Ao no Exorcist / Blue Exorcist (Chapters 94-95) by Katou Kazue

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Some of my longtime readers may remember my complete freak out over Weekly Shounen Jump‘s handling of the ending of Bleach.

To say that I was furious was probably an understatement. White hot burning suns may have been involved. I kind of lost my mind and went to Twitter in July of 2016 and took WSJ to task. I tagged them in tweet after tweet after tweet where I asked them what was the point of my subscription when pirate sites were two weeks AHEAD of their official English-language digital-only production and they wouldn’t even translate all the material, like a runner explaining the Bleach was ending in a matter of weeks.  I blasted them over and over and over and…

You get the point.

My best moment might have been:

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And then I promptly cancelled my subscription.

Well….despite the distinct lack of likes, comments, or re-tweets, WSJ might actually have been listening to me.

On a whim today, I decided to renew my subscription.

Listen, the thing is, I like officially supporting my mangaka, and I’m mostly over my saltiness over how WSJ handled the ending of Bleach (notice that I did NOT say I was over my feelings about the ENDING of Bleach.)  Frankly, they publish good stuff. Some of my current shounen favorites are WSJ products: My Hero Academia, Haikyu!, and, of course, Blue Exorcist.

Thus resolved, I paid my money and downloaded the most recent issue.  In it, I see Blue Exorcist: Chapter 97 “Beyond the Snow: Part 6.”  And, I’m, like, wait. The last chapter I reviewed here was Chapter 93!  I went to my usual sources for scans because, in the past, the other problem with WSJ was that it was always AT LEAST a week behind the pirates, and I thought, “Sh*t, they must have scanned up to 98 by now!”

Except they haven’t.  I can only find up to chapter 95: “Beyond the Snow: Part 4”

There’s an actual value to my subscription again, because I’ve now read up to chapter 97…. which leads me to a new conundrum.

What do I review here?  Obviously, the current WSJ is out. I own it. In my capacity as a reviewer, I can talk about all of it.  In fact, it actualy behooves WSJ for me to post pictures and teasers and tell you all about the upcoming chapters, because it could (and, if I do my job right, it SHOULD) prompt you to run out and buy a subscription for yourself.

HOWEVER.  I kind of feel like the average fan of Blue Exorcist / Ao no Exorcist is doing one of two things: reading chapters as they hit the pirate sites OR buying the official tankōbon as they come off the presses.

Also, depending where you are, Weekly Shounen Jump (English) might not be available for you. So, encouraging people to buy a subscription is fine, but there are a lot of English readers of these manga who don’t actually have a valid way to pay to play, as it were.

More to the point, I don’t imagine that this is the site that people go to for information they can’t get elsewhere. I suspect (and again, HOPE,) that what you’re tuning into is my take on what you’re also reading.  A shared community of fannishness, if you will. That’s why most of my reviews on chapters like this start: “[manga title] chapter [#] is out. Go read it. I’ll wait.”

I’m waiting to share with you.

But now I have potentially valuable information, too.

Thus, the conundrum.

So, what do you, my readers, think I should do?

While I wait for the answer, I’ll at least let you know what I think of the two widely available chapters 94 &95:

SPOILERS

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We open the chapter with the arrested Lewin Light, being his usual weirdo self. He’s super happy at being treated like a criminal by Redarm and the rest of the Exorcists.

Light’s excitement over his predicament is hampered by the fact that demons are spawning everywhere and Redarm is leaving him in order to take command of the exorcist troops… Light seems especially distressed to discover that the Paladin has gone to guard the “artificial Gehenna Gate” which is apparently being attacked by a… yeti?

Um? Yeti are yokai now? …. Okay.

ANY-way, back to the story. Light brings up the Mephisto‘s barrier of the Hellmouth Gate is set to expire soon, which seems kind of unrelated, except, Light gets very cryptic about all this and COULD NOT LOOK MORE SUSPICIOUS when he says, “I hope nothing unexpected happens.”

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[In Godfather voice] “Sure would be a shame if something was to happen to ya boy.”

Because, sure enough, something totally unexpected happens to Mephisto.

