Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Manic About Manga's Best of 2009

Wow! I'm really waiting until the end of the year to get my Best of the Year list done. I didn't do one last year because I like to be contrary and not follow the crowd. But I thought that this year I'd be wild and crazy and compile a list, but my list is just a bit different. How is it different you ask? Most lists contain ten titles but mine has nine (pfft! big deal right?), the way I chose the titles is more along the lines of either "This title was much better than I thought" or "I think I need to read the second volume before I decide" and then found myself sucked in. The final reason this one is different is I haven't ranked them. You'll see that several of the titles are yaoi because that is a large portion of what I read. Where my review is available I'll provide the link and feel free to share any thoughts in the comments section.

Love Machine – Amayo Tsuge, published by Deux Press
Kokuyo is a workaholic. He's constantly in and out of the hospital due to exhaustion. He has no family and only one friend, Seiki. Since Seiki is the one who has to pick Kokuyo up from the hospital he dreams up a grand scheme. You see Seiki works for a company that develops androids and feels that their newest model, ETOWA (Every Time Only With Affection) would be a great improvement for Kokuyo. Kokuyo has always lived alone and thinks only of himself. He's not happy with the idea but he gives in and welcomes Shiro into his home. Shiro is clumsy and adorable but will he be able to warm up Kokuyo?
In the past I was always squeamish with the whole android/human pairing but thanks to Dany&Dany's Anima I was able to set aside some of that uncomfortableness and read it without too many issues. I found myself immediately engrossed in the story and drawn to the interesting interpersonal relationships between not only the humans and androids but also the relationships that develop with the androids. There were even a couple times I found myself bawling my eyes out. Not only is the story interesting but the art is totally adorable and you can't help but falling for Shiro's adorable clumsiness!

Love Full of Scars – Psyche Delico, published by NETCOMICS
Love Full of Scars explores the boundaries of the yaoi genre. Yoko is a heartthrob reputed to have quite the technique in the bedroom. One day Yoko comes to school covered in bandages, and fellow student Yukio vows to protect him. But does he really know what he's getting himself into? In another story, Ishimoto discovers that he and his driver's ed. instructor share the same passion for an old action hero cartoon. It seems, though, that their unexpected common interests might be leading them to an entirely different kind of passion. In a tale of forbidden love, Fumi is quite taken with the handsome man his brother has become while studying abroad, perhaps even a little too taken. In a different type of high school romance, Kanda falls secretly in love with a fellow thug he beats up on a daily basis. Will the two be able to overcome their bad habits to become a couple? And what will happen when Kanda's older brother, who just so happens to be a queen, finds out about their relationship? The stories in Love Full of Scars tell of both the physical and emotional marks tough love can leave on a person. (Description from Akadot Retail)
I normally like to write my own synopses but in the case of Love Full of Scars this synopsis is one of the reasons it is on this list. The second reason it's on the list is because it is one of the best yaoi titles I've read this year. This description describes some other title. Love Full of Scars is HILARIOUS! Each story is unique, charming, and funny. This is not your typical yaoi title in the way it takes the usual yaoi plot devices and turns them on their heads. What I mean is there aren't many pretty boys and the uke/seme stereotype is completely thrown out of the window. I think sensei has a thing for facial hair because each story has a man with facial hair (with the exception of the final story dealing with a drag queen). I get somewhat tired of one shot anthologies but it was so worth picking up this title. You get gay thugs, action figures found in a somewhat questionable position, and a pretty boy who loves hairy men. With the above description this is a title that I had originally passed over but decided that I'd check it out at the NETCOMICS website. I knew after the first chapter that this was a title that I was going to have to purchase. This is not only one of the best titles of the year but has made it onto my favorite titles of all time list.

Oishinbo A la Carte – Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, published by VIZ Signature
To celebrate Tozai News being around for 100 years it has been decided that there would be a column dedicated to the Supreme Menu, food items that are truly represent Japanese cuisine and culture. Placed in charge of this task is Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita. It turns out that Shiro is the estranged son of famous ceramist and gourmet Kaibara Yuzan. The father and son don't get along and their opinions about who should be able to enjoy gourmet food vary wildly. In between the story of Shiro and Kaibara we get a glimpse into Japanese culture through the food.
Like I said in my review, who knew that a manga about food could be an entertaining read. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this manga so enjoyable. You get a personal story because of the relationships between the characters, an introduction to Japanese culture through their food, and it all plays very well together. A worthy read indeed!

Dog x Cat – Yoshimi Amasaki, published by 801 Media
All Atsu ever wanted was a dog but living in an apartment made it impossible, at least until he met Junya. Junya on the other hand has only wanted Atsu. These two are the same age, grew up together, and are very close. When Junya tells Atsu that he loves him in the way that he wants to have sex with him. Atsu has no idea what to do and if he feels the same way. When Atsu realizes that not only is Junya important to him he realizes that he wants Junya the same way.
When this title was announced at AX in 2008 I really couldn't find out much about this title. I figured that this would be your usual PWP yaoi title with little story and lots of sex (PWP meaning Plot? What Plot?). Yes it's what you would expect from 801 Media but I found myself loving this title much more than I thought. It's funny, and I mean really funny. Amasaki-sensei weaves the dog and cat theme throughout especially with Atsu and his catlike personality. The last two chapters are a bit serious and seem a bit out of place but I find that the way it is handled makes it much more important because when you get rape (sorry I gave it away) in yaoi its generally dealt with differently where in this case Atsu was much more empowered. Dog x Cat was definitely a surprise hit for me!

Ze – Yuki Shimizu, Published by 801 Media
Raizou has no where to go now that his grandmother has passed away. Thanks to the help of the mysterious Genma he is sent into the Mitou home. He's given room and board in exchange for taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and general household upkeep. But there's something strange about the Mitou's. It seems that they are Kotodamashi (spell casters) and use Kamisama (living paper dolls who have the ability to heal their Kotodamashi). But there is one Kamisama who seems to be without a Kotodama, and that would be Kon. Kon is Raizou's roommate and was the one originally taking care of the house. Now that Raizou is there what will Kon do?
Ze is a series that is still ongoing in Japan and is one of the titles that I had to read volume two to truly decide that this is actually an amazing series. The first volume is somewhat confusing because we are thrown a whole bunch of characters and a somewhat foreign idea. But there is something about Shimizu-sensei's art that keeps you interested and pushed me to read the second volume. Of course with the continuing of the series we meet more characters including the mysterious Genma and a possible connection between Raizou and Genma and things are explained more. But to me the main thing that kept me is the presence of Asari. He's one of the Mitou family Kamisama and is visually stunning. For anyone who knows me know that I find Shiuko Kano's representation of men the finest out there and Asari rivals many of them. I know that's a dumb reason but if the art is good enough to at least keep me interested then chances are I'll continue, that and my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. In the case of Ze it's definitely worth continuing after you get past the first volume of confusion.

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei – Koji Kumeta, published by Del Rey
Nozomu Itoshiki is a middle school teacher and only has one goal in life… to die. But he seems to be rather unsuccessful at it. He has quite the interesting class and he's not above using interesting teaching methods like telling his students not to worry about aiming high. He's a socialist at heart and seems to have an air of apathy around him but he cares for his students regardless.
I never had any intention of reading this title. Whenever there is something highly praised I usually run the other way from because I generally wind up disappointed (there are a few exceptions). I wound up offering to review it despite my dislike of all things popular and found a funny, biting manga that definitely made me laugh, and laugh hard. As the series has continued I find myself laughing at all of the hijinks that Itoshiki-sensei finds himself in. I've been letting a coworker of mine borrow this series and I've got her hooked as well. Whether it's Kafuka (one of sensei's students and super positive) inviting Admiral Perry into class to celebrate the opening of Japan (where he then insists on opening up everything be it books) to not celebrating Sensei's birthday because he knows he was conceived on Christmas Eve (the majority of the Japanese people aren't Christians and Christmas Eve is spent like Valentine's Day). This is a great series and I'm glad I got over myself to pick it up!

