If you’ve dipped a toe in the online dating world, you’ve undoubtedly arranged a date with someone who turned out to be pleasant, polite, and attractive, but not terribly interesting. I had a similar experience with volume one of Flying Witch, a manga that looked promising but lacked the necessary spark of weirdness or wit to make it worth a second date.
Flying Witch has a simple but fertile premise: Makoto Kowata, a teenage witch-in-training, leaves Yokohama for the country, taking up residence at her cousins’ farm with her feline familiar in tow. Though Makoto’s parents warned her not to reveal her true identity to other people, Makoto is unable to maintain a facade of normalcy and blithely confesses her avocation to peers and strangers alike.
That running gag is indicative of what’s good — and not so good — about Flying Witch. In the manga’s best scenes, artist Chihiro Ishizuka wryly juxtaposes the banality of the setting with the strangeness of Makoto’s witchcraft, whether Makoto is test-driving brooms at the local supermarket or pulling up a mandrake from an abandoned field. (Shakespeare was right, BTW: those suckers scream like banshees when they’re uprooted.) In these moments, Makoto’s enthusiasm overwhelms her desire to escape detection; she’s genuinely astonished that her classmate Nao is horrified by the noisy, squirming mandrake, and begins regaling Nao with a list of its medicinal uses in an effort to explain why mandrakes, are in fact, awesome gifts.
In other scenes, however, the punchline is toothless, coming at the end of a long monologue about witchcraft or a chance encounter with a villager who isn’t the least bit scandalized by Makoto’s true calling. Makoto’s blushing and stammering is overplayed to diminishing returns; any reasonable person would wonder why Makoto hasn’t realized that her big secret isn’t a big deal. The same is true for other recurring “jokes” about Makoto’s terrible sense of direction, which are as unfunny on the third or sixth iteration as they were on the first.
The artwork, like the script, is lackluster. Though Ishizuka’s lines are clean and her layouts easy to read, the characters’ blank faces do little to enliven the story. Chinatsu, Makoto’s ten-year-old cousin, is one of the few characters to register any emotional response to Makoto’s behavior, reacting with a mixture of saucer-eyed fear and astonished exuberance. The rest of the characters drift through the story without much purpose, functioning more like props or set decoration than actual people. Only cameo appearances by the aforementioned mandrake root and the Harbinger of Spring inject the proper note of piquant strangeness to the proceedings, reminding us that Makoto’s existence straddles the fence between the ordinary and the supernatural.
I wish I liked Flying Witch more, as it has all the right ingredients to be a quirky, fun series. Alas, reading Flying Witch is like having dinner with a handsome bore who collects vintage lunch boxes or builds crystal radios; you just know there’s a good story there, but it never comes across in the telling.
FLYING WITCH, VOL. 1 • BY CHIHIRO ISHIZUKA • VERTICAL COMICS • NO RATING (SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES)
Ageing is something that seldom comes up in games, except in cases of artificial ageing by curses or something. Most campaigns don't tend to run for long in enough in game time for characters to age more than a few years.
What about running a campaign in which the individual adventures don't take place serially, in quick succession, but rather spaced out over years, with large gaps in between? You can think about TV series that were revived after a long time, like The X-Files, only take it as a model for multiple gaps between adventures.
A young group complete some adventure, and are so exhausted and perhaps wealthy afterwards that they retire. But a decade later the old threat resurfaces, and they are the best group to fight it again, so they regroup. Then several years later again, something happens which has weird echoes of the previous two adventures, and the heroes need to come together a third time, now much older (and hopefully wiser).
By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.
At last we come to the end of one of the most influential manga series out there, at least in North America. Fruits Basket brought so many new people into the fandom, and also made so many more want to create. It was almost like lightning in a bottle – Takaya’s two series after this are good but did not have nearly the same amount of popularity, and the less said about Fruits Basket Another the better. But Fruits Basket itself is compulsively re-readable, incredibly emotional, and thoroughly satisfying, even if it is also flawed, as this last volume so amply shows. The curse is now broken, but the aftermath still needs to be dealt with, and nothing is going to be the same again.
