Review: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2 by Hisae Iwaoka

Title: Saturn Apartments Vols 1 & 2

Author: Hisae Iwaoka

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421533643 & 978-1421533735

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mitsu has just started working as a window washer, a dangerous job that five years earlier led to the loss of his father. As Mitsu struggles with being the new guy—making mistakes, struggling to keep up, petty workplace resentments—he also discovers the simple pleasures of befriending his coworkers, enjoying time off and getting to know his absent father through the eyes of his colleagues.

Review:

Mitsu is a window washer on a gigantic apartment complex 35,000 feet above the surface of Earth.  The planet has been evacuated and declared a nature preserve in a last ditch effort to save what native life remains on it.  The complex is segregated into stratified social classes.  Those from the lower levels, like Mitsu, must obtain passes to visit the upper levels, where the structure’s wealthy residents live.  Mitsu is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, even though Aki was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier.  What he finds is that washing windows isn’t as easy as it sounds, and that understanding his co-workers can be even more difficult.

This is a slice of life series, and the chapters meander along as Mitsu learns the ropes of his trade.  He’s accepted into the guild because of his father, which earns him some animosity from a co-worker.  Fresh out of school, Mitsu’s biggest challenge is learning how to get along with others.  It doesn’t help that he feels pressured to live up to his dad’s reputation as a hard worker. 

Wow, window washing 35,000 feet up is hard, dangerous work!  I can’t imagine doing it! I love the story concept, and find the idea of evacuating everyone on the planet to a huge, orbiting apartment a fascinating concept.  I never once considered that the windows would get dirty, and need to be cleaned to allow sunlight to filter in and brighten up the place a bit.  Forcing the apartment population into a class-based social structure adds complexity to the plot, too.  Like any resource, there’s a limit to the amount of natural light available, and the more affluent residents get a lot more exposure to it than the poorer lower levels.  A lack of natural light leads to sickness and weak immune systems.  The units of the wealthy residents have vast windows, and they can afford to have them cleaned.  People like Mitsu have tiny little apartments, with no windows to the outside.

Saturn Apartments is a character-driven story.  Mitsu is struggling to deal with his father’s death, as well as trying to do a job he can be proud of.  His first day on the job almost ends in disaster, but afterwards, he feels that he has a better understanding of his father.  After getting a look at the earth outside of the apartment complex, he is awed by its beauty, and he is determined to someday go to the surface.  He knows that his dad must have felt the same way.  For the longest time he thought that Aki committed suicide and abandoned him, but after being outside, he realizes that he was wrong and that his father really was the victim of a fatal accident.

I love the character interactions.  Mitsu tries to keep himself apart from his neighbors and not be a burden on anyone.  They aren’t so willing to let him do that,  which adds all kinds of complications to his life.  His customers are surprising demanding, too, and each of them affect his life in a different way.  Though they are often a pain to deal with, they also enrich his solitary life for the better.

The art is kind of weird.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  The characters have big round heads and tiny little eyes and at first they looked so odd to me.  As I made my way through the first two volumes of the series, though, I found them very expressive and very unique.  Hisae Iwaoka has a distinct style; it’s not smooth and clean, but instead has a rougher texture that make the illustrations visually arresting.

I found my introduction to Saturn Apartments a pleasant experience, though there were a few moments when the pacing was just a tad too leisurely for my tastes.

Grade: B

Review copies obtained from Amazon (Volume 1) and from publisher (Volume Two)

Review: The Mourning Wars by Karen Steinmetz

 

Title: The Mourning Wars

Author: Karen Steinmetz

Publisher:  Roaring Brook Press

ISBN: 978-1596432901

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Based on true events, THE MOURNING WARS is a gripping, powerful, and utterly memorable historical novel. In 1704, Mohawk Indians attacked the frontier village of Deerfield, Massachusetts, killing 50 and kidnapping 112 more, including John Williams, a Puritan minister and prize hostage, and his children.

This is Eunice’s remarkable story, fictionalized but based on meticulous research, about a seven-year-old girl’s separation from her family, harrowing march to Canada, gradual acceptance of her new Native American life, and ultimate decision at 16 to marry an Indian and reject her stern father’s pleadings to return to the fold.

Review:

When I saw this book, I immediately wanted to read it.  I love books about Native Americans, and the setting looked like something right up my alley.  I admit that reading it was rough going at first, because I found it difficult to immerse myself in the third person, present tense narrative, but as I continued to read, I was caught up in Eunice’s new life with the Mohawk family that adopted her.  This was a great read, and Eunice’s struggle to understand who she is and where she belonged was very, very compelling.