Merry Family Plan – Sumitomo Morozumi, published by NETCOMICS
Merry Family Plan is Morozumi-sensei's first manga. It is a collection of one-shots that feature a story of a high school boy that can't seem to keep his girlfriends because he doesn't seem to fully invest himself into his relationships. Until he meets the new male student in class. A quick tale of a guy who has a mask fetish thanks to his dentist. There's a story about two lovers who can't seem to be able to move their relationship forward. Another tale is one of two lovers who haven’t been able move forward in their relationship because they can't decide who is going to be the bottom and who is going to be the top. The final story is about a pilot who doesn't really want to be a pilot and then becomes possessed by a spirit who has a uniform fetish.
OK, so the above description stinks but it's hard to describe one-shot collections. I knew very little about this title and things I was reading about it was not very popular. Sometimes though titles that aren’t very popular can be rather good (at least in my opinion). I decided to give it a chance and found myself pleasantly surprised. You can tell that this is a first attempt for this mangaka because the art isn’t as polished. Story wise I found it enjoyable and I see a lot of potential. There was one section where one of her characters was in a thought spiral and portrayed this thinking with a visual of a merry-go-round. I caught myself thinking "How clever!" I was very surprised that I enjoyed this manga even though the characters looked rather young. I hope that Morozumi-sensei will continue to hone her (I assume) skills and we will be able to read them in English!

Cut – Toko Kawai, Published by Juné
Chiaki is gorgeous and popular but hides a deep secret. Eiji is quiet and doesn't seem to draw attention to himself. He hides a secret as well. These two young men find themselves drawn to each other. Chiaki is being sexually abused by his stepfather and Eiji's mother was crazy and tried to get rid of him by attacking him, neglecting him, etc. What these two young men find in each other is something that they need and soon begin a relationship. With them both of them hiding physical as well as emotional scars can they continue a healthy relationship?
Mental illness and abuse is always a touchy subject with me, knowing first hand what it's like (the mental illness part at least). You can't go wrong with Toko Kawai, but knowing that this was going to be an emotional read for me I had to proceed with caution. What I found was a truly amazing tale of hope, optimism, and love. I generally don't talk to my mom about yaoi titles I've read but in the case of Cut I had to bring it up because it was so poignant (I just left out the m/m and sex factors when we talked). I was moved beyond words by the way Kawai-sensei presented this story, especially the way she told of Eiji's past. I am so glad that Juné licensed this title because not only has this made my top of 2009 list but is also on my top manga titles of all time!


20th Century Boys – Naoki Urasawa, published by VIZ Signature
Kenji had a big imagination as a kid and had visions of greatness. Now he's the owner of a local convenience store, living with his mom and raising his niece that his sister basically abandoned. You'd think life would be boring but there's something going on and Kenji is going to have to save the day. Who knew that his big imagination and the death of a childhood friend was going to change his life forever. It seems that there is a big threat looming on the horizon and it is all based on a story created by Kenji and his friends one summer in the 60's.
I hadn't really thought much of reading anything by Urasawa-sensei until I asked readers to give me suggestions on non-yaoi authors and titles that I should check out. As it happens Urasawa-sensei was mentioned by a couple people so when the opportunity to get a review copy presented itself I jumped on the chance (sad thing is I haven't gotten it reviewed yet). This is another title that I didn't know if I was going to be continue reading until I read the second volume. I was a bit confused and generally action and sci-fi type stories just aren't my thing but I was hooked by the second volume. It tells a story that spans decades and jumps between Kenji's childhood and Kenji's current life. I can now see why Urasawa-sensei is so popular. He is a very gifted storyteller. I have really enjoyed reading 20th Century Boys and I give thanks to the readers who suggested I give Urasawa-sensei a shot!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oishinbo A la Carte - Japanese Cuisine (vol. 1) by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki review

Oishinbo A la Carte – Japanese Cuisine (vol. 1)

Author/Artist: Tetsu Kariya/Akira Hanasaki

Publisher: VIZ Signature

Rating: T – 13 and above

Genre: Seinen, Drama, Comedy, Slice of Life

Grade: B+

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Food… its something that we all need. Not only do we need it to sustain life but it also is very important to society. We all have dishes that are essential to our culture and one mention of these meals people immediately know where that food comes from. Scotland has Haggis, Russia and borscht goes hand in hand. When you think of Italy pasta comes to mind and where would America be without its apple pie. Even though food is essential you wouldn’t imagine making an entertaining manga out of it. Well it has been done, and done very well.

Oishinbo A la Carte focuses on the Teito Times and their project called the Ultimate Menu. Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita are the two employees in charge. It turns out that Yamaoka is the son of renowned gourmet and famous artist Yuzan Kaibara. Yamaoka and Kaibara have been estranged for many years and the two don’t get along. They have very different views on how gourmet food should be approached. Yuzan feels that only those with culture and discriminating taste should be recognized as gourmets. Yamaoka feels differently. He feels that everyone should be able to enjoy good food and that gourmet meals can be found everywhere, not just in super fancy and expensive restaurants.

Oishinbo A la Carte is presented in a new and interesting way than most manga series. Usually they start a series with the first volume and follow the stories in the order that they were published. In the case of Oishinbo A la Carte it is handled like the title implies, a la carte. The volumes focus on a food type and each story focuses on that particular menu item. They introduce the series with a very apropos food choice, Japanese Cuisine. Each chapter focuses on a menu item. Not only do you have the food but the interpersonal relationships between the characters that make the manga interesting. You find yourself drooling over the manga while reading the descriptions of the dishes. Not only do you get an interesting look into Japanese culture through the dishes that have been passed down through the generations but the folks at VIZ have provided recipes for a dish or two that were featured in the volume (they may have been included in Japanese volumes but I have no knowledge of that).

Some of the artwork in Oishinbo A la Carte does have a somewhat dated look to it and some of the stories take place several years in the past. Oishinbo is a series that was started in 1983 and is still ongoing. According to mangaupdates.com there are currently 102 volumes out and it’s still plugging along. This is one of the first VIZ Signature titles that I’ve checked out and I have to say that I’m impressed with quality of this release. The books are a little bit bigger than a usual VIZ release (they’re about the same size as a DMP volume). They don’t have dust jackets but have attached flaps that give it a higher scale look. The paper is also a heavier stock and has an heirloom quality to it. The recipe pages are presented in color to make the food look that much better and drool worthy. Because of these features the books are little more expensive but because of the high quality and overall great job in production it is worth the higher price.

For a manga about food I have found myself truly enchanted and I’ve found myself hooked by this series. What better way to learn about a fascinating culture like the Japanese than through their culinary feats!

***Review Copy provided by VIZ Media***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hey, Sensei? by Yaya Sakuragi review

Hey, Sensei?

Author/Artist: Yaya Sakuragi

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Grade: B

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Written in the corner of a test Tomohiko Isa catches the note "I love you, Sensei" from one of his students. Isa is a stoic high school math teacher. The surprise comes from who left the note, male student Takashi Homura. Homura happens to be the younger brother of his college girlfriend. It was in this relationship that Isa discovered that he was gay and he figured that Homura was using this as a way to get back at him. Bombarded by Homura’s constant sexual attacks he discovers that Homura’s love confession was in fact real and had no idea that Isa was gay.

Isa doesn’t have a lot of experience with matters of love and struggles with the fact he’s falling for his student who is ten years his junior. Homura on the other hand wants to appear to be grown up and be a suitable partner for his lover. Isa reluctantly agrees to start a relationship with Homura. Homura, being the youthful soul that he is, is ready and raring to go whereas Isa, being a responsible adult, wants to take things slowly. Will these two be able to overcome their obstacles and truly love each other?

You may recognize the work of Yaya Sakuragi-sensei. She is the artist behind BLU’s Tea for Two which is a great read all in itself. Because I’ve been enjoying that series I was really looking forward to Hey, Sensei? and I wasn’t disappointed either. It is a very sweet story with humor and romance and dealt with very human emotions. I found it very endearing that these two were both trying very hard to impress each other. Isa was constantly reminding Homura of their age difference and Homura was always trying to act older than he really is. It seemed that as soon as they admitted to themselves that it was ok to be who they really are their relationship really improved.

One thing I really liked about this release was the art. Sakuragi-sensei creates manly looking men. There are no girly looking ukes in this story. I find myself drawn to characters that are drawn lanky, lean and long. That’s exactly what you get from Sakuragi-sensei sexy, tall, manly characters. Another thing I enjoyed was the short personal comic in the Afterword. It has nothing to do with the story at hand but it gives us a little glimpse into her life. In regards to the physical look of the book it’s typical Juné. With Sakuragi-sensei the larger size makes it much easier to enjoy her art. But that’s just me.

I really like this title and can see myself reading this on a regular basis. If you like sweet romance, manly looking characters, and the teacher/student scenario doesn’t bother you I recommend this title. For another view be sure to catch April Kimm’s review.

