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-

The Wallflower Vol 17 by Tomoko Hayakawa Manga Review

 

Title: The Wallflower Vol 17

Author: Tomoko Hayakawa

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345506597

May Contain Spoilers

The Wallflower continues to chug along, dishing up comedy as four beautiful boys vainly attempt to transform Sunako into a lady.  This isn’t easy because she’d rather be watching slasher flicks or collecting gruesome skulls than making small talk at tea parties.  She’s happiest shrouded in the dark, gloomy confines of her bedroom, and she avoids all things bathed in light, including her dashingly attractive housemates.  Will they ever succeed at turning her into a lady, and collecting their reward – rent free living at the comfortable mansion they call home?

Episodic in nature, this series isn’t for readers expecting character development or evolving relationships.  That kind of depth just doesn’t exist here.  Sunako is basically the same solitude-seeking girl she was in the first volume.  She doesn’t care about fitting in with the rest of society, preferring instead to just be left alone.  Her motivations in life are definitely out of whack, and the secret to getting her to occasionally do what’s desired of her lies in offerings of food, scary collectibles, or trips to dark, dank environments.  Coxing her to undertake girly activities, like bathing regularly or shopping for new clothes are a big zero to Sunako. 

The premise of the story is pretty shallow, I’ll readily admit, but it’s humorous nonetheless.  This volume offered up a nice blend of adventures, striking out with only one chapter.  “Unending Blues” recounts the landlady’s attempts to turn Kyohei into a gentleman, and I thought parts of it pushed the envelope of bad taste. The rest, though treading in familiar territory, offer up amusement as Sunako fails, yet again, to become a lady.  I can relate to Sunako to a certain degree – she just wants to be left alone, and food is the magical motivator for her.  Yeah, just wave a container of sushi in front of my face, and I’m pretty game for anything, too.

Readers content with the status quo will be satisfied with this volume.  Those seeking some romantic progress between Sunako and Kyohei are going to be disappointed.  There is no new ground covered, and Tomoko Hayakawa prefers to stay on a safe and well-worn path.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by Del Rey

Karakuri Odette Vol 1 by Julietta Suzuki Manga Review

 

Title:  Karakuri Odette Vol 1

Author: Julietta Suzuki

Publisher: Tokyopop

ISBN: 9781427814074

May Contain Spoilers

The premise of this series is very simple, yet still very compelling.  When Professor Yoshizawa creates the beautiful android Odette, she convinces her creator to allow her to attend high school.  Odette wants to learn what it means to be human.  The professor is reluctant, but he finally relents.  Will Odette be able to make friends and discover the true meaning of being human?

I love this book!  Through simple, slice of life vignettes,  Julietta Suzuki shares Odette’s introduction to all things human.  Despite having emotionless facial features and a very low key personality, she comes across full of curiosity and with an eagerness to learn.  As she discovers what sets her apart from her classmates, she asks Yoshizawa to make modifications to her programming so that she doesn’t stand out so much.  When events go awry, she also learns the limitations of being an ordinary human, which pushes her to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her new friend.

As Odette navigates her way through the ritual of making friends and surviving high school, she comes across as much more human than some of her classmates.  With her inquisitive mind and lack of guile, she accepts everyone at face value and expects them to be as upfront with her as she is with them.  That’s all she knows.   Even with her restrained expressions, she manages to draw people to her once she decides that she wants to be friends.  Because she isn’t very experienced with human emotions, she is incapable of making harsh judgments about others.  When she learns about the school delinquent, she wants to be his friend, even though he doesn’t want to spare her another thought and even her other friends are cautioning her against it.  He quickly learns, though her quiet persistence, that even he can’t remain immune to her earnest attempts at friendship for very long, and her friends learn that first impressions can be deceiving.

With its understated presentation, Karakuri Odette delivers a surprisingly charming tale.  Featuring a very compelling heroine, it’s hard to stay detached from the events taking place in the story.  Odette succeeds as an engaging character because she possesses the very traits she is desperately trying to understand.