When Eunice was 7, the small settlement of Deerfield is attacked by a group of Mohawks warriors.  During the nightmare journey that follows, she loses her mother and several of her siblings as they are marched to Canada through the freezing snow.  Eunice is separated from her father, a preacher and esteemed member of the Deerfield community, and she’s adopted by Atironta and Kenniontie.  The couple lost their daughter to an illness, and the raid was sanctioned by the tribe’s leaders to replace people who died from sickness or from the clashes between the warring French and British colonists whose European war has trickled to the colonies. 

Eunice at first waits for her father to pay a ransom for her and take her home, but as the years stretch forward and she hears nothing from her English family, she begins to settle into her new life.  She is always troubled by her feelings of abandonment, and this continues to eat away at her, even as she finds contentment with her new family and friends.  As she begins to feel comfortable and at home, she begins to fear that her father will come and get her.  This constant internal struggle was heartbreaking.  Even though Atironta and Kenniontie love her unconditionally, Eunice is still stung by the thought that her father has forgotten her.  There is an emptiness inside of her that nothing can fill, and this emotional turmoil kept me glued to the pages.

The Mourning Wars unfolds through little slice of life activities.  They slowly build together to create a fascinating snapshot of what life might have been like before Twitter, Facebook, and, heck, even the USPS.  Though occasionally the narrative was a bit too textbookish, I enjoyed this story.  A lot.  There is so much emotion packed into these pages, as a brave young girl works through who she is, and where she’s meant to be. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Mindblind by Jennifer Roy

 

Title: Mindblind

Author: Jennifer Roy

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

ISBN: 978-0761457169

 

May Contain Spoilers

I will admit that when I first looked at this book, I wasn’t exactly drawn to it.  The cover doesn’t do much for me, though I found the premise intriguing.  The protagonist, Nathanial, has Asperger’s Syndrome, and I was very curious to see how author Jennifer Roy portrayed him.  Once I started reading Mindblind, I could not put it down.

Nathanial’s voice is very distinctive.  He is a teen with a lot of challenges to overcome, despite his sky high IQ.  His dad isn’t accepting of him, because he doesn’t believe that Nathanial has a medical condition; he just thinks that his son is being lazy and isn’t pushing himself to be like all of the other kids.  It’s a good thing that his step-mom is more understanding and supportive than his dad! Nathanial’s dad really pushed the wrong buttons for me, and I quickly felt as uncomfortable around him as his son did.

Nathanial’s social skills are clumsy and awkward, true to his Aspie diagnosis.  It is difficult for him to interact with large groups of his peers, and all he wants to do is retreat into a shell when he is confronted with too much noise, light, or people.  Being over stimulated has him struggling to stay in control of himself, and he is much happier working on his mathematical equations or researching problems online.  His mother won’t let him withdraw from other people, though, and she proves again and again during the course of the novel just how much she loves and supports him.  She pushes him to test his boundaries, but also knows when he needs some space.

I loved Nathanial.  He may be a genius to others, but to himself, he doesn’t have much worth.  He wants to make a mark on the world, and he is driven to do so.  The book is relayed through slice of life episodes, each building on the other and giving Nathanial depth.  He may not be “normal” in the traditional sense of the word, but he is strong and he is kind, and he tries so hard to do the right thing, even though most of the time, he doesn’t fully understand why it’s the right thing.

Mindblind by Jennifer Roy is a very satisfying read, with a likable protagonist who will quickly cast a spell over you.  The book is engaging and impossible to put down, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to read it. 

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs Vol 13 by Yukiya Sakuragi Manga Review

 

Title: Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs Vol 13

Author: Yukiya Sakuragi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421525921

 

Contains Massive Spoilers for Volume 12

From Amazon:

Moving Forward Kanako, the piano teacher who works on the floor above Woofles, is coping with the death of Czerny, her precious Pomeranian. The two of them had a very unique and even mystical bond, so it will be hard for Kanako to accept another dog into her life. But maybe, just maybe…

Argh! What is wrong with me?  I literally cried for the entire first half of this book!  I could really relate to Kanoko as she tries to adjust to life without her beloved Czerny.  While I never contemplated some of the drastic actions that crossed her mind, I shared her reluctance to go home to an empty, quiet house.  That is the worst part of losing a pet.  Suddenly, everything is much more quiet, and that comforting, familiar collar jiggle from is silenced. 

Suguri is desperate to comfort Kanako, but it’s hard to help someone through their grief when they aren’t ready to face it yet.  When an earthquake strikes, leaving scores of dogs homeless, Suguri thinks she might have found a way to help her friend.  This, again, was something that struck very close to home – we couldn’t save our KC, but we decided that we could save another dog.  We adopted a Rottweiler, and though he has many issues, it has been worth every bit of effort to have him adjust to a stable home.  Buu will never be a perfect dog, but he is the perfect dog for us.  Though it occasionally grew sappy and overly melodramatic, this story arc was the best so far in the series.