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Manhattan Love Story by Momoko Tenzen review

Manhattan Love Story

Author/Artist: Momoko Tenzen

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: D

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Manhattan Love Story is a collection of related vignettes tied to a midtown flower shop. Dan "Diamond" Loving is the manager of a flower shop in midtown Manhattan that is owned by his lover Rock Melville. Rock is a powerful CEO and is rather busy so the time that the two of these men is few and far between. They love each other but Dan has a hard time dealing with not being able to see his lover as often as he would like.

We also get stories featuring Dan’s employee Kanan who falls in love with a Japanese high school student who is in town visiting family, Kenji’s (the Japanese high school student) nephew falling for his teacher, and Rock’s secretary Jessie is dating an old college friend of Rock’s. Jessie met Louis at a bookstore he was working at. This is the couple that adorns the front cover.

I had high hopes for Manhattan Love Story because Momoko Tenzen-sensei happens to one of my favorite mangaka. I find her stories calming and interesting and her art, though sparse, has a very classy, high art feel to it. With the cover of this manga you definitely get that impression. But once I cracked open the book I found that this is one of sensei’s weaker titles. The main character Dan honestly looks like a flat chested girl (which really comes across on the back cover). He also acts somewhat girly. And the names Diamond and Rock, how cheesy is that. I realize that you can get some pretty bizarre names here in the states but I think sensei’s pushing it a bit. I did like the stories with Kanan and Kenji (the Japanese student) and Jessie and Louis’s story, although I would have used a different spelling of Jessie (the spelling used seems to be the more feminine spelling, I would have used Jesse which is much more masculine looking.) But the story that sinks this volume is The Angel and the Hydrangea, the teacher and student story. Normally I’m not too against this particular plot device because they are usually dealing with high school students. But in this case we are dealing with a teacher and a thirteen-year-old. Not only is he sleeping with several of his students, but seems to be obsessed with the young boy. Creepy! Many of the titles that I’ve read, sensei uses teacher love on a regular basis but this one just crosses the line. I know when I was thirteen I wasn’t looking to hook up with my teachers (most of them were old anyway). I feel that this story drags down the entire volume.

You can tell that this is one of sensei’s older titles because when you look at her newer works (like La Satanica also published by Juné) the art style has changed. The characters have very sharp chins and extremely long faces. She’s definitely improved over time but her art regardless of when it was drawn has always attracted me. I am so glad that Juné has decided to license many of her works. She is definitely one of my favorites and whenever I get my shipment of review books I always save hers for last because I enjoy her work so much (unless I get a Makoto Tateno book in the shipment then that is the last one I read). Sadly with the case of Manhattan Love Story I can’t praise it like I wish I could. I just found The Angel and the Hydrangea so distasteful that it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book.

It is beautifully published and I love the cover (with the exception of the clashing pink bar on the bottom, but it was published before Juné got its new makeover). But a beautiful book doesn’t make it worthy of your time. I can’t really recommend it because of the shota aspects of the third story. The rest of the book is OK but it’s not stellar. I’m leaving the decision up to you!

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Strange and Mystifying Story vol. 1 by Tsuta Suzuki review

A Strange and Mystifying Story vol. 1

Author/Artist: Tsuta Suzuki

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Supernatural

Grade: B-

Aki Yamane’s family seems to be cursed, everyone dies too young. While Aki’s grandfather is on his deathbed he tells Aki that if he ever needs anything the family has a protective spirit and all he needs to do is call upon it. But not long after his grandfather’s death he falls ill as well. He seems to be consumed by an unidentifiable illness and figures he’s not long for this world. Aki isn’t ready to die quite yet. Coming upon a fossilized tooth on the family shrine he summons the family’s protective spirit. Aki is in for quite a shock when the spirit materializes as a hunky wolf-man.

Once the spirit is summoned Aki must give him a name and tell him what he wants. At one time Aki’s grandpa summoned him and named him after his deceased wife Setsuko, so being the creative soul that he is calls him Setsu. Aki’s wish is for Setsu is to get rid of his disease but the way that Setsu goes about ridding Aki’s body is rather sensual and Aki becomes self conscious. Aki changes his mind and no longer wants Setsu around but doesn’t know how to go about it. But since Setsu is around Aki’s life doesn’t seem to be quite so lonely anymore and he does feel a lot better.

When Aki gets to the point of feeling pretty good he’s able to go about his business as usual and goes back to work. He’s a civil servant and works with an old childhood friend and his boss happens to be an old friend of his grandfather’s. But things are not bound to run smoothly when you have a sexy wolf-man living in your home. How is Aki to explain Setsu’s presence to his coworkers?

A Strange and Mystifying Story is just that, strange and mystifying, but is also intriguing, beautifully rendered, and humorous. But I do have a few hang-ups. The story is kind of confusing because we don’t get much back story into why Aki’s family is cursed and why Setsu has been protecting them all this time. It is a series, however, and I figure that answers will come in time. Another problem I found is Aki says one thing then behaves in another. This is a common yaoi plot device that can get somewhat tiring. Aki complains about being with Setsu but Setsu is the one who is healing him and Aki doesn’t really seem to appreciate it but then turns around and wants feel accepted by Setsu. Weird. Finally the secondary characters seem to be more colorful and interesting than the main ones (actually I should just say main character) especially Aki’s boss Minamura. It turns out that he met Setsu in his previous incarnation as Setsuko and was healed by him. He claims that Setsu was his savior and his first love (and seeing Setsu I can totally see it). It also seems that Aki’s childhood friend possibly has a crush on the boss. Interesting office!

Overall though I did find it rather enjoyable and it turned out to be a great escape. I don’t recommend this title to new yaoi readers though. Setsu has the cosplay thing going for him where he has ears and a tail but one of my first experiences with animal/human and human pairings was early on in my yaoi reading and I almost left boys love titles in the dust. He does go in and out of animal form (not much) and does have the ears and tail quite regularly, but can look like a normal human as well. Now if you are a yaoi veteran and can read anything then you’ll probably enjoy it.

Juné did a pretty good job. The translation seemed to flow ok and I don’t recall any spelling or grammatical errors. The dust jacket fits nicely. The only thing that sticks out is that the cover has an orange hue but then there’s the pink Juné branding strip (with their new look the second volume looks much better). It does take away from the cover illustration, but you get over it pretty quickly.

For anyone who likes their yaoi with a touch of fantasy and supernatural you may want to check out A Strange and Mystifying Story. If you are new to yaoi you may want to put it off until you become a little more familiar with the plot devices and conventions used (and I don’t mean conventions like Yaoi-Con) and tackle this title then. But it’s completely up to you, you may really enjoy it, but I’m personally glad I waited to read it when I was a little more familiar with the genre.

***Review Copy purchased through Yaoi Club***

Monday, November 30, 2009

Princess Princess Plus by Mikiyo Tsuda review

Princess Princess Plus
Author/Artist: Mikiyo Tsuda

Publisher: Doki Doki

Rating: YA – ages 16 and up

Genre: Shojo, Comedy, Gender Bender, School Life

Grade: B

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

There is a somewhat strange tradition at the all-boys Fujimori Academy. Instead of having a more traditional style of mascot (you know something along the lines of Jaguars, Cougars, Spartans, Bees, etc.) they have the Princesses. A few of the prettiest boys are chosen to dress in drag and cheer on the various clubs on campus. Mikiyo Tsuda introduced us to the Princesses in her series Princess Princess and continues the concept in Princess Princess Plus.

Kiriya Matsuoka and Tomoe Izumi have been chosen to be this year’s Princesses. Both decide to take on the job but for various reasons. Being a Princess has a few perks but is also very hard work and the two new princesses will have to go through a crash course to learn the ins and outs of the job. And their new drill sergeants are none other than last year’s princesses Tohru Kouno, Yuujirou Shihoudani, and Mikoto Yutaka. Becoming a princess is hard work but Matsuoka and Izumi take it all in stride and work very hard together. But things change very quickly when Izumi invites himself over to Matsuoka’s house. Matsuoka and his siblings lost their parents when they were young and they live in a small apartment. Izumi on the other hand was born into a very rich family and wants for nothing, except a true friend. Izumi assumes that because he and Matsuoka are now princesses together the two should become close friends. But when Izumi tries to get to know Matsuoka better, his plan backfires and soon Matsuoka comes to despise Izumi. Things get so bad that even the previous princesses notice that something is wrong. Will Izumi and Matsuoka be able to set aside their differences and become friends, or will pride continue to get in the way?

