orange: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

By Ichigo Takano. Released in Japan by Shueisha and then Futabasha, serialized in the magazines Bessatsu Margaret and Manga Action. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I always feel a certain need to geek out when reviewing titles like these, such as explaining that it’s not a typo in the header, orange really is meant to be spelled with a small O. Or talking about the odd move from a shoujo magazine (Betsuma) to a seinen one (Manga Action) when the author switched publishers. Or that the complete series is out digitally via Crunchyroll (though I haven’t spoiled myself). But honestly, there’s enough to talk about in this title so that I don’t need to go into that at all. (cough) This is three volumes in one, and tells us the bittersweet story of a group of friends, struck by a tragedy from their youth, who unite in order to stop it happening. It’s a chunky book, but is absolutely worth the time.

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orange, for the most part, reads like a shoujo romance, as you’d expect for a series begin in Betsuma. Naho, our heroine is cute but shy, and Kakeru is cute but troubled, in the best manga tradition. There’s a guy with an obvious crush who suppresses it in order to support his crush’s true love, and those two girls who exist to contrast with the heroine; one spunky, one grumpy. It honestly reads a lot like Kimi ni Todoke in many ways, but there’s a twist: Naho has a letter from herself ten years in the future, telling her she has to prevent a tragedy; the fact that Kakeru killed himself when he was just seventeen. It’s the science-fiction premise that’s what really drives this book.

The doubts and self-awareness that comes from teenage love meshes well with the doubts and self-awareness that comes from changing the timeline. It’s all the more poignant when we see flashes forward to the future, the one without Kakeru, and see that Naho and Suwa are married with a child. It weighs so heavily on the two of them that they’re willing to sacrifice everything in order to save their friend. Of course, it’s not all angsty drama, there’s a lot of fluffy humor and fun here. Everyone’s basically a good kid. The issue is Kakeru has a huge amount of stress in his life – he’s moved from the city, his mother just killed herself and he takes the blame for it, and of course he’s also falling for Naho, even as he tries dating someone else.

We get the first three volumes here, and by the end you realize that Naho is not the only one who got a letter from her future self. This of course makes you want to go back and reread what you’d just seen, to see if it’s now more obvious that everyone was acting based off of future knowledge. And there still remain the question of whether or not they’ll succeed – these sorts of series can also be tragic, and it would not surprise me if things ended with Kakeru dying in any case. I certainly hope not, though, as I want to see everyone here happy. In the meantime, fans of shoujo should absolutely make orange a must buy.

Kagerou Daze III: The Children Reason

By Jin (Shinzen no Teki-P) and Sidu. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

After two volumes of being very confused, I think I am finally starting to get a handle on Kagerou Daze, and elements of the plot are now coming together in ways they hadn’t before. As with the second volume, this book is divided into two parts, which interlock in alternating chapters. One details the struggle of a young boy in the city and his hopeless crush on a girl his age who seems to be using him as a baggage holder. The other continues to show us Shintaro and Momo getting involved with the Mekakushi-Dan, and dealing with the eye powers – which now have one more member, as the boy from the first story shows up with red eyes and a desperate need to save the girl he loves.

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I’ll be honest, I found the Shintaro plot a lot more interesting – almost the reverse of the second book, where it was Takane who held my attention. Part of the problem is that Hibiya and Hiyori are both not very likeable kids – Hiyori deliberately, as she’s written as very much a stereotypical arrogant rich girl (complete with a “Mean Girls” sort of accent, with lots of ‘likes’ interspersed), but I suspect we’re meant to sympathize with Hibiya’s somewhat stalker-ish obsession with her more than we do, and the doll he creates that can speak n her voice is just icing on the cake of creepy. That said, he fares much better in the second story, where he’s allowed to be what he actually is away from his crush, a confused and emotional young kid.

Shintaro and Momo also grow over the course of this volume, although I have a sneaking suspicion that Shintaro may regress soon. The scene between him and Kano is the most powerful in the book, both to show the pain and despair that Ayano’s death sent Shintaro spiraling into, and also to show the reader that Ayano is somehow connected with this group as well, and not just Shintaro’s dead friend. It also shows us a cruel and vicious side to Kano, which I had suspected was there but hadn’t seen till now. As for Momo, she and Hibiya get off on the wrong foot (he calls her “Gran”, which I suspect is Oba-san in the original, and she understandably freaks given she’s still in high school), but quickly develop a sibling-like relationship. He seems to have seen her teacher before, too…

The writing here is quite interesting. It’s rare to see a Japanese book with English wordplay – the title of the book, The Children Reason, and one story within, The Children Record, could have multiple meanings, and the original Japanese used the English words. (The author does need to get better at remembering how he’s numbering, though – going from 01 to 02 to 03 to IV was jarring, and that was also in the original Japanese.) There’s also some subtle callbacks, such as Ene having a complete freakout when she sees Konoha, which sounds so much like her old self that Shintaro almost figures it out before she distracts him. Overall, I remain interested, despite a majority of the characters having serious character flaws, and will definitely pick up the next volume.

The Testament of New Sister Devil, Vol. 1

By Tetsuo Uesu and Miyakokasiwa. Released in Japan as “Shinmai Maou no Keiyakusha” by Kadokawa Shoten Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

First of all, that is one awkward title. I’ve accidentally written it sa “New Sister Devil” at least twice, and it is very much in the genre of ‘random words strung together’ that we’ve seen so often these days. Looking at the title, you’d immediately guess it was based on a light novels, and you’d be correct. As for the manga itself, it shares similarities with a few other titles released over here lately. The premise could be vaguely interesting, some of the characters are promising, and there’s a whole lot of non-consensual sexual assault as fanservice that makes me ultimately rejecting recommending it to others.

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As I said, I did enjoy the basic premise and backstory. Each of the main characters is introduced as a normal person to whom wacky plot points keep happening, only it turns out that they’re actually far from normal and have been hiding secrets of their own. Basara is actually from a village of heroes who are there to fight demons – a fight that he’s run away from after his powers got out of control as a child. His father, who appears to be the one complete dupe in the series, turns out to have also known all along. the one innocent in this, ironically, is Mio, who is the daughter of a demon – a fact she was totally unaware of until her entire family was slaughtered one day. Each of them has a very good reason for wanting nothing whatsoever to do with the war to see who gets to rule Hell, and yet they’re drawn into it anyway, because they’re fundamentally decent people. This is a good premise.

Sadly, we also get fanservice, to the point of near explicitness here, mostly due to Mio’s attendant Maria, who is a succubus, and who uses her powers “accidentally” to bind Mio as Bassara’s underling. This means she has to obey his orders, and if she doesn’t, her body gets more and more aroused. The only way out of this is, of course, to grope and otherwise assault her till she climaxes. Add to this and we have the usual ‘waking up with my fake sister lying on top of me’, ‘bath scene with lots of jiggling and bouncing’, and ‘let’s lick the arm in suck a way that it resembles giving head’. Honestly, half the time I’m amazed this isn’t in Young Ace instead of Shonen Ace. But to be fair, this is exactly the sort of thing that would interest teenage boys.

So if you can put up with the humiliation of the female lead (Maria seems to have no shame, so no worries there) and enjoy fantasy along the lines of Devils and Realist and some of the other ‘war in hell’ titles we’ve seen, this may be for you. As for me, I feel I can resist the call.