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

Venus in Love Vol 8 by Yuki Nakaji Manga Review


Title: Venus in Love Vol 8

Author: Yuki Nakaji

Publisher:  CMX

ISBN: 9781401221003


May Contain Spoilers

From the publisher’s website:

Eichi’s younger brother, Tomoki, enters a hair styling contest with Suzuna as his model. Even though his parents wanted him to attend a regular college, they support his wishes and attend the contest. When the family meets Suzuna, they all fall in love with her. With everyone pushing for the young couple to get together, could love finally be coming out into the open for Eichi and…

I didn’t feel that there was much forward progression in this volume of Venus in Love.  Tomoki is given a larger role in this installment, and despite his family’s objections, he is determined to pursue his dream of becoming a hair stylist.  When he decides to enter a hair styling contest, he asks Suzuna to be his model.  I thought this was cute, because even though Suzuna isn’t the prettiest girl around, he likes her hair.  It’s easy to style, and her winning personality doesn’t hurt either.  Everyone is drawn to Suzuna because she is such a cheerful and positive person.  She’s always laughing and smiling, and it makes perfect sense that boys would be drawn to her like helpless honey bees.  She is so happy most of the time that everyone around her can’t help but be happy, too.

Part of my dissatisfaction with this volume is its lack of focus.  The point of view jumped from Tomoki to Suzuna and Eichi, to Yuki, with Makoto and Honoka thrown in for good measure.  That’s an awful lot of characters to be crammed in one book, without much really taking place.  This volume is an uneven mix of episodic events that didn’t hold my attention, except when Suzuna and Eichi were predominately featured.  I have felt this way with previous installments of Venus in Love, that some of the daily activities didn’t feel fresh and new, but instead ventured dangerously close to repetitive and uninspired.  Something wonderfully endearing would usually happen in the next volume, so I am hoping that is the case with Volume 9.  I still love the characters, but this volume jumped around too much to be truly satisfying. 

Grade: B-

Happy Cafe Vol 1 by Kou Matsuzuki Manga Review


Title: Happy Cafe Vol 1

Author: Kou Matsuzuki

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427817303

May Contain Spoilers

Happy Cafe reminded me a lot of Pearl Pink, both in terms of artist style and storytelling.  The illustrations are energetic and facial expressions offer up a surprising amount of detail.  The story is fast-paced and Uru’s bubbly personality carries the cast. 

Uru is desperately seeking happiness after a misunderstanding at home sends her out on her own.  Her mother has remarried, and the 16 year old feels like a burden to her mom and new step-dad, so she convinces them to let her live on her own.  Uru wants to work at Cafe Bonheur after overhearing some customers comment about how happy they were after eating there.  After meeting Shindo, who is not the friendliest of people, she has to convince him to give her a job and a chance to prove herself.  All she really wants is to make people happy, and Uru believes that being a waitress at the restaurant is her ticket to beaming smiles.  If Shindo doesn’t nag her to death first.

Happy Cafe is a pleasant read, and it has a feel good vibe going for it.  Uru isn’t cut out for waitressing, because despite her diminutive stature, she is surprisingly strong and clumsy.  These are obviously not good traits for a waitress to have, and broken glasses and dishes soon pile up around her.  Shindo is only happy when he’s making his pasties, and he isn’t very encouraging when Uru first starts working at the cafe.  It’s hard to blame him, though, when you tabulate all of the broken place settings.  Uru has such a positive outlook, though, that it will only be a matter of time before she wins Shindo over.  In the meantime, there is a steady dose of comedy as Uru tries to adjust to her new job duties without destroying the cafe.

This is a character driven story, and the personalities are interesting enough to carry it forward.  I was disappointed with the premise, and felt that Uru’s background circumstances were flimsy and unconvincing.  Putting that aside, the book does a good job drawing out Shindo and Ichiro’s quirks.  The interaction between the three main characters kept me turning the pages, and I am wondering where the relationship between Uru and Shindo will go.  Shindo is not an encouraging or friendly kind of guy, so it will be interesting to see if Uru’s breezy personality can transform him into a nicer guy.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit Vol 2 by Motoro Mase Manga Review


Title: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit Vol 2

Author: Motoro Mase

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 9781421526799

May Contain Spoilers

I am so happy that I don’t live in the world of Motoro Mase’s Ikigami, where 1 in 1000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are chosen to die, all so others can gain a greater appreciation for life.  The setting seemed even more grim in this volume; the government rules through fear and intimidation, some of the brightest and the best are sacrificed to maintain social harmony, and everyone is expected to do their duty and report social miscreants and their harmful behavior.   No wonder so few of the characters actually know how to smile.

