Thursday, May 6, 2021

The (Almost) Definitive Fall 2020-Spring 2021 English Shogakukan Manga Guide!

  Hello readers! Marion here, reporting back in after an extremely busy seven months. It's still busy where I am, since I work at a local mom n' pop pharmacy here in the Big Apple. If you live in the States, please go and try to get vaccinated. If you already have, thank you, and please don't stop acting responsible. As for our international friends, I can't do much, but I'm sending my energy your way. I know that things have been seesawing and cases have been multiplying in different countries, especially India. I hope you can all stay safe, and your families can get through this together. It's not the time to be insensitive to the plight of others, and I can only hope that this blog can at least give you some peace of mind with our particular flavor of content. Now, I know what you're here for is more of the WSSTB blog. I really wanted to make up for lost time, and give you all a nice round up of all the wonderful Shoggy manga that's been released in the meantime! We've truly been blessed with a plethora of interesting titles from Weekly Shonen Sunday and many more. So, without further ado, let's get into it! Please not that there is no particular order to these reviews, except for being grouped according to NA publisher.

Assassin's Creed: Blade of Shao Jun, Volume 1 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Monthly Sunday GX (October 2019)
Original Concept by: Ubisoft
Story & Art By: Minoji Kurata
Translation: Caleb Cook
Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Brandon Bovia
Design: Francesa Truman
Editor: David Brothers

This was an interesting read. I don't often check out adaptations of video game franchises into comics (or anime, really), but I was very intrigued at this one, because of the localization team behind it. This was translated by Caleb Cook, best known for popular Shonen Jump titles My Hero Academia and Dr. Stone. The lettering is by Brandon Bovia, who also worked on titles such as Transformers, Snow White with the Red Hair (one of my personal favorite shojo titles), and the ongoing Kaiju No.8. Both are also friends with our staff here so do us both of favor and check out all of their wonderful work! As for Assassin's Creed itself, the real draw to it is a story being told from two points in time. There's Shao Jun of the Brotherhood of Assassins, from 1526 AD in China, and Lisa Huang, a shut-in with violent impulses who's learned that she comes from that legendary assassin's bloodline. There is political intrigue between the Brotherhood and the Templar Order, who have both survived as secret organizations over the passage of time. The action depicted is up to standard from what I would expect a series about assassination would be, with some interesting point-of-view shots and acrobatic feats displayed by the titular Shao Jun. The push and pull between the Brotherhood and Templar is more straightforward in the past, but there's enough happening in the present day to make me curious as to what their goals and intentions are for Lisa, who seems to have been roped into this situation purely and unintentionally through her ancestry. I would recommend Volume 1 to non-fans of the Assassin's Creed franchise, on these merits. It's the kind of series that I believe makes it easy for readers to understand whether or not they'd be invested in the rest of the story. I rate it a 4/5.

Call of the Night, Volume 1 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Weekly Shonen Sunday (August 2019)
Story and Art By: KOTOYAMA
Translation: Junko Goda
English Adaptation: Shaenon K. Garrity
Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Annaliese "Ace" Christman
Cover and Interior Design: Alice Lewis
Editor: Annette Roman

Here finally comes the next series by KOTOYAMA, creator of Dagashikashi! Previously, we've only gotten that series in its anime form thanks to Funimation, but now we get a better look into this author's work through their original work! Call of the Night is very stylish. KOTOYAMA has a penchant for lanky, sharp-eyed characters, and now that the setting is a big cityscape, he has a lot more room to play with industrial and more populous backgrounds. We at WSS had a great conversation/interview with Ace, the official letterer of the series, for our monthly Saturday Night Shoggy podcast, if you'd like to hear more about the artistic merits on display. This was a very successful start to a coming of age story about a truant student who wants to fall in love and understand his emotions better. There's a sensuality in the way that KOTOYAMA draws interpersonal relationships, that treads between "this is lowkey horny," and "this is artistically a really beautiful way to draw this situation." Whether it's fumbling with the extra awareness that puberty brings, or the self-conscious desire to understand and connect with someone, there's a lot to explore in between the lines and body language portrayed in this book. I definitely recommend it to readers who are into slice of life with a supernatural romance bent, and give it a 5/5. Oh yeah, this is a story about a vampire--trust me, the plot is cool but what you'll really vibe with is the characters. Don't worry about it.