Princess Princess Plus is one of the first books released by Digital Manga Publishing’s Doki Doki line. Doki Doki is a partnership with the Japanese publisher Shinshokan (in Japan Shinshokan publishes the manga magazines of Wings, a shojo mag, and Dear +, a boys love magazine). This line seems to focus on shojo and boys love titles aimed mainly at a young adult level (Juné and 801 Media titles are geared toward adult readers). For their first book Princess Princess Plus isn’t too bad of a choice.

Mikiyo Tsuda has created an entire universe that these characters inhabit. There are a couple of spin-offs that feature the Princess Princess characters (The Day of Revolution, Family Complex, and of course Princess Princess). The original Princess Princess series was published by DMP and contains five books (if you are interested in reading Ginger Mayerson’s review of this title click here). In the original series the story focuses mainly on the job of being a princess and stars Kouno, Shihoudani, and Yutaka. In Princess Princess Plus the princess responsibilities take a back seat to the personal story between Izumi and Matsuoka. Matsuoka has a huge complex because he lost his parents when he was young and his older brother works as a host to make ends meet. Izumi, on the other hand, is the only child born into a very wealthy family. Because of this wealth he is generally taken advantage of by his friends but he yearns to find a friend who will see him for him and not for the money his parents have. The point of this story is to watch the friendship between Matsuoka and Izumi blossom.

With this being one of Doki Doki’s first titles I was looking forward to how they were going to look production-wise. The books are the same size as 801 Media titles (sister company to Doki Doki) but have about the same quality and price point as a Juné title. Another nice feature is that instead of using a bar on the bottom of the book to brand it they used a nifty scroll pattern with the Doki Doki logo in the corner. One thing I did wonder about was how they were going to handle the under the cover comic. Mikiyo Tsuda is famous for throwing in a gag comic underneath the dust jacket. With this title there is no jacket but luckily it is printed at the end of the book.

Overall I did enjoy this title because the story focused on the interpersonal relationships between the characters whereas the original series seemed to be focused mainly on the princesses’ duties and costumes that they wore. The personal stories seemed to be secondary. It is assumed that you’ve already read the first five volumes of the original series so they figure that you know the basics of the story (like why they have princesses as mascots as opposed to anything else). This can be read as a stand alone title but it does make more sense if you’ve read the first series. It is also a one-shot because Tsuda-sensei mentions in her ending comments that she’s done all she can with it and it has been a very fulfilling project for her. This is one that Tsuda-sensei fans won’t want to miss. I will however make the comment that you may want to avoid this title if you don’t have a thing for cross-dressing in your manga. It can get tiring after a while. While I’m not a rabid Tsuda-sensei fan I found this to be a fun title that is a great distraction from everyday life!

For another point of view be sure to check out I-hsiu Lin’s review.

***Review Copy provided by Doki Doki***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Friday, November 27, 2009

Il Gatto Sul G vol. 1 by Tooko Miyagi

Il Gatto Sul G vol. 1

Author/Artist: Tooko Miyagi

Publisher: Juné

Rating: YA – ages 16 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: A

Atsushi Ikeda is the quintessential nice guy. He rescues stray cats and helps clear the streets by picking up stray furniture on the way to the dump. One day on the way home he finds a high school student in front of his apartment. The young man’s hand is injured quite badly so Atsushi brings him in, treats his injury and even feeds him. He can’t seem to get any information from the young man, but because Atsushi is the caring soul that he is he wants to help this kid out any way he can. He soon learns that the guy he helped out is none other than famous violinist Riya Narukawa. Atsushi finds himself worrying about Riya and so he takes it upon himself to take him under his wing. But the more he sees of Riya the more he learns about how troubled Riya is. It seems that Riya suffers from multiple personalities.

Riya seems to be timid and shy but his other personality is much bolder. Atsushi met the less timid personality first. Atsushi gives Riya a spare key to his apartment and tells him that he can come over anytime and use it as a refuge. The two start to get to know one another but it seems that the timid personality doesn’t remember what happens when the bold personality is in charge. It’s the beginning of a complicated relationship with many twists and turns ahead.

Anytime you combine yaoi and a musical storyline you are definitely going to get my attention. Il Gatto Sul G is a three volume series by Tooko Miyagi. I’m not too familiar with Miyagi-sensei so this was really a first for me. The only thing of sensei’s I’ve ever checked out is the Juné light novel A Promise of Romance, she was the illustrator. Since this is the first volume we’re just setting up the story and introducing the characters. In this one it’s a bit more complicated because we have the black (bold) personality being attracted to Atsushi and the white (timid) personality is attracted to his sempai (we’re introduced to him in this volume but his part is minor). I find myself drawn to this story not only because it has a musical story to it but anytime you have characters that deal with mental illness in any way, shape, or form is going to pique my interest. Mental illness is a tough thing to deal with and when you present it in an interesting way you can bring attention to a much stigmatized issue.

This is a beautiful release. It has a matte dust jacket which gives it a very sophisticated look. The paper is brilliant white but is rather flexible and makes it a pleasant read. The translation is smooth and I don’t recall any editing mistakes. It is a very nice presentation and is Juné at its best.

Be prepared for a heart wrenching, emotional, rollercoaster ride. But it is definitely worthy of your time!

***Review Copy purchased through Amazon.com***

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Clan of the Nakagamis: The Devil Cometh (vol. 2) by Homerun Ken review

Clan of the Nakagamis: The Devil Cometh (vol. 2)

Author/Artist: Homerun Ken

Publisher: Juné

Rating: YA – 16 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Romance

Grade: B

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Everyone says that their family is crazy (believe me I’ve used that excuse a time or two) but in the case of the Nakagamis, they are truly crazy. You have a family obsessed with the middle son Tokio, an older son who is a cross-dressing shojo artist, and a younger brother who is somewhat gullible when it comes to his older brother. But the siblings are just the tip of the iceberg. The mom and dad are eternally youthful and look much younger than their children and the grandfather is the youngest looking one out of the bunch, if you didn’t know any better you’d think he was around the age of ten or so. If you’re interested in checking out reviews for the first volume you can read mine or a great male perspective by Tom Good.

Things seem to going OK with Haruka Iijima and Tokio Nakagami but they aren’t moving fast enough for Iijima thanks to the butting in of the rest of the Nakagami clan. But an ominous wind blows in the son of the head of the family and president of the Nakagami Group, Hibari Nakagami. It seems weird to the rest of the family that Hibari just shows up out of the blue to collect Grandfather Mitsuru (the ten-year-old looking grandpa). But instead of leaving with Grandfather he seems to have taken Tokio’s heart with him leaving Iijima, and the rest of the family worried. Only they’re worried about different things, Iijima feels that Hibari is taking his beloved sensei away from him, and the Nakagami clan figure that Hibari is using the fact that Tokio once had a thing for him to take advantage of him and his youthful appearance. Will Iijima and the rest of the Nakagamis be able to rescue Tokio before anything horrible will happen to him?

The second half of the book features a story starring Takamaru (the third son), Hibari, and Kijinojyo (the eldest son and the cross-dresser). Takamaru gets lost on an island famous for its mushrooms and its pirate legend while searching for a legendary mushroom that will save Tokio from a dreaded family disease (which turns out to be just a joke that their father told them). But who knew that while on the island they were going to be roped into the mystery of the pirate treasure.

This series is honestly a hidden gem. There are many hardcore yaoi fans that wouldn’t pick up this book because it has a YA rating. Usually with that rating it means that the sexual content isn’t as prevalent. But if you haven’t read this series you are missing out, big time! It is absolutely hilarious. The story is far-fetched but that’s what makes it fun. There is a scene in the first story where Hibari and Tokio are having dinner but to protect Tokio’s innocence Iijima, Kijinojyo, Takamaru and eventually Gokurakuchota (the father) show up in various types of dress but they’re all wearing different types of neckties because it is a requirement for men (and Kijinojyo is in his cross-dressing mode). I laughed out loud, which I usually don’t do (I choose to just snicker to myself). The storytelling is done well and the story moves rather quickly. It is a quick read but definitely worth you time.

Not only is the story great but I have found that I really like Homerun Ken-sensei’s art style. It is very clean and detailed and the characters actually look Asian (which often times the look is more generic). Everyone is gorgeous and beautifully designed. The art will really blow you away (at least in my opinion). The art and the story work really well together and the characters are well developed.