After talking the prime minister into revealing the existence of demons, Mephisto goes on TV to field questions at a press conference.  Only, Yukio has followed him with the intention of confronting him about what he learned about his past from the files Bon sent him. This does not… go well.

In fact, instead of answering Yukio’s burning question (see what I did there? Do you? ‘Cuz of his eye!  Get it? Get it?), Mephisto has one of the best lines ever: “Sorry! I simply don’t have the time to accompany children on journeys of self-discovery!”

I mean, I get why someone would want to shoot Mephisto in the head after that remark.

But, it wasn’t Yukio that did it, despite the fact that he clearly had his gun trained on him. Boob Lady is right. The angle is all wrong.

ao-no-exorcist-10009915.jpgBut, that doesn’t stop the authorities from grabbing the wrong guy. Yukio is forced to the floor and dragged from the scene.

Rin, meanwhile, has been racing to try to find his younger brother, having overhead from Bon that Yukio has gone off the rails.  He arrives too late, but Boob Lady gives him some important information:

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Can I just say? I love how this is drawn. The silent exchange, the desolation of the Rin outside of the van with the snow falling… the two panels of the extreme close-ups on their eyes: one shocked the other… pitying?

LOVELY.

Meanwhile, just as Light suggested, something unexpected happened. Mephisto’s body has grown too weak to keep himself alive AND hold the gate, so, being a demon and selfish (no shade!), he choses to focus on his own survival and literally lets loose Hell.

Rin, who was told explicitly by Boob Lady to go home and lay low, bursts back into the True Cross Academy and exclaims that he’s going to mount a rescue.

When the curtain falls on these two chapters, that’s exactly what he’s done. He blows up Yukio’s cell with a “I’m here to rescue you!”

The question is, will Yukio appreciate his onii-chan efforts or not?

Of course, I now know the answer, but for now, I won’t say.

What about you? If you’re reading this, what did you think? Also, don’t forget to let me know if you want information from the Jump chapters or not.

Min’na, Arigatō !

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Blood-C 1 by Kotone Ranmaru

Because I’ll read pretty much anything, I always check the used section of our local Barnes & Noble for manga. Occasionally, I even find a first volume.

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The back cover copy of the Dark Horse edition of this reads:

Saya Kisaragi is a kindhearted, clumsy student who trains by day to perform standard religious duties at her father’s shrine–but she transforms into an unstoppable, monster-slaying swordsmen by night! The saga that began in Blood: The Last Vampire and the Blood+ anime and manga series continues here! The world of Blood C was created by the powerhouse manga team CLAMP in collaboration with Production I. G, the legendary anime studio that produced the original Blood+ episode and the new Blood-C animated series and feature-length movie!

Schoolyard foibles, weird creatures, and katana-swinging action abound in this new manga series by Ranmaru Kotone, based on the hit Blood-C anime and infused with CLAMP’s original concept and characters! 

Makes me want to find the stuff this manga is based on, more than it makes me want to read this….

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…for good reason. There’s nothing WRONG with Blood-C, per se.  It’s just not hugely original.

Our heroine, Saya Kisaragi is a very earnest, easily-distractible young woman living in a small, unremarkable town.  Her classmates have one goal: to get out.  Saya, however, likes her tiny town, probably because she’s been entrusted with a sacred katana that can slay the ancient ones, who get called at one point, “people eaters.”

The first volume mostly sets up the Scooby Gang (there’s the equally earnest boy whose advances Saya is oblivious too, the broody dark-haired boy, the bubbly twins, and the worldly older sister type, as well as a very skeevy, voluptuous teacher lady who also puts the moves on Saya.) We see a little demon slaying, but the big monster mystery/crisis only begins at the very end of chapter 4, the final chapter in the volume.

For me, there just wasn’t enough there there.  To be fair, I have read nothing else in this universe, so maybe this is one of those things that would feel different if I had.

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Would I recommend it?  Probably only to fans of the rest of the franchise.  This one is going into our little free library, alas.

Kasumi by Surt Lim / Hirofumi Sugimoto (Vol. 1)

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I don’t know how to feel about things like this.