The rest of the book reverts to a much lighter tone, with Akiba and Chizuru feuding.  This causes a lot of stress for everyone, including their dogs.  Suguri has to play the peacemaker again, and she even figures out a creative way to get them together so they can work out their differences.  I like Suguri a lot; she would be an awesome friend because she cares about other people’s feelings so much.  Though the series can get very cheesy, I do enjoy getting my Inubaka fix. A word of warning, though; if you don’t get all doe-eyed around dogs, you will probably not enjoy this series.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Inubaka:Crazy for Dogs Vol 12 by Yukiya Sakuragi Manga Review

 

Title: Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs Vol 12

Author: Yukiya Sakuragi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781421525914

 

May Contain Spoilers

From the back cover:

All alone except for her loyal mutt Lupin, 18-year-old Suguri moves from the countryside to the big city to find a career and a new life!In her first job at a pet store, she meets an assortment of quirky dogs and even stranger owners!

Dance, Doggy! Dance!The Friendly Dog Festival has rolled into town, and it features a dance competition with owners and their pets. Suguri goes up against an employee from the rival pet shop as well as a young blind girl. Suguri and Lupin pull out all the stops, but is it enough to beat these tough opponents?

I am a few volumes behind on Inubaka, so it was the first title I grabbed for my Mini Manga Marathon.  Probably not a wise choice, as there is a death of one of the dogs to deal with.  I don’t handle doggy demises very well, and this story arc brought back very unpleasant memories of going through this heartbreaking experience with my Doberman, KC. 

Just to head off on a tangent here, I’ll share some background about my experience:  60% of Dobermans have heart defects, which can lead to congestive heart failure.  Discovering the cause of her illness was devastating.  The hardest part of loving any animal is having the strength to let it go.  I was very selfish with KC and kept trying new treatment options instead of ending her suffering, and I will regret that for the rest of my life.  I still can’t talk about her without crying, and she’s been gone almost 10 years now.  She was such a good dog, and I will miss her forever.  One of the things about the series that I like is how often it elicits an emotional response from me; sometimes it even makes me cry.

The beginning of the book was much more lighthearted, and it wrapped up the dog dance competition.  This section of the book was breezy and fun, and proved that even though Lupin has come a long way in terms of obedience training, he will always remain true to himself.  His stomach will always be his biggest motivation, and Suguri doesn’t have a strong enough will to overcome Lupin’s major weakness.  This story arc had a perfect ending, and I thought it was a lot of fun.

The next story arc sets up the Doggie Death.  While I understand that you can’t have an animal series without some of the critters getting hurt, I still don’t like it when it happens.  It brings home how fragile life can be.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll only add that the end of the book made me cry.  A lot.  Yukiya Sakuragi captures some intense moments here, which felt very real for me.  A little too real, maybe.  Go hug your dog if you have one.  I did.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Chi’s Sweet Home Vol 1 & 2 by Konami Kanata Manga Review

Title: Chi’s Sweet Home Vols 1 & 2

Author: Konami Kanata

Publisher: Vertical

May Contain Spoilers

Kyaa! What a cute series!  Chi is a playful little kitten who gets lost one day when she’s out and about with her mother and her siblings.  She’s fortunate to be found by Yohei Yamada and his mother, who feel sorry for her and take her home with them.  Only problem; their apartment doesn’t allow pets, and the super is a super busybody.  The Yamadas agree to keep Chi long enough to find her a good home, even though it means breaking one of the rules of their lease.  Silly people! Did they really think they would be able to part with Chi once she moved in and claimed their territory for her own?

This is a simple title that is told through short, episodic chapters.  The magic isn’t necessarily in the story, which is uber-cute, but in the art.  Konami Kanata’s illustrations are more cartoon-like, but the characters are so expressive and charming.  There is never a doubt about what Chi is thinking, even when a panel has just her head.  There is a depth of emotion conveyed from just her eyes or the shape of her mouth.  You instantly know that she’s scared of dogs, hates the vet, and loves tuna.  There’s not much dialog, but there doesn’t need to be – the story follows Chi as she explores her surroundings and discovers the world around her.

