress in an apron and make food.  Hot?

I’ll let you decide:

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Well?

It’s ok-ay for me, personally, but, this was a cute enough diversion for a few minutes.

In case you’re wondering, also unlike the Cinderella story, Mao does eventually decide to go for it when Kaji turns 20, so there is some explicit stuff in the second chapter.  More sweet than hot, but, as I say, pleasant enough, should this sound fun to you.

Ja mata!

What Did You Eat Yesterday?/ Kinou Nani Tabeta? (Vol. 12) by Fumi Yoshinaga

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I’ve been known complain about how Yosihnaga-sensei makes her gay protagonists (in everything, but in What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? especially) seem vaguely unhappy, like they’ve settled for something not quite perfect.  In the past, I’ve felt like, even though she might be going for “realism,” the Unhappy Gay Guy is such a hurtful stereotype that I’m angry that her sense of ‘real’ doesn’t accurately reflect my life.

Until Volume 12.

There’s a chapter in volume 12 (#95) that so perfectly encapsulates my life with my wife that I had to read it to her.

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Before I get into that scarily accurate chapter, I have to take a moment to appreciate this ridiculously awesome cover for volume 12.

Here we have Kenji and Shiro walking seriously out of a lined black background, dressed to the nines, looking like they could be yakuza hit men or something.  All around them are the titles of the recipes found within:  “apple muffins,” “sukiyaki,” “stir-fried chicken and turnips,” and “red squid, natty, and avocado rice bowl.”

I dunno. Something about the juxtaposition of this serious, stylish look and the recipes made me smile.

If you’ve never read What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? before, the thing you have to know about this slice-of-life manga is that it’s basically an illustrated cookbook with tiny–and I mean, minuscule–bits of plot threaded through very detailed recipes. I categorize it as yaoi, because the main characters are gay and because Yoshinaga-sensei is known for her yaoi/shounen ai. (It apparently debuted in a seinen magazine aimed at adult men: Weekly Morning. So maybe it should be categorized as seinen?)

Despite the fact that it’s mostly recipes, there are a couple of great character moments in volume 12.  One thing I will forever love Yoshinaga-sensei for is that she very much prefers to write about older men.  The heroes of What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? are in their 40s.  They even joke about how this is why their lives just aren’t that dramatic.  At one point, Shiro gets hit on by a friend of theirs.  It’s a really light pass–hand holding and a serious stare–but it’s not nothing.  He gets super flustered (and flattered) by it, but turns it down with a gentle laugh.  Fondly, he thinks, “Ah, if that had happened ten years ago, who knows what might have happened.”

That’s What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? in a nutshell, folks.

And, if the next chapter hadn’t been my life, I probably would be complaining right now about how it’s deeply unfair to so broad-strokes categorize older gay people as sexless and done having adventures and extra-(non-)marital affairs.  But, yeah, so comes chapter  #95.

Our couple have time off together for O-Bon. They’ve slept in, Shiro has made breakfast, and Kenji is trying to get Shiro out of the house to enjoy the day.  Shiro jumps up and is like, “Oh! The shops will all be closed. We have to get groceries for the week.”

I swear to god(s), I married this man.  And, just like my wife, when they get home from this huge shopping trip, Shiro is like, “Right! Let’s do some of that cleaning we usually neglect! I’ll clean the vents. You do the curtains!”

Did Yoshinaga-sensei peek in my window and just copy my life???

I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking, “What? This isn’t cute. Why did Lyda marry someone so… anal?”  Trust me that I’m over here smiling a huge smile.  (Case and point? My wife just said, “Okay, here’s your list” talking about the shopping I need to do today, so that we can spend the day baking.  I LIVE IN THIS MANGA.)

Except I’m not a hairstylist.

Or a dude.

Otherwise, this is my life.  The gay agenda: cooking and cleaning and shopping.

I Hear the Sunspot / Hidamari ga Kikoeru by Yuki Fumino

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Once again, I had a boring shift at the library and, thus, I discovered the first volume of  Hidamari ga Kikoeru / I Hear the Sunspots on the ‘new arrivals’ shelf.

Hidamari ga Kikoeru / I Hear the Sunspots the story of a college-age young man, Kohei, who is hearing impaired and the relationship he forms with loud-mouthed, bombastic, red oni, Taichi, who randomly agrees to be his note-taker in class.

I loved this so much I ran off to Baka-Updates to see if this title is being scanlated, (it is!,) and then I read everything available on Mangago in one sitting.

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Characters like Taichi give me hope.

Kohei likes him immediately because he’s so loud, he can be easily understood.  I mean, there’s this stereotype about the Japanese, right? That they’re all quiet and shy and well-behaved, but there’s almost always someone in manga like this–like me–who is clumsy, loud, vaguely-inappropriate, YET SOMEHOW LOVABLE.

A red oni.

So, the meet-cute of Hidamari go Kikoeru / I Hear the Sunspot is that Taichi is broke and bemoaning his outcast stake (and empty stomach) when he leans too hard on a weak chain-link fence and tumbles through the underbrush to land on a low roof.  Who should be sitting there eating his bento, but Kohei.  Taichi begs some lunch off Kohei and they part ways, sort of awkwardly since Kohei doesn’t say much.  Later, Taichi discovers that Kohei is hard of hearing and, in fact, looking for someone to act as a note-taker in class for him.