Grade: A

Review copy provided by Tokyopop

Flower of Life Vol 2 & 3 by Fumi Yoshinaga Manga Review

Title: Flower of Live Vol 2 & 3

Author: Fumi Yoshinaga

Publisher: DMP

ISBN: 9781569708736 & 9781569708293

May Contain Spoilers

I don’t know how I overlooked this series for so long, and I feel sort of bad about it. Flower of Life is very fresh and entertaining, hosting a cast of fun and quirky characters.  It’s not just the high school students who are confused about what path their lives should take; even some of the adults are struggling to be true to themselves.  Most of the enjoyment is generated by the diverse personalities as they shift in and out of the spotlight in a merry-go-round of individual dilemmas.

The second volume follows the gang as they prepare for the cultural festival.  Sumiko Takeda is also introduced to the cast.  Sumiko is another one of those stereo-typical shy girls, who walks around in a gloomy fog, wondering why she doesn’t have any friends.  A chance encounter with Majima, of all people, gets her a little more attention than she ever wanted.  When Majima discovers that Sumiko’s doodles are actually manga-worthy, he immediately sets about finding a way to put her talents to use for his gain.  For a guy who always gets the worst grades in his class, he is one cunning and ruthless shyster.  I love Majima because he thinks the world revolves around him, even though he has the social skills of an empty soda can.  He can instantly seize someone up and determine their weaknesses, and then he concocts a clever way to exploit them.  He will have an awesome career in either sales or banking.

The cultural festival ends up being one of the most entertaining in manga, with a wonderfully laugh worthy finale.  For a change I wasn’t bored during this obligatory high school ritual, because the author put a unique spin on it and really had fun making a parody of the event. 

The  balance of the pages feature slice of life episodes, with the characters skillfully interwoven throughout the highly entertaining chapters.  It’s all so enjoyable because Fumi Yoshinaga doesn’t take anything seriously, and her teasing sense of humor just shines through all of the activity.  Everyone has hopes and dreams, worries and fears, and they are relayed to the reader in steady doses.  The pacing is spot on and the shift in mood and atmosphere makes for a book that is very, very hard to put down.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and snap up these gems!

Grade: B+

Venus in Love Vol 6 by Yuki Nakaji Manga Review

Title:  Venus in Love Vol 6

Author:  Yuki Nakaji

Publisher: CMX

ISBN:  9781401220952

May Contain Spoilers

Despite its leisurely pace, I like how this series is developing.  At times it seems a little repetitive, but this volume strikes a nice balance between slice of life activities and the complicated emotional minefield that is yawning out before the three young leads.  Suzuna has fallen for Yuki, her one time rival, but she doesn’t know how he feels about her. To add to her confusion, handsome Eichi has a crush on Yuki, too!  Lately, though, Eichi’s been more attracted to Suzuna, and he’s not sure how he feels about that.

Now that convoluted triangle has been etched out, the series is getting a lot more interesting.  Everyone is very hesitant to confess their feelings, which is only making things more complicated.  Yuki and Eichi now see themselves as competing for Suzuna’s affections, but she’s so clueless she doesn’t realize it yet.  She still thinks that she’s trying to win Yuki from Eichi, when it’s Eichi and Yuki who are vying for her attention.  To keep themselves from getting hurt, everyone has their own defense mechanism that also hinders any forward progress in the romance department.  Talk about frustrating! It is so obvious to anyone but these three how they feel for each other.

The character interactions are what carry the book, and if ordinary, daily activities like shopping for the ingredients for the perfect romantic dinner for two, which turns out to be for three, or if the thought of a friendly, no holds barred game of tennis doesn’t capture your imagination, you haven’t hung out with Suzuna.  She is the stereo-typical girl next door, a little plain, a little goofy, but she likes everyone and she’s a lot of fun to be around.  Before you know it, you get caught up under her spell, and you keep turning the pages, wondering what kind of trouble she’s going to run into next.  The plot is deceptively simple, but the hopes and dreams of the characters is anything but.  All of them, Yuki, Suzuna, and even Eichi, deserve a happy ending, but I can’t help but worry about how that is going to pan out.  Can the three of them remain friends in the end?

Grade: B+