Since Juné decided to lose the dust jackets they store better and look rather nice on a shelf. I do admit that I miss the dust jackets because on the inner flaps you usually get a blurb written about the author. Without the jacket you don’t get them and I miss those comments, they were always good for a giggle. But, oh well, I think I’ll live. The translation was done smoothly and they did a great job on the clean-up. But Juné usually does a bang up job when it comes to high production value.

I don’t know if there is a third book in the works but in the Afterword sensei makes it seem like the chances that she’ll (I assume it’s a she) continue the series. I really hope so because not only do we have the Tokio x Iijima pairing, but we also have the new couple of Takamaru and Imaizumi, and there is the building sexual tension between Hibari and Kijinojyo. I’ve found myself completely entranced by sensei’s work and hope that more will be brought to the English-speaking market.

If you haven’t checked out Clan of the Nakagamis, you should really pick it up. You can read it as a stand alone story, but I do recommend reading the first volume before you read The Devil Cometh. It makes more sense that way and is way more enjoyable. I do recommend this series and I think you ought to check it out!

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hey, Class President! vol. 1 by Kaori Monchi review

Hey, Class President! vol. 1

Author/Artist: Kaori Monchi

Publisher: 801 Media

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance, School Life

Grade: C

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

For any yaoi reader you know that when you have an all-boys school there is going to be hooking up. In Kaori Monchi-sensei’s Hey, Class President! there is plenty of sex to go around.

Kokusai and Chiga have been in the Judo club together but recently Kokusai has been elected as class president. It seems that the school’s tradition in to elect the most wanted guy. And that guy is Kokusai. Kokusai gets to select his vice president and that lucky soul is Chiga. Chiga doesn’t understand why on earth anyone would want to elect Kokusai as the class president. He’s slow and clueless to things that are going on around him. He’s a stalker and pervert magnet and he’s always being groped by strangers on the train. Now that Chiga is in the picture he keeps creeps at bay. Chiga is a known womanizer and never has a shortage of girlfriends but since he can’t seem leave Kokusai alone he finds himself attracted to Kokusai as well. What will happen to these two?

With Hey, Class President! I’ve found it hard to explain the plot of the story because I don’t really understand what is going on. Not only do you have the things going on in the school and the dealings with Kokusai and Chiga but you also have other things going on outside of school. There seems to be a stalker making the rounds in Kokusai’s neighborhood and actually has set his sights on Kokusai. Since this is the first of four volumes we won’t find out who the stalker is for a while. One thing I have figured out is Monchi-sensei writes whatever she wants regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Right now I don’t know if I like the series. The story is kind of all over the place and doesn’t make sense in some places but that might clear up as the series goes on. The art is definitely unique and you can tell immediately that it is Monchi-sensei. The sex is hot and plentiful towards the end (you get a lot more in the second volume.) And I must say that this has one of the longest self loving scenes I have ever read in a manga. Dang!

With this being an 801 Media release you know the smut factor is going to be high and with this one it is definitely smutty. I like 801’s productions values. The books are about the same size as the Japanese originals and they always include a full color cover sheet. One thing I really liked was the font choices. Normally I take it for granted, but when the font is off it really pulls you out of the story. 801 (and DMP in general) always do an amazing job on their translation, cleanup, and design.

Do I recommend this title? Well… it’s still early in the series. Since it doesn’t make much sense to me right now doesn’t mean I’m ready to give it up (besides being obsessive/compulsive like I am once I start something I finish I have to see it through.) So let’s all give this a chance, cool?

***Review Copy provided by 801 Media***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Close the Last Door! vol. 1 by Yugi Yamada

Close the Last Door! vol. 1

Author/Artist: Yugi Yamada

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – ages 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Romance

Grade: A+

Atsushi Nagai has got a problem. He has a monster crush on co-worker and kohai Toshihisa Saitou. Not only does he have this crush but he didn’t realize that he had this crush until Saitou told him that he was getting married. Broken hearted at the wedding he decided that he would drown his sorrows at the bar. While getting smashed he met a coworker of the bride’s. It seems that Kenzou Honda had a thing for the bride at one time. After the wedding the two got drunk and fell into each others arms, who knew that all hell was about to break loose.

It seems that Remi, Saitou’s bride, ran off with a co-worker and former lover. She married Saitou in hopes of forgetting her former love. Satiou is now broken hearted and seems to giving off some serious crushing on Nagai pheromones. Nagai has gotten himself into quite the dilemma. He and Honda get together a lot to drink and do more. Saitou is trying to forget his wife and is spending more and more time with Nagai (and Honda since the two spend a lot of time together). This is one bizarre love triangle that is going to take some work to get things resolved.

Yugi Yamada is one mangaka that never fails to disappoint me (see my first Mangaka Musings post). In Close the Last Door vol. 1 we are introduced to this crazy love triangle. There seems to be some serious chemistry between Nagai and Honda and they like to use the excuse of them being drunk as a jumping off point to jump into bed together. Nagai also can’t refuse Saitou but I honestly think that his affection for Saitou is like a pet owner has for a pet. He can’t bear to have someone take Honda away from him but he’s all flustered over Saitou as well. Since this is a first volume who knows what is going to happen! The story moves quickly with twists and turns but isn’t confusing. I love Yamada-sensei’s portrayal of men. They look like men, they behave like men, and show emotion like men (which means they don’t know how to show or deal with them). With these three characters they all have such unique personalities and unique looks makes it easy to differentiate between them.

This is one quality release from Juné. It is an older title so it has the dust jacket, but unlike some of Juné’s older releases the paper is very flexible. I’m so glad that DMP has licensed many of Yugi Yamada-sensei’s titles and I hope that we can see more. The sequel was held up due to the Biblos bankruptcy and because for some reason sensei doesn’t sell very well here in the States (which is bizarre because wherever you turn people are constantly slathering on the praise for her work.) I can’t wait for the second volume to come out which we won’t see until the end of 2010 (boo!)

I highly recommend this title for the sheer awesomeness that is Close the Last Door vol. 1. It is amazing in art, and sensei’s ability to tell a great story that will hook you from the moment that you crack open the book. Read it, you won’t be disappointed!

***Review Copy purchased through Akadot Retail***

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Love/Knot by Hiroko Ishimaru review

Love/Knot

Author/Artist: Hiroko Ishimaru

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – ages 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Suspense, Romance

Grade: D+

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

By day Keigo Someha works as a somewhat unsuccessful private investigator. But for his evening job, an assassin for hire, he's much more successful. On his way back from his evening job he finds a young man who'd collapsed in front of his house. This young man has a unique look and piques Keigo's interest. When the young man awakens in a strange environment, he freaks out. Keigo, like a good host should, introduces himself and learns the young man's name, Emiya Nozaki. Emiya is very wary but poses an interesting proposition. Since Keigo is not the best detective, Emiya gives him some information about a person he is currently looking for. If the info is correct Keigo has to let Emiya stay with him. Of course Emiya's information is spot on so Keigo allows him to stay. But while on another job he that a top secret government experiment escaped and that he may be getting a call. It turns out that Emiya is the government experiment. He possesses a high intellect and seems to have ESP abilities. Now that Keigo has accepted Emiya into his life will he be able to hand him over to the government, or will he protect him from having to go back to the place he tried so hard to get away from?

Oh man, the plot had so much potential but sadly it falls so very short! If the story focused on building the relationship between Keigo and Emiya it probably would have worked better. But we were introduced to the characters and then almost immediately they were professing their love. With the opportunity to have a great action/love story Love/Knot misses the point. I had hoped that there would have been more action because Keigo wants to keep his assassin side hidden and Emiya would have been fighting to stay out of the government's clutches but as quickly as these points are made they are quickly forgotten. Everything is just disjointed and things are kind of messy (just like this review). I found myself hoping for the ending to come quick which isn't a good sign for any book, manga or otherwise.

Digital Manga always does a great job when it comes to the physical production of the book. With the larger trim size it makes it stand out on a shelf and the illustrations are clear. I do kind of miss the dust jackets, but they are easier to store. Juné brought us another Hiroko Ishimaru title, Total Surrender and honestly preferred that title to this one.

I will admit I do like the art and the characters are all very attractive and are well proportioned. If you choose to read it at least the art is appealing. The story is not new and sadly Love/Knot hasn't really changed my life in this presentation of this story line. I've seen it done over and over again, and better. But I'm going to leave it up to you; you may really like it!