The first story arc features a drug addict who dreams of becoming a director, and his patient girlfriend.  I didn’t enjoy this episode very much, because Katsumura is not a very likeable guy.  He thinks the world owes him a break, because he is the only one of his peers who is still basically a gopher for the production company where he works.  Everyone else has been promoted or has moved on to better positions, while he has been passed over time and time again.  When he finally does get his big break, an ikigami intrudes and forces him to make a difficult decision.  Of course he makes the wrong one, and it was hard to work up some sympathy for him when he finally figures that out. 

The next story was much, much better.  A clumsy orderly at a nursing home tries very hard to improve and better himself, but he is so inept that everyone is constantly yelling at him.  When an old lady confuses him for her late husband, he is given an opportunity to snap her out of the stupor she has willed herself into.  Though not physically ailing, she refuses to walk and very rarely communicates.  Shoji is a nice guy, and you do feel bad for him, because nobody has ever given him any credit except for his grandmother.  She loved him unconditionally, while the rest of his family could only find fault with him.  This story hits several high notes, and it was very touching.  Two people who were trapped within themselves form a bond and become stronger because of it. 

After my first introduction to Fujimoto, I kind of liked him, and felt a little sorry for him.  It’s not easy having to deliver the rotten news to people that they are going to be dead within the next 24 hours.  Now, though, I think he is a weenie.  When his girlfriend dumps him because he’s gloomy and doesn’t know how to communicate, he threatens to turn her in for being a social miscreant.  Being an honorable government employee, there is no way that he could be the one at fault in the relationship, and the very fact that she can’t understand why he’s non-talkative and has a little black rain cloud over his head proves that she has issues.  Really?  By the end of the volume, Fujimoto is questioning his some aspects of his position as a messenger, but he is also becoming more callous and unemotional as he continues delivering his death notices. 

Ikigami continues to offer up a thought provoking read through slice of life moments in a world where a death lottery is meant to make people productive and useful members of society.

Grade: B

Venus in Love Vol 7 by Yuki Nakaji Manga Review


Title: Venus in Love Vol 7

Author: Yuki Nakaji

Publisher: CMX

ISBN: 9781401220990

May Contain Spoilers

CMX has certainly managed to license some very under-rated but emotionally involving titles.  Venus in Love in another series that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.  Some of the earlier volumes did feel a little redundant, but the author has settled into a much more solid mode of storytelling, focusing on the characters and their changing feelings for each other.  It has become very involving and even a little suspenseful, as Suzuna continues to make a positive impression on everyone she encounters.  For a girl supposedly lacking in feminine wiles, she has gathered quite a group of admirers around her.  I wonder who she is going to end up with?

Eichi is finally feeling the heat, and he is seething with jealousy.  It wasn’t disturbing enough that he had to worry about Suzuna falling for handsome model Yuki, but now a childhood friend is making advances on her, too.  It’s refreshing to see the guy squirm for a change, and Eichi is wiggling like a worm on the end of a hook.  Suzuna’s old friend, er, tormentor, Shu, has appeared on the scene, and he is obviously interested in her.  Suzuna is so friendly and carefree that she quickly welcomes him back into her life, which Eichi doesn’t like at all.  Now, instead of the girl being conflicted and torn by her feelings, it’s the guy, and Eichi isn’t dealing with his emotions very well.  A lot of their problems could be solved by just getting them out in the open, but that wouldn’t be as fun, would it?  Instead, there is this tug of war between Eichi, Yuki, and the new rival Shu, and the resulting tension is delightfully engrossing.

While the series retains an overall light-hearted tone, things are getting serious between Eichi and Suzuna.  The story is now driven by the characters and how they feel about each other, and even a trip to a museum can cause some unsettling shifts in how they regard each other.  The pacing is anything but swift, but the leisurely events allow for some quiet reflection amongst the cast.  Simple daily activities also invite new opportunities to view someone in a different light.  The change in how Suzuna and Eichi feel about each other has taken place gradually and convincingly.  While both of them can be dense at times, they are a fun couple and I want them to end up together.   Venus in Love has finally hit its sweet spot, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Grade: A-