My Love Story!!, Vol. 1

By Kazune Kawahara and Aruko. Released in Japan as “Ore Monogatari!!” by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (Betsuma). Released in North America by Viz.

There are precious few manga series where one can finish the first volume, set it down, and say “Wow, that was just adorable.” Luckily, we now have a new one with Viz’s release of My Love Story!!. Its unlikely lead does not detract in any way from the fact that this is sweet, heartwarming, and designed to make you smile broadly. Takeo may look and act like he’s from some other, less fluffy genre, but he really is a shoujo character at heart – this isn’t like dropping Onizuka into a shoujo manga. The juxtaposition is the starting point, but by the end of the first volume you’ll wonder why you ever doubted he’d fit in at all.

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The fact that this is adorable and heartwarming should not be a surprise given that it’s Kawahara; after all, 3/4 of High school Debut ran on that same fuel. We have a different artist here, who has been working steadily in Japan at the same magazine but who’s being seen in North America for the first time. (Her Yasuko and Kenji series was briefly announced by JManga before they closed.) The art is excellent, though, with every shot of Takeo reminding you that he stands out like a bright primary color. Everything he does is BIG and LOUD and he has no idea how to deal with more subtle emotions. Not that this stops him from being the BEST FRIEND EVER, though. It’s clear from the outset that Yamato fell for Takao on first sight. His best friend, the cool and reserved Sunakawa knows that. The reader knows that. Yet Takao knows that girls like her falls for guys like his friend, and so gets everything wrong.

I get the sense this was written as a one-shot and then picked up for series, like many shoujo manga are. The first chapter could easily be stand-alone, and resolves everything nicely. Luckily, we get more later on, which gives some added depth and adds Sunakawa’s older sister, who it turns out also had feelings for Takeo but hadn’t said anything as he was still too young. It’s amusing seeing her attempt to derail his budding relationship, only to be thrown off by the fact that Yamato is an utter sweetie pie who shares many of Takeo’s traits. (Yamato’s confession that she’s not pure as she’s fantasized about holding hands with Takeo makes you want to say “…”) Luckily, both siblings are basically nice people and more importantly, both get why Takeo is who he is and appreciate him deeply. Sunakawa has not been rejecting girls left and right as he’s a cold male shoujo lead, he did it because they kept calling his friend ugly. It’s touching.

I anticipate that future volumes of this series are going to have to add more conflict and a few characters that don’t make you want to say “aww”. But for the moment, we can enjoy this romantic comedy, whose lead is meant to be incredibly out of place but in actuality fits right in, and is someone that every reader can root for. An absolute delight.

(Also, the entire manga is worth buying just for Vol. 1′s final gag, which is AMAZING.)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Vol. 1

By Ark Performance. Released in Japan as “Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio” by Shonen Gahosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young King Ours. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

This is not really what I was expecting when I first saw this manga licensed. That should not be a surprise, as of all the major manga companies Seven Seas is the one that – for both good and ill – manages to surprise me the most. Still, when you see a manga whose premise seems to be ‘cute girls are battleships’ come out shortly after a ‘cute girls are fighter planes’ and ‘cute girls playing with tanks’ manga, you expect something along the same lines. But this is actually an action-oriented techno thriller manga, with lots of tactics and politics in among its occasional cute girl. It actually reminds me a lot of another Young King Ours title from way back. No, not Excel Saga, stop anticipating me. I’m referring to Geobreeders, which also had a tac unit fighting a mysterious organization with the help of a cute girl who was an enemy agent who had switched to work for our heroes.

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This is one of those alternate future AUs, as aliens have come to Earth and made the seas impassable with their Fleet of Fog, which can stop almost any vessel humanity can put out there. Enter our hero, Chihaya, who has a dark past (his father sided with the aliens) and a somewhat shrouded upbringing (we know very little of what got him to this point). One thing he does have, however, is an alien ship that’s on his side. Iona is the ‘mental model’ (which is to see, personification of a cute young girl) of a submarine that can get through the Fleet of Fog with help and a certain amount of dangerous firepower. Now he and his crew (including an eccentric engineer who *really* reminds me of Geobreeders) take on tasks for the government, though always needing to beware of behind the scene manipulation by the United States (who, naturally, don’t come off too well here) or the aliens themselves (who have their own ships).

As an action thriller, this works quite well. The battle scenes are fast-moving and don’t confuse, there’s a good amount of tension even though you know our heroes are going to make it out of this somehow, and it’s balanced out by a large chunk of plot and backstory. Iona is sufficiently cute that we like and sympathize with her, but doesn’t make you want to be sick like some overly moe types. The hero seems a little one-dimensional so far, but I suspect backstory will come out in a volume or two to help there. Same with the crew – though I’m not sure we’ll ever find out why one of the crewmen wear a mask.

There’s nothing that really reaches out and grabs you here, but there’s also not much that does anything wrong. This is simply a good, solid, well-drawn manga, and you finish it wanting to see what happens next. That’s good enough for me.

AX License Roundup

There was a lot of stuff going on at Anime Expo 2014, and who better to bring it to you than someone who wasn’t there at all? Probably for the best, as I hear many manga bloggers were trapped in endless lines, unable to get into panels. As is the nature of large cons; I’m sure I’ll have similar issues at NYCC.

Let’s start with the largest set of new announcements, from Viz Media. Amazon had already blown the secret on the re-release of the new JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but it’s now official. We get the first arc in omnibus format, here in NA for the first time, with color pages and new cover art. The 2nd arc will debut digitally at the same time. The 3rd arc, which was the only one previously released over here, gets a digital release starting this week.