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Awaken Forest by Yuna Aoi review

Awaken Forest

Author/Artist: Yuna Aoi

Publisher: Juné

Rating: M – ages 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: D

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Yoshimori is a newcomer to the editorial department but for some strange reason he's been tasked to retrieve the manuscript of the well-known and very talented author, Orito Suga. He had the opportunity to meet Suga-sensei and his brother at a work function. These two brothers are beyond handsome and Yoshimori is looking forward to spending a little time with these two handsome men. But behind these two gorgeous yet mysterious brothers lies a secret that can be the end of these two, and with Yoshimori not only living with the Suga brothers but also feeling an attraction to Masato something dangerous seems to be lurking.

Included with the main story of Awaken Forest are two short one shots. Loose Bonds is a tale of two childhood friends, one of which has had a crush on the other and will do anything to keep his friend by his side. Be With Me 'Til Morning and Be With Me 'Til Night is a story where a playboy realizes that his friend is the only man for him.

You might recognize the art in Awaken Forest. Yuna Aoi is another penname for Tamotsu Takamura the artist who created Jazz, also released by Juné. I never read Jazz and after reading Awaken Forest I probably won't. The story in Awaken Forest is a bit jarring with an incest angle. Plus throw in some non-con sex and that's about all there is to Awaken Forest. There is very little story, honestly. It goes from newbie editor going to authors house, finding out the secret behind the two brothers, being raped, to end of story. I sat scratching my head thinking "What crap did I just read?" Then following the story of Awaken Forest you have Loose Bonds which is almost as disturbing as the first story. Ren has had a thing for Aki since they were kids and will go to extreme lengths to make sure that Aki depends on Ren only. Ren has been pulling all kinds of crap to deceive Aki to keep him in his clutches. This type of story line doesn't appeal to me either. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with angsty plots but in the case of these two stories I didn't like them one bit. The third story is the only one that is half-decent but is rather typical of the genre.

Not only was the story lackluster but the art was rather unimpressive as well. There is little detail and the characters seem to all look alike. The only difference is the hairstyles on the characters. They seemed to have unnaturally large eyes, especially when children were portrayed. It really pulled me out of the story, which is bad when I'm not really fully invested to begin with. Honestly this title is one that you can miss. If you want to read it I say go for it but just know that in my opinion the only story that is half decent is Be With Me 'Til Morning and Be With Me 'Til Night.

***Review Copy provided by Juné***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mangaka Musings - Yugi Yamada

I've wanted to spend time yammering on about some of my favorite mangaka for quite some time but I could never decide with whom to start so I never got around to it. But since word on the net is that Yugi Yamada just isn't as popular here in the States I just have to put in my two cents about sensei's work.

I'm the first to admit that I wasn't one bit interested in Yamada-sensei's work. Every time I saw one of her covers I thought that the cover art was ugly and being new to the whole yaoi scene I truly judged every book by the cover (I've learned now that you can't do that because some of my favorite titles are those very books I thought were ugly). I was somewhat upset because I was running out of Juné titles to read and when I started reviewing for J LHLS I was usually battling with other reviewers for the Juné and 801 Media titles. I had requested a couple 801 titles but for me to get them sooner I had to request a couple more books for my editor to spend the money on postage. The only titles that were available were vols. 1 and 2 of Don't Blame Me. Since I really wanted my 801 books I decided that what the heck I'm not paying for the books I can just read them, slam them and get on with the titles I really wanted. What I didn't expect when I opened up my package of books was getting hooked on Yamada-sensei's work.

When it comes to yaoi titles that I like to read I love humor, I love my characters to behave like men (seeing how that’s what they are), and I like rich, interesting characters with art that matches the story. I especially like unique art styles that compliment the storytelling. That's what I found with Yamada-sensei. I picked up the first volume of Don't Blame Me and within just a few pages I was sucked in immediately. The characters were interesting, unique, and I found myself laughing. I couldn't put the darn thing down. The next thing I knew I had powered through the first volume and was impatiently ripping off the shrink-wrap dying to continue. Now, you see manga doesn't take too long to read but I simply had to read these back to back and immediately because I had to find out how the story ended. Once I finished it I was converted. The story moved quickly with wit, humor, and depth that is honestly rare to find in yaoi. Even the art grew on me and now she is one of my favorites. After I read Don't Blame Me I honestly ran to my nearest bookstore that sold yaoi to purchase the rest of the titles that were released in English. I even went so far to check out many of her titles that had been scanlated and found several more of her titles that I've really enjoyed and would love to see them brought to our shores.

The title that really spurred me on to write this little (yet crappy) editorial is the release of Close the Last Door vol. 2. Juné licensed several of Yamada-sensei's titles but seem to have a difficult time selling her books. Close the Last Door was one of the titles that they licensed before the Biblos bankruptcy. You see Biblos was one of Japan's largest boys love publishers but due to poor management the company went bankrupt. Libre was then created and picked up the Biblos licenses and all the English publishers had to go back to renegotiate the terms for releasing the titles. Close the Last Door was a fun, crazy story about a guy who was in love with his kohai but when said kohai got married he was so upset he ended up drunk and slept with the kohai's wife's coworker. This story was released several years ago and was caught up in the Biblos mess. But it seems that Juné worked through all those issues and are back on track with publishing these titles. But it seems that because Yamada-sensei just doesn't seem to sell all that well we’re going to have to wait until the end of 2010 to get that book. I realize that they have to make money and I don't blame Juné. I blame all those people who haven't given Yugi Yamada-sensei their time. I'm sure that there are people out there who feel like I did (you know thought her art was ugly and so on) but once you crack open one of her stories I know you'll be hooked. We need to show this popular mangaka (in Japan) that we American readers love her work as well. Then maybe we'll get some more of her work (including one of my favorite titles Taka ga Koi Daro [which this was actually written by Saki Aida author of S]).

If you are interested in seeing my reviews of some of her titles feel free to click on the links:
Don’t Blame Me vol. 1
Don’t Blame Me vol. 2
Spring Fever
Glass Sky
Laugh Under the Sun
.

Yugi Yamada-sensei is a hidden gem in a mountain of mediocre yaoi and deserves to be read. I would love to hear your opinions on Yamada-sensei and her greatness (or lack thereof if that's how you feel) in the comments section!

Friday, November 6, 2009

breath vol. 4 by Chifumi Ochi review

breath vol. 4

Author/Artist: Chifumi Ochi

Publisher: Yaoi Generation

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: A-

I want to first make it known that there may be spoilers in regards to previous volumes of the series, and I heartily apologize. Now that that's out of the way lets get to the review!

Ain't nobody happy in the fourth volume of breath. Now that Ten has successfully separated Arata and Yanagi and he's somewhat happy that Arata is back within his grasp, or is he? Arata has always dealt with a huge inferiority complex towards Ten but because (in Arata's mind) Yanagi chose Ten he no longer wants to spend any time with his brother. He's so heartbroken he has no appetite and what he does eat he vomits almost immediately afterwards. Arata isn't the only one who's screwed up over this. Yanagi goes back to his playboy ways only more so. He's drinking more and sleeping with just about anyone without really thinking about whom he's sleeping with. It seems that those around him are a little concerned.

One evening Yanagi and Arata bump into each other on a crowded street. Because Arata hasn't had a proper meal in ages, he passes out in the middle of the crowd. Yanagi swoops in to rescue the damsel in distress. Their feelings finally come to the surface, but because of this meeting things take a dramatic turn in the end.

Chifumi Ochi-sensei has dialed up the angst yet again. I really appreciated this volume because it delves into Ten and Arata's relationship and how Arata's inferiority complex became so engrained that he became dependent on Ten. Also Ten's true colors are showing, and he is Satan in human form. OK, that may be a little over the top, but he's pretty darn evil. One thing I liked about this particular volume is at the end Ochi-sensei presented us with a gag chapter featuring all of our favorite characters in a Snow White setting. Arata is Snow White and Ten is the wicked Stepmother (tee-hee). It was definitely a great addition to the book.

I am thoroughly and totally addicted to this series. Not only does it have physically attractive characters, but also the sex is hot, the story is engaging, and is a great title all around. That is one thing I like about series. You are able to delve more into the characters and really get a feel for them. With a story like breath there is no way you could make it an interesting story with just one volume. Each character is fascinating and interesting and seeing how their minds work is what makes this a really great read.