My favorite moments in the book were the things that didn’t quite happen, even though they should have in order to provide closure. Akito attempts to apologize to the rest of the zodiac, but can’t quite pull off the words, instead giving what amount to exit interviews to most everyone as she deals with her tortured feelings for Shigure, who is at last willing to reciprocate them, since they’re entirely on his own terms now. The Shigure/Akito relationship is easily the most problematic of the series, and trust me that’s saying something. It leaves me with a vague sense of emotional dissatisfaction, even as it makes the most sense in story terms. Takaya even says she felt a bit uncomfortable with it. Meanwhile, Rin is looking at everyone else smiling and moving on and wondering why she’s still filled with rage and hatred. Healing is something that happens different ways for everyone, and it doesn’t have to happen overnight, especially when you’ve been abused as much as Rin has. And the Sohma’s head maid is offered a chance to help Akito forge a new path with the Sohma Family… and walks away from it, unable to let go of the past, in one of the starkest and best moments in the volume.
As for the main cast, everyone gets a brief few pages to show how they’ve changed and grown, and also to show that almost everyone is now romantically paired. You have to feel bad for Momiji and Kagura – if you’re going to pair everyone up in the most cliched way possible, why not simply go all the way? In general, the more attention paid to the couple during the manga itself, the better the scene – Kyo and Tohru get the bulk of the pages, obviously. Some pairings are a bit last minute hookup, like Hatori and Mayu. And some pairings feel like a gag taken one step too far, like Kazuma and Hanajima, where you get the sense that Takaya simply finds the idea of this too funny to not go through with, even though it doesn’t really work. It’s also nice to see Shigure’s editor happy at last, but again, this reads like connecting the dots. Fruits Basket works best when the romance is focused on Kyo and Tohru.
The second half of the omnibus, as predicted, was a sort of combination of various parts of the two fanbooks, showing off favorite scenes/pairings/characters along with some discussion of clothing and the like. There’s also an interview with Takaya that was done recently, where she looks back at the series. I don’t think the extra content is worth buying in and of itself. But if you want to upgrade your old Tokyopop paperbacks, and don’t mind that the series has a noticeably different translation (“you did your best”, FYI) , you should absolutely get this, and relive a magical shoujo classic. Also, the second to last chapter still makes me cry every single time.
D-Frag!, Vol. 11 | By Tomoya Haruno | Seven Seas – I keep emphasizing in these reviews that D-Frag! is a comedy first and foremost, and that’s still true. That said, there’s no denying that there are some romantic undertones in the series—Takao and Funabori most obviously, but also Roka more subtly loves Kenji. So it’s no surprise that we end up with both of them having to live at Kenji’s house for a bit—Roka due to a meteor strike (yes, really), and Takao simply due to fretting over having Roka get the drop on her. Thankfully, D-Frag! knows that its tsukkomi is always more important than its rom-com, and the jokes still fly fast and furious. Also, bonus points at the start of the book for remembering this is a school and there are actual grades involved. Great fun. – Sean Gaffney
Horimiya, Vol. 7 | By Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara | Yen Press – Last time I noted how little losing their virginity changed the lead couple in this series, and that’s still the case, but more interestingly, we get to explore consensual kinks in this volume. To be precise, Hori is turned on by Miyamura being forceful towards her—she’s not sure why, but her father’s explanation for it likely fits the bill. That said, it makes Miyamura uncomfortable, so I’m not sure how far they’ll take it in the future. In the meantime, Yuki takes the stage for most of this volume, as she asks Tooru to be her pretend boyfriend in order to help answer a guy’s confession. Only the guy quickly becomes a member of the main cast, and what’s more, the fake boyfriend thing is going to completely torpedo Sakura’s love. Will this end well? Probably not. – Sean Gaffney
Kiss Him, Not Me!, Vol. 10 | By Junko | Kodansha Comics – I suppose, given this has become one of the more popular Kodansha shoujo titles and therefore is not ending anytime soon, that we were due for a new rival. He’s a tough one, too—not only is he a voice actor who plays Kae’s latest obsession, but he and Kae were childhood friends—in fact, they were both fat at the time! It’s actually Kae’s weight that drives a lot of the plot—Takeru finds out about her harem, and due to some misunderstandings thinks that they only care about her thin, cute, busty self. (In fact, the main cast went through this several volumes ago, and (mostly) concluded it didn’t matter.) So now he’s kidnapped her and seems to be force-feeding her, as he’s also a bit evil. Fun, but highly variable. – Sean Gaffney
Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, Vol. 4 | By Natsuki Takaya | Yen Press – It is becoming more apparent that the shot we saw in volume one of Liselotte taking up arms against her brother is not what actually happened, and in fact the more we find out about her the more we realize that she’s another of Takaya’s favorite kind of heroine, the plucky Pollyanna with the hideously broken past. That said, there are a few signs that her brother isn’t completely evil here. We also get a lot more information on witches, including the fact that Vergue and Hilde were once human, and clearly becoming a witch was something very painful and isolating to both of them. There’s still some shots of light humor—Anna is shaping up to be a smiling villain in the best way—but for the most part things take a turn for the serious here. – Sean Gaffney
Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, Vol. 4 | By Natsuki Takaya | Yen Press – Liselotte is attempting to live a peaceful life with her friends, sewing frilly shirts and tending to her vegetable garden. The back cover promises an attack by the witch Vergue, and though it’s true that he ends up significantly damaging her house, he’s also driven away simply by her shoujo heroine powers of empathizing with his rejection of humanity in favor of a place he belongs with the witches. The most interesting parts of this volume are actually the flashbacks the Vergue situation evokes, as Liselotte recalls more of what happened with her brother, who maybe isn’t actually her biological sibling, and who seemed to be giving her the chance to get away from the capitol and find happiness. That’s far more intriguing than a straight-up villain, so I hope we learn more about him in the next volume! – Michelle Smith
Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 2 | By Akiko Higashimura | Kodansha Comics (digital only) – After her unexpected hookup with hot model and younger man Key, Rinko struggles to figure out what it means. With the help of her pals, both real and hallucinated, she ultimately concludes that it was just a spur-of-the-moment whim on his part, but that doesn’t keep her from being curious about him, especially when she learns that a woman he loved passed away. Meanwhile, we get some very welcome chapters from the points of view of Kaori and Koyuki, Rinko’s friends. I love that, in time, they too start experiencing hallucinations, although it’s pretty heartbreaking that they both end up in sexual relationships without love or future prospects. This series is funny and whimsical, but also fairly bleak and depressing. I do love it, but it’s probably best in small doses. – Michelle Smith
Welcome to the Ballroom, Vol. 4 | By Tomo Takeuchi | Kodansha Comics – Fujita learns some important lessons in this book—actually, the entire book is filled with important lessons. For Fujita, it’s that he’s still a beginner and has a long way to go, and that until he grows he’s going to come last. For Mako and Gaju it’s that they weren’t really observing the other person when they danced, and they want to reunite in order to compete properly. For Shizuku it’s that she can still feel jealousy over someone being judged to be more beautiful than she is—and also hate herself for having those feelings. Even Hyodo is beginning to rediscover a passion for dancing that has been cooled by his injury. But most importantly, there is the dancing, and the art conveying the dancing, and that is still amazing. – Sean Gaffney
Yowamushi Pedal, Vol. 5 | By Wataru Watanabe | Yen Press – The Inter-High race begins! Before we get to that, though, we have to establish what some of the rivalries are. Kinjou will face off against Fukutomi again, the rider who caused his defeat the previous year, while Imaizumi is up against creepy Midousuji. We’ve been hearing about Midousuji since the beginning, but this is the first time he’s actually appeared and he looks and acts like some deranged creature from a horror manga. After that, though, the race is on and it’s a mad rush for the sprinters to claim the top spot at the first checkpoint. As usual, it’s riveting and the enormous volume goes by too quickly. The climbers take center stage next time, but we’ll sadly have to wait until August for that. – Michelle Smith
SEAN: I’ll go with the 3rd Bakemonogatari novel, which promises to dig into Tsubasa Hanekawa’s psyche at long last, as well as metatext, annoying sexualized scenes, and more insults hurled with love than you can shake a stick at.