Short on dialog but big on emotion, Chi’s Sweet Home will appeal to the animal lover in everyone.  Even if you don’t like cats, you won’t be able to resist Chi.  I dare you to not smile when she is distracted by a bright, shiny object, or playing with a plastic bag!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit Vol 3 by Motoro Mase Manga Review

 

Title: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit Vol 3

Author: Motoro Mase

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781421526805

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Congratulations! You have been randomly selected by the government…to DIE in 24 hours! R to L (Japanese Style). Sometimes people do "shoot the messenger": Featuring Episode 5: Life Out of Control & Episode 6: The Loveliest Lie Dear Citizen: Thank you for your loyalty. You’ve no doubt noticed that the world is a troubled place. People are apathetic, lazy, unmotivated. You’ve probably asked yourself Why isn’t anything being done to stop this systematic decline? Rest assured that measures are being taken. Beginning today, we will randomly select a different citizen who will be killed within 24 hours of notification. We believe this will help remind all people how precious life is and how important it is to be a productive, active member of society. Thank you for your continued attention and your cooperation and participation…

This series can be so somber and thought-provoking.  Fujimoto has a crap job; he has the unenviable task of informing people that they are scheduled to die within the next 24 hours.  Ugh!  And I thought being a bean counter had its ups and downs!

There are two story arcs in this volume, and both feature gripping stories about young men who just haven’t managed to fit into society. They are both struggling, trying to figure out how to do what’s best for them when they get the bad news that they are going to become unlucky statistics in the National Welfare program.  While one of the young men lashes out in fury, the other tries to make amends for a shady life of lies and con games so his sister can live comfortably after he’s gone.

In “Life Out of Control,” Naoki only wanted to please his politician mother.  His poor grades earned her distain, and soon he becomes a shut in.  I felt sorry for this kid, who spent most of his life unloved and ignored.  When his ikigami comes, his mother only wants to use it for her political gain.  Talk about scummy!  Gah!  It’s not a surprise when Naoki decides to punish her for making his life a living hell.

“The Loveliest Lie” tells Satoshi’s story.  He and his sister are orphans, and he’s been trying to muddle through life as best he can.  It hasn’t been easy, and he’s done some pretty shady things to try and provide for his younger sister.  When he receives his ikigami, he quickly decides to use his sacrifice for his sister’s gain, but he can’t let her know what’s going on.  Fujimoto learns the hard way that being diligent isn’t always a good thing.

I like Fujimoto, but it’s taken a while to get there.  He started as a cog for the government, blindly carrying out his duties, and even threatening to turn his girlfriend in for questioning National Welfare.  Now that he’s delivered quite a few ikigami, even he is beginning, however quietly, to wonder if it really is the best way to promote the public good.  Does a death lottery really make people embrace life and propel them into productive lives?  Or does it make them more apathetic?  Fujimoto’s  gradual reversal of opinion makes for some very compelling reading, and I wonder how he’s going to be able to carry out his duties if he continues to question the ultimate goal of job?  He is starting to question everything that he has been taught, and his internal rebellion is not sitting well with him.  For Fujimoto, doing what is right has always been a priority.  But what if what’s right isn’t what he thought it was?

Grade: A-

Bunny Drop Vol 1 by Yumi Unita Manga Review

 

Title: Bunny Drop Vol 1

Author: Yumi Unita

Publisher:  Yen Press

ISBN: 9780759531222

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Returning to his family’s estate for his grandfather’s funeral, thirty-something bachelor Daikichi is floored to discover that the old man had an illegitimate child with a much younger lover! Needless to say, the rest of the family is shocked and embarrassed by this turn of events, and not one of them wants anything to do with the little girl, who refuses to say a word. In a fit of angry spontaneity, Daikichi decides to adopt her! But is living with an overgrown teenager who can barely take care of himself the key to making Rin come out of her shell?

This was such a good book!  I was surprised that I liked it as well as I did, because the first time I flipped through it, I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the artwork.  Imagine my surprise when it slowly grew on me, much like the characters.  The simple yet expressive illustrations give the protagonists so much personality and charm, and capture Daikichi’s frazzled state of being after taking in six year old Rin, his grandfather’s illegitimate child. 

Daikichi is totally unprepared for the major upheaval that his life is about to undergo, but he gamely tries to tackle the challenges of raising a young child by himself.  I give Daikichi, and author Yumi Unita, props for drawing the reader into the sudden chaos of his life.  Each new obstacle is met with compassion, as the 30 year old bachelor tries to gamely be a caring and responsible caregiver to a venerable and emotionally confused child.  After everyone else in his family turns their back on Rin, Daikichi is disgusted with their attitude and refuses to abandon her.  Instead, he steps up and takes her in, over the objections of his relatives.  They all think he’s nuts and is setting himself up for failure, and because of their reactions, he is even more determined to make things work out. 

Daikichi isn’t exactly a go-getter when it comes to relationships, so Rin’s presence in his life takes some getting used to.  He tries to avoid women and kids, and Rin is both!  Daikichi’s clumsy attempts to give the girl a stable and emotionally secure home are endearing, and as he overcomes each challenge thrown before him, like juggling Rin’s day care with his hectic work schedule,  he learns more about himself, too.

Bunny Drop is a feel-good book about two emotionally starved individuals who need each other.  I am looking forward to the next volume!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by Yen Press