Like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kasumi is an English-language original (known to otaku as OEL, “Original English-Language”), published in the U.S. by Del Rey.  Is it really manga? Does having Sugimoto-sensei, in Japan, as a collaborator make it ‘legit’? Does a property have to have a Japanese connection to ‘count’?

Readers must have decided ‘no,’ since this series was cancelled after only two volumes. Of course, that could be Del Rey, because publishers suck.*

SPOILERS

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You can see what Del Rey is hoping for with the back cover copy:  “Kasumi is a special girl–not just because she’s a super-cute high schooler with a heart of gold. She has a major secret: she can turn invisible when she holds her breath…”

You can almost see the editorial meeting.  “These mangos all the kids are reading. They’ve got magical girls in them, right?  Let’s do that!  Oh, yeah, and my daughter is into that Host Club show, set it at an elite school and add a bunch of bullies to make her life hard (oh! And be sure her mom is dead! All anime heroes have dead moms!).”

But, maybe that’s just my jaded side coming out, because I didn’t hate this.  I was fairly intrigued by how Kasumi gets her superpowers. I feel like I’ve seen this ‘sacred tree’ motif before, in Kannagi (which I didn’t review here because I only made a few chapters of the first volume before I bailed on it.)  At any rate, she seems to develop her ability to turn invisible after an encounter in the woods with will o’ wisps/fox lights (kitsune-bi).

However, I found the high school drama to be overwrought and uninteresting. For some bizarre reason, Kasumi thinks that it’s a good idea to show off her magic tricks (she’s a burgeoning stage magician) as an intro to her first day of her new high school. She is, of course, mercilessly mocked. There’s also a high school prince, Ryuuki that everyone treats like he’s actually the school’s administration.  These parts ring a little false to the usual Japanese high school slice-of-life stuff.

Would I recommend it? Mmmmm, it’s tough knowing that all you’re going to get is two volumes, with the story incomplete.  It has been scanlated, or, I guess, just pirated, so you can try it for free at places like Mangakalot.

Do I know how I feel about this?  No.  I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with OELs. Does this still feel like a try-hard?  Kinda.

 


* I may be jaded. Having had several novel series cancelled by publishers will do that.

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…

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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).

Man’s Best Friend / Inu mo Akurekeba by Takashima Kazusa

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The love of a dog is unconditional.  At least, that’s what my friends who have dogs tell me.  You see evidence of this sentiment all over, though, am I right? Bumperstickers that say, “Be the person your dog thinks you are,” etc., etc.

Well, in Inu mo Akurekeba / Man’s Best Friend our hero,  Ukyo, gets to discover just how awesome it is to be loved by a dog.

And, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but, actually, this story is really sweet.

SPOILERS

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 This is another one I picked up at Quatrefoil.  I actually remember thumbing through it in the used section of Barnes & Nobel, many years ago, before I really understood my deep and unabated love for yaoi.

What is weirdly awesome about the title story (because this is actually another story collection), is that, even though Kuro is able to shapeshift into the hotty on the cover, he is actually a dog.

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The dog has been praying to the moon, every night, to be able to meet his beloved, Ukyo. One day it happens. Kuro, a stray, is being picked on by some kids, and Ukyo rescues him and takes him home.  When he gets excited, he transforms into a human:

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Mostly.

He still keeps his ears and tail, though, like you do.

And then you know, there’s a lot of licking and excited sex, and, I swear, despite how that sounds, it’s actually a really sweet story.  Ukyo tries to keep Kuro’s magical nature a secret, but the problem is….well, you know dogs, right? You say, “Kuro! Let’s go for a walk!” and suddenly you have a six foot one naked man with a tail who really really wants to go for a walk, but who isn’t really sure how these two-legs creatures do that two-legged thing.

It’s stupidly adorable.

If you can get over the fact that this is basically a dog, it’s plenty sexy, too.  I mean, they go for it ALL THE TIME.  I guess, you know, like a dog would.