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is probably the one major, heavily influential Shonen Jump series we still hadn’t really seen over here, 3rd arc aside. It’s known for its fights, its ultraviolence, its homoeroticism, but most of all, it’s known for being weird. The Bizarre isn’t just for show. It also has most of its major cast named after rock bands to a greater or lesser degree though, given what happened with Bastard!!, we may see some of those names romanized differently to avoid attention being paid. (What, no one remembers Bastard!!? Just me? Right, moving on…)

Viz also announced Baraou no Souretsu, AKA Requiem for the Rose King. From the creator of Otomen, this does not look like it will be nearly as silly as that title, but should have a bit more depth. It runs in Akita Shoten’s shoujo magazine Princess, and is a retelling of the Richard III story, with Richard being intersex. Which is quite interesting given many of the themes of Richard III. I assume, like most retellings, this will follow Shakespeare’s history rather than genuine history.

There are new omnibuses coming for Yu-Gi-Oh and Gyo. Nothing to add there.

Later in the con, Shojo Beat had its own panel to announce things. The biggest news there was probably that a new, one-off chapter of Vampire Knight will be released by Viz digitally this fall. A lot of series, particularly Hakusensha series, have these one-shot or ‘after the end’ stories, and they aren’t always picked up by the licensor, partly as they may not actually be collected in Japan as they’re only one or two chapters. So this is very nice to see.

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Omukae Desu was a suitably odd shoujo title from the CMX days, and Pearl Pink was put out by Tokyopop. Now we get a 3rd short but sweet title from Meca Tanaka, who may be better known to fans as the creator of Faster Than a Kiss, her most popular series. That was likely never licensed here due to its student/teacher romance. We are getting a cute new series, Otome to Meteo, which will be two volumes. Translating to Meteor Prince, it would appear to feature an eccentric male lead and a heroine who has to keep up with everything, like many shoujo series. It sounds fun.

Lastly, Momochi-san Chi no Ayakashi Ouji (The Demon Prince of Momochi House) is by Aya Shouoto, author of the upcoming Kiss of the Rose Princess. That ran in Kadokawa Shoten’s Asuka magazine, and so does this title. It appears to contain everything that’s hot these days: it has very attractive yokai, it has a reverse harem, it has exorcisms and spirituality. If you enjoyed Demon Love Spell, Kamisama Kiss, or any of the ‘sexy yokai boyfriend’ genre, this seems to be right up your street.

Next up, Dark Horse had a manga panel. The biggest announcement here was not a new acquisition, but more of a reassurance. It’s been a year and a half since we last saw Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and fans with long memories (Translucent, anyone?) were getting worried. We now know that not only will we get a 14th volume soon, but that the first 12 will also come out in omnibuses for those who never saw the series in the first place. It can be squicky and horror filled, but it’s also really terrific, with an oddball sense of humor and a surprisingly political bent. This is news to get excited about.

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The new license of note was Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt, a one-shot manga based on the cult classic anime. It ran in Kadokawa’s Young Ace, and certainly has a core audience who will be excited. I never did get around to seeing the anime, perhaps I should. There will also be a Satoshi Kon artbook (DH licensed two Kon mangas recently), and an omnibuses re-release of Oh My Goddess, which may be the first one that I don’t end up getting, because I’ve now bought this series four times, and I really don’t need a 5th. But for newbies who wonder how this got to 46+ volumes, it’s a great entry point.

Taking a brief break from manga to discuss a visual novel dear to my heart, which is to say Higurashi: When They Cry. Mangagamer had a panel at AX to discuss the upcoming re-release of the game on the Steam platform. The first arc should be available by the end of the year, and will apparently feature all-new sprites making their debut. A comparison between the original sprites drawn by Ryukishi07 (and used by Mangagamer in the initial release), the PS2 sprites, and Mangagamer’s new sprites was quickly done.

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As you can see, the original sprites are a bit crude, but filled with emotion. They also feature the famous “mitten hands”. The PS2 sprites look more polished, but were also thought to be a bit dull compared to the originals. (Also, Mangagamer likely is unable to acquire the rights to use them – they also don’t have the rights to the ‘PS2 Exclusive’ arcs with the alternate, more bittersweet ending.) The new MG sprites look a bit overly cute – ‘big head small neck’ syndrome is at work here – but honestly, all three are designed to look adorable in that moe anime way. No doubt everyone has their favorites, but we shall see how it goes when we get the actual release.

Back to manga. Vertical had a panel on Friday, and had one announcement, but it was a good one. A 400+-page collection of Satoshi Kon’s short stories, Yume no Kaseki (A Fossil of a Dream) is due out in the summer of 2015. Tropic of the Sea was an offbeat, hard to get into, but ultimately rewarding read, and I anticipate this will be equally thrilling.

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Lastly, we have two new titles from Kodansha Comics – though one of them you can already see on Crunchyroll’s manga site. First off, we have Junketsu no Maria, a series by the author of Moyashimon that ran in good!Afternoon, one of Kodansha’s many seinen titles. Titles Maria the Virgin Witch over here, it takes place during the Hundred Years War, and has a girl our to make peace by dint of magic, seductive succubuses, or any other means at her disposal. An archangel, Michael, is sent to stop her and keep history on its proper course. Likely with 100% less bacteria than his other series, hopefully it has as much oddball humor and heart.

And A Silent Voice, which as I said has been running on Crunchyroll’s online site, will get a print release this sprint. Koe no Katachi is about a deaf girl who is bullied in elementary school. Now a little older and a little wiser, the bully wants to apologize to her in high school. The word heartwarming was made for manga like this, and it should be a real treat to see.

So what are you most excited about from these announcements?