Halloween Briefs

So, due to power outage, these aren’t on the regular Manga bookshelf site with last week’s briefs, and the MMF is actually long over. So just pretend this is still relevant.

The Manga Movable Feast dealt with horror, but most of the titles I’m about to talk about fall more under the realm of ‘supernatural’. They’re shonen and shoujo titles that deal with friendship, romance, etc., but happen to feature monsters, demons, or yokai in some way. This is, of course, not to say that they don’t all have the ability to scare in some way.

The one with the least horrific content here is likely Kamisama Kiss 5, which continues to be about a young girl who finds herself the god of a local shrine, and her vaguely romantic relationship with her familiar, sexy fox creature Tomoe. This particular volume in fact, is about removing the terror – no one goes to the shrine due to its reputation, so Nanami decides to hold a festival to entice people to notice the shrine is no longer run-down and creepy. There is a mysterious chapter where Nanami thinks that Tomoe has abandoned her and the shrine (which looks like a pit again), but it turns out to be a trick, and the majority of the volume is devoted to showing Nanami as plucky and never-say-die, and Tomoe as being aloof yet caring. The supernatural mostly is a spice here.

Much more scary, or at least with a vague tinge of unease hanging around it, is Natsume’s Book of Friends 9. The series is about a young man with the ability to see and control yokai thanks to his grandmother, and his attempts to balance out a normal school and family life with his desire to help free (and to a certain degree befriend) the yokai in his book. The stories tend to be drenched in yokai lore, and sometimes need a footnote or two, but generally dealing with monsters tends to be universal. We all know when a monster demands something or else she will do harm, and then gets what she wants, harm is going to happen anyway. There’s less school antics here and more of Natsume working with his own familiar, Nyanko-sensei. Who, thank goodness, is not a sexy fox creature. Things can get scary here, but this series gives more of a feeling of melancholy than terror.

Nura also deals with yokai, and is a Shonen Jump manga, so is not concerned so much with cute romance or finding friends as it is with awesome fights. Rikuo is still having issues with his leadership skills, and a lot of this volume continues to deal with the takeover of the town by a rival gang of yakuza… um, yokai. This volume in particular is very good at contrasting Rikuo’s caring and accepting nature, even of those who can’t stand him, with that of Tamazuki, who callously destroys his closest allies with a cruel word and a wave of his hand. It’s the difference between ruling by loyalty and ruling by fear, and this being a Jump manga, we know what will eventually win out. There are several good scary moments here, but I’d read it more for the Friendship, Training, and Victory myself. (Also, the Rikuo/Tsurara shiptease is really getting hammered on here.)

Lastly, there’s Vampire Knight 13, which despite the presence of vampires and demon hunters, is not so much horror in this volume as the political intrigue that it’s excelled in ever since Yuki came into her heritage. I’ll be honest, I think I preferred Yuki in the earlier volumes – despite trying to balance being prudent with becoming her own person, she still comes off as awfully passive here. There are a few scattered bits of action, and a scene or two of blood and gore (tastefully and sexily done, of course – this is LaLa Magazine, after all), but this is horror in the same way that Wilkie Collins was horror – romantic suspense horror with twists and turns and fitting into society turning out to be far more important than the number of people you kill. Normally I enjoy it, but I admit I found this volume a bit boring.

So, to sum up, it’s November 5th. Happy Halloween! Dress as Guy Fawkes!

Natsume’s Book of Friends 8

By Yuki Midorikawa. Released in Japan as “Natsume Yuujinchou” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

This is one of those shoujo manga that keeps getting better as it goes along. Midorikawa is finding what her strengths and weaknesses are, and thus as Natsume grows so does the series. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t wait for each new release.

The early volumes had Natsume almost entirely interacting with yokai and those humans who interact with yokai every day. Which is nice and all, but he is still trying to be a normal kid as well. That’s why I was pleased to see this volume focused so much on his relationships with both his classmates and his adapted family. Tanuma and Taki do interact with yokai, but at a level far lower than that of Natsume. As a result, their worry for him is far more oriented in the human world. Natsume’s this awkward teen who tries to take on too much, and they aren’t sure that he’d let them know if something was too difficult a burden.

The culture festival was excellent, and shows that Natsume can also open up to classmates who have no supernatural powers whatsoever. It’s also a good example of what I was just talking about, which is Natsume having to realize that he can’t do everything all by himself, and that it’s OK to rely on others sometimes. “Life is full of new challenges,” he notes at the end of the chapter. Indeed, the next two chapters seem to follow on directly from this, as he tries to deepen his friendship with Tanuma while attempting to deal with a broken Yokai mirror. There’s no explicit BL in this series, but those who like to be fans of it will find plenty of evidence in this volume for the two of them having unresolved sexual tension.

(On a related note, Taki looks totally hot cross-dressing as a guy, and I fully support an OT3 between the three of them.)

The last main chapter of the book talks about Natsume’s relationship with his adopted parents, and we see flashbacks to where they met. Given that Natsume is so desperate to keep his yokai powers hidden from them in order to avoid having them worry (or, it’s unstated, to avoid creeping them out), this is another welcome look into Natsume’s life. Seeing the younger boy that he was, we realize how far he’s come in just a few short volumes. And a lot of it seems to be due to the love he gets from the Fujiwaras, who really do care about him as they would their own child. Seeing Natsume break down at the end was quite touching.