KATE: I only have eyes for one title this week: Shuzo Oshimi’s Happiness. For my money, Happiness is the best title Kodansha is publishing right now: it’s smartly drawn, expertly paced, and meticulously plotted, with a memorable, sympathetic lead character and a well-rounded cast of supporting players. More impressive still is that the horror elements feel fresh and surprising; this isn’t just another teen vampire manga. If you do give it a try, be prepared to squirm or cringe from time to time — not because it’s gory, but because it captures the special awfulness of being fifteen in vivid detail.
ASH: I’m with Kate. I don’t have much to add after such an eloquent description, but Happiness is definitely the manga release which commands my attention this week.
ANNA: OK, Happiness wasn’t on my radar before, but now it certainly is! This week would be much smaller without Kodansha’s digital releases, they are bringing back older unfinished series and producing more and more digital josei, which is a very good thing. My pick of the week is Kodansha’s digital program in general. I hope it inspires other publishers to bring out more titles that might be too noncommercial for print release.
MICHELLE: At the risk of sounding like a broken record…. Like 7SEEDS?!?!
MELINDA: So, first I have to decide whether I can forgive my co-bloggers for momentarily making me think that someone had actually licensed 7SEEDS. If I ever manage that, or indeed manage to recover from that brief moment of excitement, I will pick… something else? I haven’t started Happiness, but it sounds like I should.
My News and Reviews
Well, I didn’t manage to post my in-depth manga review for April last week after all. Today I’m starting in a new position at a different library, meaning that last week I spent most of my time tying up as many loose ends as possible at my previous job. This included writing a lot of documentation. And since I was doing so much writing for work, by the time I got home I didn’t want to do anything but read, so that’s what I did. (Which goes to explain why I ended up finishing Cixin Liu’s excellent novel The Three-Body Problem much sooner than I had originally anticipated.) But never fear, I’ll be posting my review of Nagabe’s The Girl from the Other Side later this week in addition to the monthly manga giveaway.
In other news, Seven Seas continued its string of licensing announcements, adding Orikō Yoshino and Z-ton’s light novel series Monster Girl Doctor, Kazuki Funatsu’s Yokai Girls manga, and Saki Hasemi and Kentaro Yabuki’s To Love Ru and To Love Ru Darkness manga to the slate. Recent announcements from Viz Media included Sankichi Hinodeya’s Splatoon manga, a Hello Kitty coloring book, picture books of Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke, as well as the My Little Pony: The Movie artbook. Kodansha Comics had a couple of announcements to make recently, too, such as the upcoming release of full-color hardcover edition of Gun Snark’s Attack on Titan: No Regrets (I’ve previously reviewed the series’ first English-language release) and a hardcover omnibus edition of Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita. (The series was originally published in English by Viz Media but has been out-of-print for quite some time.)
I also came across a few other interesting things last week: Over at The OASG, Justin interviewed Mariko Hihara and Kotoyo Noguchi, two independent manga creators in Japan. Noguchi also had some questions to ask in return. Frederik L. Schodt (whose work I greatly enjoy) was recently profiled at Nippon.com. The article takes a look at his involvement as an ambassador for manga over the last four decades. Caitlin from I Have a Heroine Problem presented a panel called “Is This Feminist or Not? Ways of Talking about Women in Anime” at Sakura Con 2017 and has made her slides available. A very nicely designed site called Persona Problems offers criticism of Persona 5‘s English localization and delves into translation theory and practice that even people who don’t play the game may find interesting. Finally, the author and designer Iku Okada has started a series of autobiographical essays called Otaku Girl and Proud which explores Japanese gender inequality and identity and how popular culture can impact that experience.
Dorohedoro, Volumes 17-20 by Q Hayashida. Despite being one of my favorite ongoing series currently being released in English, I seem to somehow always forget how incredibly much I love Dorohedoro. I tend to forget how tremendously horrific the manga can be, too, mostly because it simultaneously manages to be surprisingly endearing. Hayashida’s story and artwork is frequently and stunningly brutal, gut-churning, and grotesque, but Dorohedoro also carries with it a great sense of humor. Granted, the comedy in Dorohedoro tends to be phenomenally dark. Lately, as Dorohedoro continues to steadily progress along what I believe will be it’s final major story arc, the series has become fairly intense and serious, but it remains exceptionally weird and has yet to completely lose its humor. The plot of Dorohedoro does meander a bit and because it’s been so long since I’ve read the previous volumes I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few important details as the story takes multiple convoluted turns along the way. Ultimately, it doesn’t seem to really matter though since the world and characters of of Dorohedoro follow and operate under their own peculiar sort of logic; Dorohedoro doesn’t need to make a lot of sense in order to be bizarrely enjoyable.
FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, Volumes 1-2 by Kanata Konami. Before there was Chi’s Sweet Home there was FukuFuku Funyan, Konami’s cat manga which started in the late 1980s. The series featured an elderly woman and her cat FukuFuku. More recently, Konami created FukuFuku: Kitten Tales, a spinoff of FukuFuku’s first series which, as can be accurately assumed by the manga’s title, shares stories from the loveable feline’s youth. While Konami’s artwork in FukuFuku: Kitten Tales is black-and-white rather than being full-color and the manga is only two-volumes long rather than being twelve, the series is otherwise very similar in format to Chi’s Sweet Home. It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve read any of Chi’s Sweet Home, but FukuFuku: Kitten Tales feels like it might be a little more episodic as well. However, it is still an incredibly cute series. Each chapter is only six pages or so but manages to tell a complete story, accurately portraying the everyday life and antics of a kitten. FukuFuku: Kitten Tales isn’t especially compelling or creative as far as cat manga goes, but it is an adorable series which consistently made me smile and even chuckle from time to time.
Magia the Ninth, Volume 2 by Ichiya Sazanami. I enjoyed the first volume of Magia the Ninth immensely. I’m not really sure I could call it a good manga per se, and I don’t think I would necessarily recommend it broadly, but personally I got a huge kick out of it. That being said, I can’t say that I’m surprised that the series only lasted two volumes. (I don’t know for certain, but I get the feeling that Magia the Ninth was cancelled.) What did surprise me was how well Sazanami was able to pull everything together to conclude the manga in a coherent (and almost satisfying) fashion when obviously it was intended to be a series on a much grander scale. To be honest, Magia the Ninth probably would have done much better for itself if the manga had had that level of focus from the very beginning. Magia the Ninth is a strange and somewhat goofy little series about demons, magic, and music. While the series wasn’t always the most comprehensible, it’s stylishly drawn, has tremendous energy, and even manages to effectively incorporate legitimate music history into the story. Magia the Ninth may not have lived up to its potential, but I had fun with it.
The Prince in His Dark Days, Volumes 2-3 by Hico Yamanaka. More and more of The Prince in His Dark Days seems to revolve around Itaru, but at this point I would still consider Atsuko, who is serving as Itaru’s double, to be the real lead of the manga. Unfortunately, Atsuko is casually threatened with sexual violence on a regular basis in the series which frankly makes me uncomfortable. In general, the power dynamics in The Prince in His Dark Days tend to be fairly disconcerting. It doesn’t really help when other characters’ try to play it off as a joke, either. If anything, it only seems to emphasize the fact that so many of them are unrepentant jerks. I know that I’m supposed to empathize with some of their personal struggles, but I find it difficult to spare a lot of sympathy for entitled assholes. However, the themes that Yamanaka explores in The Prince in His Dark Days are of tremendous interest to me, most notably those of gender expression and sexual identity. I also appreciate the manga’s melancholy mood and the slow blossoming of love in unexpected places. There’s only one volume left in The Prince in His Dark Days and despite some of my reservations about the series I am curious to see how it ends.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. If my memory serves me right, The Three-Body Problem is actually the first contemporary Chinese novel that I’ve read. It initially came to my attention when it became the first work in translation to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Interestingly, when The Three-Body Problem was translated into English by Ken Liu, the order of the chapters was restored to what the author originally intended and a few additional changes were made in consideration of some of the real-world scientific advances that had developed since the novel was first published in China. As a novel that leans heavily on hard science, I found The Three-Body Problem to be fascinating. (At one point in my life, I actually considered going into theoretical physics.) But what makes The Three-Body Problem so compelling are the social aspects of the narrative. In particular, China’s Cultural Revolution and the characters’ responses to it play a critical role in the story’s development. The Three-Body Problem is the first book in a trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past, and so while largely being a satisfying novel on its own, it’s obviously only the beginning of a larger work. I definitely plan on reading the rest.