Taichi is kind of a crappy note-taker, but he’s more than willing to do it for free lunch.  Thus, a friendship is formed.

There’s a lot a love about this manga, but I especially love the insights into deaf/hard of hearing culture.  Kohei has never learned sign language, preferring to read lips.  We find out later that the deaf community snubbed him when he first considering learning sign language, because he’s NOT deaf, only hard of hearing.  This divide is particularly painful, because Kohei feels trapped between two worlds. He can’t hear well enough to fit with the hearing population and he’s not deaf enough for the the deaf community.

Along stumbles Taichi, who gives no f*cks in a very emphatic way.  When he finds out that Kohei probably couldn’t follow half of what he’d said, he smacks him on the head an says, “Just ask me to repeat myself!”  He always notices when Kohei checks out because he can’t hear and automatically explains what he’s missed.  He gets upset when people talk around Kohei, knowing he can’t follow very well.

In short, he’s a decent person.  But, as is pointed out again and again, that’s actually kind of a rare trait.  Taichi very much seems to be able to bridge the gap because he can so easily put himself into other’s shoes.  Kohei starts to feel like he belongs somewhere… with someone.

Because I never learn and so did not do my research about this series before I started it, I had NO IDEA that this was a Boys’ Love story. So, the first time Kohei leans in for the kiss, I think I was as shocked as Taichi!  I was like, “Wait, this is That kind of story?”

Then, I was like, “….”

“Yatta!”

Not unlike our hero, Taichi.  It takes him a predictable amount of soul-searching to come around to the idea that he’s into but, but when they finally have their serious love confession, there’s this charming moment:

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I kind of love that Taichi just embraces it. It’s none of that, “am I That way”?  No, it’s more  “OMG, YOU MADE ME SUPER GAY, YOU BASTARD.”

Which is pretty much how I remember coming out.

So, yeah, I love this one. It’s not at all smutty (just a lot of ‘doki-doki’ kissing), but it has everything I want from a slice-of-life romance. There’s even a female character that seems to be being set-up as a romantic rival to Taichi, since she’s hard of hearing, too. But, she ends up just being friends (to both of them) in a way I found much more Real Life ™ than the usual misogynistic portrayals of women in other yaoi/BL titles.

Double-thumbs up on this sweet romance. 10/10 would again.  In fact, I’ll probably be checking back in with this one for updates and/or bugging my library to keep buying the continuing volumes.

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.)

Koi to Kedama to Otonari-san by Suzaka Shina

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I have no idea why this manga was tagged on Baka-Updates with “Alien/s,” as Koi to Kedama to Otonari-san is one of the most domestic, slice-of-life yaoi that I’ve read in a long, long time.

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Our hero, Ichinose, is another ubiquitous salaryman whose main problem is his cool-attitude and ‘resting bitch face.’  His colleagues at work don’t like him.  He’s kind of lonely.

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People confuse him, but cats?  He likes cats. (Cue ‘neko‘ joke?) In flounces next-door neighbor Tsuchiya and his cat, Maru.  Tsuchiya is everything Ichinose is not: personable, self-employed, and SUPER gay.

Their cute-meet involves Maru’s tendency to escape.  Tsuchiya rushes in and scoops up Maru with apologies.  In a moment of courage, Ichinose begs Tsuchiya to let him pet the cat.

It’s love at first sight:

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Clearly a match made in heaven. So, Tsuchiya extends an open-invitation: come over whenever you like to visit the cat.

Thus begins an adorable slow-burn romance.  I think I also love that, during the course of this slow getting-to-know you, Ichinose admits that he had based his initial impression of Tsuchiya on appearances, too–just like the people at the office did to him.

They end up together in a classic way.  Ichinose discovers that Tsuchiya is planning to move.  Turns out, Maru is father to a brood of kittens and, as a responsible pet owner, Tsuchiya wants to take them in off the streets (including the stray “wife” cat), but the apartment he’s currently in only allows for one cat.  There’s also an added complication of Ichinose overhearing one of Tsuchiya’s friends saying, “When are you going to stop pretending to be this guy’s friend?”–which of course is Ichinose’s greatest fear.

They work it out. I won’t spoil how, in case you’re interested in reading this one.

Because I do highly recommend this one. You know how I’m always complaining about how annoyed I am that previously straight men seem to have zero trouble going full on? This manga take its sweet time. Ichinose initially wants to do something nice for Tsuchiya, maybe buy him a nice watch, but he’s not sure if that’s appropriate, so he turns to Google:

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And gets quite the shock by what comes up.

He then spends a huge amount of time trying to figure out HOW THE HELL SOMETHING THAT BIG GOES THERE. 

The whole thing is hilarious and sweet and totally worth the price of admission (which is free, but I would totally pay for the officially licensed tankōbon of this one, I’ll tell you that much.)

So, yeah, I recommend this one. To be perfectly honest, though, this one perfectly suits my current taste in manga, which is light, sweet, and slice-of-life.