Zom-100: Bucket List of the Dead, Volume 1 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Monthly Sunday GX (October 2018)
Story by: Haro Aso
Art by: Kotaro Takata
Translation: Nova Skipper
Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Vanessa Satone
Design: Jimmy Presler
Editor: Karla Clark

Let's get this out of the way: I am generally not a fan of zombie media. I don't really vibe in general with gore or horror but I've been know to at least try out stuff here and there. I really liked the anime for School-LIVE!, which had a well-known twist after episode 1. Growing up, I watched my friend play Resident Evil 4 on GameCube and thought it was pretty entertaining, especially when one of the flesh eating monster zombies was whisper-screaming "CABRON!" to the player character. Me, with my wonderfully big heart and respect for all types of media, decided to give Zom-100 a chance, and what do you know? It was actually pretty damn decent! I resonated a lot with the main character, Akira Tendo; a wage slave at an abusive company that overworks their employees and literally sucks the life out of them. Once a zombie outbreak hits, he realizes he doesn't need to work anymore and the quality of his life immediately takes a turn for the better. He literally looked like a zombie before the apocalypse, and after he gave up his job, he looks human. It's part of the joke, but damn. That really hits on a psychological level for anyone who's had a very demanding job that requires you to give up free and personal time (I worked retail for 3 years, and became an on-call middle manager at one point). The main message and reason for the title we're given in this first volume is to live your life in a way that gives no regrets. Akira makes a bucket list, or list of goals/desires/dreams to achieve before he gets zombified, and by the end of volume one, already has a good 4 or 5 of them done! I can really appreciate the juxtaposition between this chipper, self-satisfied man in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, to every other panicking or mega-serious citizen trying to survive. It's played as a joke that also impacts one such serious person in a side story at the end of the book. Zom-100: Bucket List of the Dead is a story I think hits harder now that we're in a global pandemic. Definitely read it, and see if it gives you a new perspective on how to live and treat your own life during a crisis that impacts the entire world. I give it a 4.5/5 because I thought it would be longer than ~160 pages. Oh, and mild warning for nudity, there are a handful of pages with bare breasts so be careful where you're reading if you're in public.

Fly Me To The Moon, Volumes 2-4 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Weekly Shonen Sunday (February 2018)
Story and Art By Kenjiro Hata
Translation: John Werry
Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Evan Waldinger
Design: Jimmy Presler
Editor: Shaenon K. Garrity

You know them, you love them, and they love each other: Nasa and Tsukasa's laid-back married life is back! More like, it never left, but I was too busy to consistently talk about it... The anime has come and gone, and now the manga is chugging along at its two month per volume pace. At this point, we're a good chunk into episode 10 of the anime, after Nasa's apartment burned down due to a freak lightning accident, and has moved into the Arisugawa's temporarily. What really sells me on this series is the quieter moments between our main couple, and characters outside that relationship trying to gauge how well it's going for them. One of my favorite scenes was actually when Nasa takes Tsukasa to meet his parents once he realizes he's going to need a guarantor for when they eventually move out. Nasa's parents shoo him out to take a bath and then his father prostrates himself to thank Tsukasa for saving Nasa's life. It's a very sweet and initially unexpected moment, since up to this point his parents were being built up as goofballs who live pretty lackadaisical lives. The pop culture references were once again on point, as well, with more FGO, Lupin III, and many others. If you gave the first volume a shot and enjoyed the casual lovey-dovey atmosphere, these subsequent volumes deliver plenty more. Recommended reading on a breezy Sunday afternoon. 5/5.

Mermaid Saga Collector's Edition, Volume 2 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Shonen Sunday S (1984–1985), Weekly Shonen Sunday (1987–1994)
Story and Art By: Rumiko Takahashi
Translation & English Adaptation: Rachel Thorn
Lettering: Joanna Estep
Design: Yukiko Whitley
Editor: Amy Yu