I know I say this every time but I love Yaoi Generation's way of publishing. The books are about the size of the original Japanese tankobon, they have a full color cover sheet, the paper is brilliant which makes the images leap right off the page, and it's so easy to hold and read.

I so can’t wait for the final volume, especially the way the story ended this time around. I am going to have a very hard time waiting for it. This is a title I definitely recommend and I've even bumped up the rating because I've been enjoying it so much. To quote LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow "but you don't have to take my word for it." You'll find other glowing reviews of this series all over the net, or check out my reviews of vol. 1, vol. 2, and vol. 3.

***Review Copy provided by Yaoi Generation***

Monday, October 26, 2009

Utahime - The Songstress by Aki review

Utahime – The Songstress

Author/Artist: Aki

Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing

Rating: YA – 16 and above

Genre: Shojo, Drama, Fantasy

Grade: A+

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

There is an uncertain future for a far off land. You see for centuries the land has been protected by the nightly singing of the songstresses. The songstress sings a song of protection toward the capital where the ruler resides. The ruler has always been male while songstresses are always born female. But there is a wind of change. In one of the villages that sprung up around the songstress' tower the unthinkable has happened. A male songstress has been born. Not only that but when the ruler of the land's wife gives birth to a daughter, are they doomed?

In Utahime – The Songtress we are introduced to a heartbreaking yet hopeful tale that honestly moved me to tears. I realize the above paragraph is lacking in information but I'll try to take the complicated story and explain it a little more here. In the land the ruler is only able to produce a male heir so when a daughter is born things get a little hairy. In the case of the Utahime (the songstresses) they are able to give birth to both male and female children but the songstresses abilities are only passed on to one daughter. So it is important for the songstress to give birth to make sure the gift is passed on to the next generation. By having a songstress in the village it gives those who live there a boost in their economy, but protection from enemies as well.

Utahime – The Songtress focuses on a small songstress village and the main cast involves the village chief's son, Thomas, and the son and daughter of the songstress, Kain and Maria. Kain and Maria have been raised up in the mountains because they are the children of the songstress. It is assumed that Maria is the songstress and Kain is put in charge of protecting Maria from the greedy villagers. Thomas, the son of the chief, feels in necessary to meet the songstress and her children. He then becomes quite close to Maria and somewhat close to Kain and sees the difference in treatment the villagers show towards the twins. They shower Maria with gifts and attention and ignore Kain. As he sees the relationship between Thomas and Maria grow, he feels like he's no longer needed and decides to run away, not knowing that he's the songstress. Thomas truly shows concern as he searches for years to try and locate Kain. Maria finds out the true nature of the villagers as her mothers health is on the decline and wonders if Thomas' gestures are just to get with her, Kain is out having the time of his life, Maria discovers she's not a true songstress and Kain finds out that he is.

DMP has made a genius choice in publishing Utahime – The Songstress as the title to kick off their new look. Not only is the cover design a much-needed improvement (I wasn't a huge fan of the purple band across the bottom) but the amazing job that Aki-sensei has done with this title has moved me beyond words. I often come across titles that are really very good and are emotionally moving but I think that Utahime – The Songstress blows them all out of the water. Not only is the art truly stunning, but the story is told using the whole spectrum of emotions. One minute I was laughing and the next I was on the verge of tears. There were so many aspects of this story that I could relate to on a personal level that made this a truly amazing read. I hope that we'll be able to get more from Aki-sensei because I am truly impressed.

Another reason why this was a great title for DMP to publish is because with their larger trim size you are able to truly appreciate everything. Plus with their new look and no dust jacket does make it look very snappy. Keep up the good work!

***Review Copy provided by Digital Manga Publishing***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chocolate Suprise by Lily Hoshino review

Chocolate Surprise

Author/Artist: Lily Hoshino

Publisher: Deux Press

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance, Anthology

Grade: A

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Kakiuchi is the hottest guy in class and has devised a game where there is a bag of chocolates (some spiked with an aphrodisiac), a group of girls, and the possibility of sleeping with Kakiuchi. The rules are whichever girl picks the spiked chocolate gets to sleep with Kakiuchi. One day Ogasawara, a guy, is invited to join in on the fun but they amend the rule that if Ogasawara chooses the spiked chocolate he can choose whichever girl he wants to (at least that’s playing the Mix Chocolate game.) When it turns out that Ogasawara picks the chocolate, he allows Kakiuchi to help him out. Is this the beginning of love?

Chocolate Surprise is a collection of sexy stories created by Lily Hoshino. Whatever you enjoy chances are Hoshino-sensei has covered here in Chocolate Surprise. I enjoyed most of the stories. There was one that I wasn't too fond of, A Condition for Love, but the rest were rather enjoyable. The reason why I didn't like A Condition for Love is because one guy confessed, the other guy said he'd only go out with someone experienced and offered to help the poor guy out with no intention of really continuing the relationship. Of course it gets the happily ever after moment, but it's not really a story line I enjoy. The rest of the stories are much more enjoyable, at least in my opinion.

One thing I found somewhat exciting is in My Only King, published by Juné, continues the story between Ogasawara and Kakiuchi. It seems that Kakiuchi may have had a thing for Ogasawara long before either of them knew it.

Hoshino-sensei is a mangaka that has the tendency to grow on you. When I first started reading yaoi I wanted my men to look like men (I still feel that way but I've expanded my horizons a bit). In the case of sensei's few titles on the market had very girly ukes on the front. I immediately judged her work without reading it and ended up eating my words (mmm…they're tasty too). Yes, I will admit that her ukes can be a little bit on the feminine side but she is a very talented artist. When I finally read through my first title of hers (Love Quest published by Yen Press) I immediately fell in love with her apple-cheeked, dewy-lipped boys.
If you haven't checked out any of Hoshino-sensei's titles I think that Chocolate Surprise is a great starter book. It is on the graphic side of things so if you have issue with detailed art in intimate moments, be aware. The stories are short but are fulfilling, unlike so many one-shot collections out there. And not all of them are smutty either. A couple of the adorable stories that I love aren't graphic at all. They're just sweet!

Deux Press has knocked another one out of the park with this release. Not only is it a great collection of stories but they've done a great job. The translation seems smooth and I didn't catch any editorial errors. They also did a bang up job on the cleanup. This is definitely one of their greatest achievements!

***Review Copy provided by Deux Press***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

The Government at Work

Ah, the FTC! I didn't find it surprising when the new rules of disclosure came out, and in some cases I feel that truth in advertising is a very important thing. Because I've always felt that honesty is important and that those who choose to read my reviews should know whether I received the title from the publisher or I purchased the manga myself. So you see the new FTC ruling doesn't have much impact on things over here at Manic About Manga. The only change you'll see is I will no longer provide the links to the websites where I purchased the manga, I'll only inform you where I got it (i.e. purchased through Amazon, Akadot, etc.).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Future Lovers vol. 2 by Saika Kunieda review

Future Lovers vol. 2
Author/Artist: Saika Kunieda

Publisher: Deux Press

Rating: M – 18 and above

Genre: Yaoi, Comedy, Romance

Grade: A+

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Since we last left Kento Kumagaya and Akira Kazuki the two had been dating for almost a year. In this volume the two continue their relationship but instead of the emphasis being on the joy of falling in love it focuses on their continuing relationship and the struggles they face. We have the opportunity to meet Akira's mom and the man who inspired Akira to become an art teacher, Kento's more serious side shows up in a few stories, and there are a couple more light-hearted stories that tackle some serious issues.

Akira's mom doesn't know he's gay (or so we assume) so when the two are introduced Akira introduces them as colleagues. Kento is none too pleased to find out that Akira hasn't shared this info with him. Akira knows all kinds of things about Kento but Kento knows so little about Akira. Can Kento catch a glimpse of the real Akira behind the mask?

If the description of the plot is so sketchy, I apologize. But the book covers their relationship by showing it to us in several vignettes. The two have been together for over a year now and have to deal with the problems that pop up in relationships. Not only do they have to deal with the ups and downs of continuing their affair but they also have to deal with the fallout that comes with being gay in a society that is not as accepting. It covers such things as how they introduce one another to family, friends, and acquaintances, how to keep things fresh in their relationship, dealing with family members who wish things worked out differently, and looking at their long-term relationship (and we even get a glimpse into the future!)