The next two chapters, “Summer’s Here Again” and “Pinpoint Lovers” about two thoroughly human childhood friends, Kasumi and Kentaro. When Kasumi had to move away, Kentaro made a promise to wait for him… only, apparently, he thought Kasumi was a girl.  So, when Kasumi shows back up in town Kentaro is in for a shock.

He gets over it pretty quickly, though.

What I like about this one, though, is that the two guys spend time becoming friends again.  We get a kind of relationship montage, where it’s clear they’re spending the summer just doing things together and Kentaro is realizing that maybe there’s a different reason why he’s jealous of all the female attention Kasumi gets.  Like, maybe he doesn’t want the girls, so much as he wants the guy.  So, one night when they’re reminiscing, Kentaro makes a move.

They have a brief moment of, “oh, oops, I slept with you and maybe that wasn’t cool” where they then avoid each other for the rest of summer, until Kentaro gets wind of the fact that Kasumi is cutting his vacation short.  Kentaro rushes to make his love confession and we get to more sex and a HEA.

Though the next chapter shows the downsides of trying to have a long distance relationship… this one is also, ultimately, very sweet.

The last chapter is probably the weirdest one, “Princess Goldfish,” in which a guy rescues a goldfish from being tossed aside, after having been won at a fair.

Did your county fairs do this? Ours did. You could win a goldfish in a plastic bag, if you got the pingpong ball to balance on some glass or something. It was actually a fairly easy game to win, and I must have murdered more than my share of goldfish, because who has an aquarium waiting at home? It’s interesting how universal this is between cultures.

At any rate, this guy overhears some kids wondering what they’re going to do with the goldfish and they basically say, “I dunno, I guess I might as well dump it now,” and our hero rushes in and saves the fish.

Who, later that night, turns into a naked boy and… yeah.

Goldfish sex.

I mean it’s kind of classic right? The hero gets a reward for acting kindly towards [fill in the blank].

Except, magical goldfish….????

Eh, it was a fast read, and maybe was a dream? I dunno, I regret nothing.

Would I recommend it?  I would, but hesitantly.  I think if you have an Ah-What-The-Hell casual attitude towards shape-shifting/beast stories, you could find some humor and sweetness, particularly in the dog stories–though the childhood friend story was mainstream yaoi, so there is that, if nothing else.  The sex was plentiful, but was never in the category of super-hot, for me.  So take that as you will.

 

Datte Maou-sama Wa Kare Ga Kirai / Good-bye World Conquest by Yamada Nichoume

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I absolutely adored the premise of this yaoi, the execution? Not as much.

SPOILERS

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Into every generation is born a Demon King.  For each Demon King, there is a hero who must conquer him.  This is almost exactly the same set-up as the anime  Hataraku Maō-sama! / Devil is a Part-Timer, which I likewise adored. Only, in this version Maou (the name literally means ‘devil’) is a kind of hapless storekeeper who doesn’t really want the power to randomly enslave delinquents (it’s awkward to have people falling at your feet all day long.) The hero, Kamiko, is likewise atypical for what you’re expecting of a hero. In fact, when we first met him, it’s because he’s bought the building Maou’s storefront is in and forcibly evicts him.

The hero is kind of an a$$hole.

Not only is he a jerk, but he’s a little bit shady. At one point, Kamiko confesses that he went into the family business (and, yes, he means that in the yakuza sense) because he really just wanted to break-in to people’s houses and knock over vases (like a cat?).  Maou, of course, is like, “Dude! That’s not cool.”

Because, somehow, in these stories the devil is always kind of decent human being.

In Datte Maou-sama wa Kare ga Kirai all of this is really just background for Maou and Kamiko to have a lot of sex–because, you see whomever dominates the other one is the victor in this spiritual/world-domination power play.  Maou keeps trying to top, but he’s pretty helpless to Kamiko’s advances.

This is listed under the tag “dubious consent” on Baka-Updates, and I suppose you can imagine it that way since Maou does say ‘no’ and keeps telling Kamiko he’s a pervert and not to touch him ‘there’–but this feels more silly to me than rape-y. I suspect milage may vary, however.

For me, this was too tame.  (Also the early pages of the manga are badly translated, so it’s probably okay to skim them to get to the sexy-times.)