As you would expect from a volume dealing Natsume’s relationships with his friends and family, the yokai content is not as high as prior volumes. Though the yokai in the chapters with the Fujiwaras makes up for this by being extra creepy with a side of horrific. You’re quite pleased when Nyanko-sensei “deals” with it (and it’s always nice to see Nyanko-sensei in full-blown huge mode). There’s also a cute mini-story featuring Chobi, the odd moustachioed yokai we’ve seen as comic relief in a few volumes. It’s cute to see, and also serves to show how much the yokai are learning from Matsume.

Between this and Nura, Viz has sort of been on a yokai kick lately. (Any hopes for Gegege no Kitaro?) But the joy of reading this title is not for the yokai, though they’re very well done as well. It’s seeing an awkward, reclusive young boy come out of his shell and begin to show the love and affection to his friends and family that he hasn’t been able to do before. It’s a terrific series.

Brief Reviews On Sundry Manga

I have a pile of backlog here, but can’t quite work up the energy to post a full review for them. Hence these brief thoughts.

My Girlfriend’s a Geek 3: We basically have more of the same here, which is very much what I expected. Taiga deals with his girlfriend’s fetishes as best he can, while getting increasingly exasperated. Introduced here is Yuiko’s cosplaying friend Akari, who turns out to be Kouji’s younger sister. But honestly plot is sort of irrelevant to this series. I did enjoy seeing a brief snippet of Yuiko’s thoughts when she was dealing with the sleazy guy at her office – it shows that she actually does view Taiga as a genuine boyfriend, even if the depth of her feelings for him is still in question. That’s more than I usually get out of Otomen. A bonus at the end of the manga gives us a fake chapter of Sepatte Takuro, Yuiko’s BL obsession, and they even bring in another mangaka to draw it – Hiromi Namiki, who writes the ice hockey manga 88 for Kodansha’s Monthly Shonen Magazine. Unfortunately, the chapter itself is quite dull, being far TOO close a parody of shonen sports manga, to the point where the joke is lost.

Oh My Goddess! 38: We finish off the Chrono arc here, and thank God for that, as it’s one of the weakest in the series to date. Chrono’s fear of cats is incredibly lame, the dojikko maid thing continues to be done to death, and everyone’s praise of her at the end thus seems overdone. On the bright side, once she’s gone we start a new arc that will prove to be more dramatic, as Urd’s mother Hild gets overthrown in Hell by a sneaky trickster, and is now in a chibi body and relatively powerless. What’s worse, now the new demons in charge are arriving on Earth and granting wishes – but as ever, they twist them and make people suffer. I was amused at seeing Chihiro and Megumi actually SEE Hild appear before their eyes, and the building subsequently destroyed – but when the building is magically reconstructed later, they just edit their memories to fit the facts. All in all, not a great volume, but I’m hoping for better things now that Hell has new ownership.

Fairy Tail 13: As ever with Fairy Tail, I enjoy the volume when I’m reading it, but have difficulty retaining any memory of it five minutes after the fact. Erza’s backstory arc gets a bit of an epilogue here, and we see that we probably have not seen the last of Ultear – or Jellal, for that matter. There then follows some goofy comedy as they head back to a now-rebuilt Fairy Tail and welcome Juvia (unsurprisingly) and Gajeel (somewhat more surprisingly) in as members. This mid-section is particularly noted by the cameo appearances by Jason Thompson and Dallas Middaugh, whom Mashima had met when he was a guest at SDCC 2008 and decided to write into the series. Jason in particular makes a great dorky reporter. This is counterbalanced with Lucy’s attempts to use her charms for various purposes – and failing miserably. However, we then head into the next arc, where Laxus returns to town, just as big a jerk and twice as pissed. He and his colleagues decide to have a ‘festival’ where the Fairy Tail members have to fight each other in an elimination bout – and the female members are all turned to stone and used as hostages to make them do it. A sadly predictable plotline, but certainly effective. Fairy Tailo remains good, solid shonen, but I just can’t get into it more than I need to.

Natsume’s Book of Friends 7: Been a while since I reviewed this one. I enjoy the series a great deal, but rarely have much to say about it. This volume is notable for having a plot arc that lasts a good 2/3 of the volume, and features what may prove to be a new ongoing ‘villain’. Someone is attacking yokai in order to get their blood for some unknown purpose – and the attack is human! The main thrust of the plot, however, as with a number of previous chapters, is getting Natsume to be more proactive and choosing to do good, rather than drifting along trying to avoid being hurt. This volume is very much yokai focused – Tanuma and Taki don’t even show up – but that helps, as the whole thing ends up being almost like an action movie. There are a few flaws to the volume – the revelation of the human attacking the yokai turns out to be very anticlimactic, and the unrelated short story at the end is clearly a case of needing to pad out the book, as it’s not that hot. Still, the main story itself is an excellent relaxed shoujo horror, and I look forward to seeing Natsume’s further development.