I really love this series. The art is sketchy and not as smooth as you normally see but because of the comedic aspects of this manga it works really well. Akira is gorgeous but kind of a slob and we caught a glimpse of his bizarro fashion sense in the first volume. If you thought his fashion was out of this world crazy in that volume, then you won't be disappointed. Akira's shirts are as crazy as ever! That is one reason why I love this series. Akira marches to the beat of his own drummer and is proud of that fact! Kento on the other hand is so stiff that it's amazing that these two got together. Yet another reason why this is a great series to pick up. The sex is plenty, just like you want, but is tastefully done and really quite attractive.

Like all Deux Press releases, the publishing quality is top notch. The pages are crisp and clean and they use a higher quality paper that really showcases the artwork. The books are flexible and easy to open and hold. They did a great job on the translation and clean up. Banzai!

I highly recommend this book. Of course reading the first volume will help you keep the characters straight and introduce you to these characters. Read this series, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how great it is!

Other review links you may enjoy:

Future Lovers vol. 1 by Kris
Future Lovers vol. 1 by Linda Yau.

***Review Copy provided by Deux Press***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

Monday, August 24, 2009

breath vol. 3 by Chfumi Ochi review

breath vol. 3

Author/Artist: Chifumi Ochi

Publisher: Yaoi Generation

Rating: M – 18 and up

Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Romance

Grade: B+

In one of my favorite SpongeBob Squarepants episodes is where SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick are waiting next to SpongeBob's mailbox with baited breath for a much-anticipated package. As soon as the mail fish's truck is spotted they start doing a happy dance until the mail fish makes his delivery. You're probably wondering how on earth a SpongeBob Squarepants episode and a review for a yaoi manga have anything in common. Well me waiting for this third volume of breath by Chifumi Ochi was much like SpongeBob waiting for his package!

Things seemed to be heating up between Arata and Yanagi, but when Yanagi ran into his first love, Kashiwagi, the two hadn't gotten together since. Arata is somewhat confused by his feelings and because of this confusion his co-workers are seeing that Arata is human after all and they want to get to know this new Arata that they see. Ten (aka Takashi), Arata's twin brother, has discovered the relationship between Arata and Yanagi and won't stand for it. So he devises a plan to sever the bond between Arata and Yanagi and reclaim Arata for himself. Ten is rather thorough in his planning. By using drugs, time, and the information Ten got from Kashiwagi, he is sure that his plan will work. He figures that once Arata catches Ten and Yanagi in a compromising position that will be that. But the nail in the coffin is sending Kashiwagi over to Yanagi's to comfort him.

This volume's focus seems to be on Ten really being a blackguard and Yanagi and Kashiwagi's relationship in the past. Chifumi Ochi-sensei has turned up the angst to an all time high. If you thought that Yanagi was the jerk of the century then get prepared for Ten, the devil incarnate! Of course Kashiwagi comes in a close second behind Ten. You can't but help feel for poor Yanagi. If it weren't for Kashiwagi's attitude towards love, chances for Yanagi and love would have been better. But we still have two volumes left and I have hope! Yet it is going to be torture having to wait, and wait, and wait for the next volume.

There was one thing that was always in the back my mind while I was reading this third volume. If you remember Yaoi Generation chose to omit two pages from the second volume but still provided the text letting us know what Yanagi was thinking. I realize that censorship is a big deal but after reading these two volumes back-to-back and then stumbling upon this statement from Yaoi Generation posted in their forum, it really made me think:

As a rule (and with the advice of our lawyers), Yaoi Generation does not publish material showing minors, even fictional, in explicit sexual situations. I believe most, if not all, other publishers pretty much follow the same rule. The two pages we censored contain such material. We are aware of this from the beginning and proceeded only after knowing that the censorship would not hurt the main storyline. As the matter of fact, during the licensing and publishing process, we discussed this with both the original Japanese publisher and the author, and we have their blessing in the decision, and the author herself approved all modifications to the script to link the storyline together in order to ensure that the author’s intent still retains. In this case, the alternative of avoiding the age issue or modifying the character’s age would hurt the story more than the censorship. If you decide to follow through to volume 3, you’ll see why.

We're not lawyers, so we can’t claim to know the law inside out to argue it. We can only do what our lawyers advices us to do, and their goal is to protect the company, staff, distributors, readers, and everyone involved against not only current laws, but also against what they foresee as the direction in which the law leans when it’s vague/debatable, such as the obscenity law, in case of a lawsuit. And the general public tends to lean against sensitive material containing minors.

After pondering this whole thing I feel that just as long as the author's intent came through, that it was the publishers choice to omit the images, and the artist had no qualms then all I can do is support them through their decision. If I remember correctly the whole Christopher Handley mess was going on at the time this volume would have been in translation and printing (if you don't know what the Christopher Handley mess is, just Google it). They were trying to be safe. If it sounds like I'm a cheerleader for censorship, I'm not. Especially if it's the government that is doing the censoring. If I'm not making much sense, I apologize I'm exhausted and my synapses are most likely misfiring! But just know this, breath is a fantastic series and even though they chose to omit two pages isn't going to change the fact that this is a great series and Yaoi Generation has done a great job with the physical publication!

If you're interested feel free to check out my reviews for vol. 1 and vol. 2.

(Permission granted by Yaoi Generation to repost their quote, all spelling errors are theirs and theirs alone)

***Review Copy provided by Yaoi Generation***

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gakuen Prince vol. 1 by Jun Yuzuki review

Gakuen Prince vol. 1

Author/Artist: Jun Yuzuki

Publisher: Del Rey

Rating: OT – ages 16 and up

Genre: Shojo, Comedy, Drama, School Life

Grade: A-

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Jyoshioka Private High School, a.k.a. as Jyoshi (or Joshi) High, was once an all girls school but within the last few years they've started admitting guys. The girls outnumber the guys like no other and so to try and keep things somewhat quiet, all of the guys are in S-class. Every girl in school wants to be in S-class, except Rise Okitsu. Rise's goal in life at Jyoshi High is to be invisible. It seems that she was bullied in her old school and wants to avoid it in her new school so to hide her stunning good looks she pulls her hair up in pigtails and wears clunky glasses.

Azusa Mizutani has recently enrolled at Jyoshi High not really caring that it was once an all girls high school. He seems indifferent to the whole thing. But little did he know that he would soon become the target of hormonally charged, sex crazed girls. After being chased around twice in one day, he runs into Rise who was hiding in a storage room. Rise is the only girl who doesn't seem to be at all interested in Azusa so Azusa tries to convince the wild throngs of girls that he and Rise are an item. Does it work or will the throngs of crazy girls take it out on Rise?

I'm going to be straight up honest with you, when I first read Gakuen Prince I was so unimpressed. I perused several reviews of this manga and they were all glowing. I just didn't get it. I do admit that I don't read a lot of shojo manga and when I do they are usually comedic stories and have girls with personality. But I've recently changed my opinion of Gakuen Prince after reading a manga that is the ultimate in soap opera and the one of the main female characters is a complete doormat (*cough* Nana *cough* *hack*). Gakuen Prince is smart, funny, and gorgeous. I am so glad that I gave it another chance.

Rise is hilarious. She wants to be invisible but at the same time she wants to be able to tell people how she really feels. So when she's caught in those situations she comes off looking awkward yet it is so funny. Mizutani is a clueless guy and doesn't really understand the consequences of his decision. It is a well-crafted story with beautiful art. Not only is it nice to look at and fun to read but it shows how cruel girls can be. Not only physically but also psychologically. Bullying is a real problem and when you are dealing with girls, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. Luckily Rise shows an amazing strength and piece of mind to help Mizutani even though Mizutani doesn't realize what Rise is having to put up with.

You can expect some great manga reading when you read something from Del Rey. They are of pretty good quality and are easy to read and hold. They always leave the traditional honoriffics and even have a page explaining what they mean. At the end they have a section with translator notes to either give explanations on what they may have changed from the manga or notes on the Japanese words that they left in story. Sometimes they'll even give you a preview of the next volume in the traditional Japanese form. Del Rey is definitely one of the better manga publishers on the market.

If I had written this review when I first read this title it would have been very negative and I wouldn't have recommended it. Now that I have seen the light in regards to Gakuen Prince I can definitely recommend it. But I must warn you that it is Shojo with an edge had is thisclose to being smut. I would advise you that you'll probably want to follow the age recommendation of 16+ and it is shrink-wrapped which usually means there might be something you might find objectionable in it. But definitely give this manga a chance. It is truly a unique manga with great humor and is a bit edgy. It's worthy of your time.

***Review Copy provided by Del Rey***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***