The first volume of Mermaid Saga left me riveted and famished for more. Now that I knew what to expect, volume 2 was a welcome read when I was in the mood for more horror. I think one of the greatest merits of Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Saga, is the willingness to dive in and explore all of the murky moral quandaries that can come from the concept of immortality. In "Mermaid's Scar," our first antagonistic force comes from an immortal child who survived over 500 years while retaining the appearance of a prepubescent boy. It was chilling seeing him manipulate an older woman into taking the role of his mother, even though he was aware she probably wouldn't completely overcome the effects of eating mermaid flesh. He berates and actually comes out on top against Yuta once the latter discovers he's the one who fed the flesh to both the adoptive mother and the maid who was going to be his next victim. This story, and "The Ash Princess" were probably my favorite vignettes from this volume, for their takes on how immortality could affect the development of children who wouldn't physically age. By far, the greatest asset to Takahashi-sensei's storytelling is the freedom she has to rearrange and flip the time periods when it comes to these tales. They're all connected by the singular thread that is Yuta, and the theme of loss. The depictions of horror are markedly more artistic than overtly gross, and while there isn't any kind of definitive "final story" to mark the end of this collection, I find myself completely satisfied with this collection. I don't really need to know how Mana and Yuta fall deeper in love, because it's not really necessary. You get a sense of their intimacy as the stories with both of them continue, and if Takahashi-sensei isn't going to depict them finding a way to reverse the immortality, it's fine leaving the rest up to the imagination. I give it a 4.5/5, because volume 1 gave me a stronger impact for its initial novelty as a fresh reader, and I already knew what to expect.

How Do We Relationship?, Volumes 1-2 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Ura Sunday (August 2018)
Story and Art By: Tamifull
English Translation & Adaptation: Abby Lehrke
Touch-up Art & Lettering: Joanna Estep
Design: Alice Lewis
Editor: Pancha Diaz

This story wasn't sad at all, but it got me contemplating about all my past intimate relationships and how lonely I feel now that I don't really have anyone like that these days. I think that there's a lot of good in having a story like that around. How Do We Relationship? is about two lesbians who meet in university, decide to join the band club together, and stumble into dating each other once they realize the other is romantically into women. Miwa is shy, inexperienced, and a romantic, while Saeko is an extroverted hornball who hides her insecurity with bravado. They both try to show their stronger sides to each other, but it often ends with personal feelings of guilt or insecurity over not being able to stay honest--and they eventually jump over all of those hoops, by communicating about it! Which is what couples should do! It's very messy in a "young adults navigating through love can't do it perfectly" kind of way, which I appreciate. Tamifull-sensei brings up in an afterword extra that they're ticked off by the idea that romance stories tend to end once the couple finally gets together, because it completely ignores the real-life experiences that every couple actually goes through once they become an item. Sometimes people have ulterior motives, sometimes a partner won't be satisfied unless their sexual needs are met. These kinds of things happen, and even if our main couple doesn't have every single relationship problem thrown at them, they will have to acknowledge at least some of them exist. The topic of lesbian sex is addressed, and the physical and emotional fulfillment of both ladies once the time for it arrives is handled pretty well. As a yuri title, I enjoyed reading this and seeing something not-quite "saccharine schoolgirls," nor "jaded office romance." There's still plenty of interest to cultivate in a story about people who are legally adults, sort of approaching that "late bloomer" mark in their lives. Volume 1 is ostensibly about juggling the idea of being "out" in a lesbian relationship with people that you trust, something many LGBT folks can attest to being stressful, scary, and yet necessary for your own peace of mind. Volume 2 is more about wrestling with feelings of jealousy, low self-esteem, and being able to convey that to your partner. Overall, I quite enjoyed these two books and I'm thoroughly invested in Miwa and Saeki's relationship. A simple 5/5, they may not know how to relationship, but they're managing somehow.

Komi Can't Communicate, Volumes 10-12 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Weekly Shonen Sunday (May 2016)
Story and Art by: Tomohito Oda
English Translation & Adaptation: John Werry
Touch-up Art & Lettering: Eve Grandt
Design: Julian [JR] Robinson
Editor: Pancha Diaz

FINALLY. Rumiko (not that one) Manbagi has joined the fray. This stand-out character has charmed many who've read the original Japanese chapter releases, and with good reason. Komi makes her first gyaru friend in Volume 10, once the new term starts and classmates have been shuffled around. Rumiko is separated from her gyaru clique and some time unable to make new friends, she breaks down crying in the bathroom and Komi consoles her. Thus begins the single most wholesome friendship in the entire series! I seriously love Rumiko. The subversion of a gyaru being semi-introverted and really self conscious about not being able to make friends is great! The fact that she also grows really close to Komi because they're both honest with each other is also incredibly sweet. Adding Tadano to the dynamic for love triangle could have easily turned this sour, but so far, Rumiko isn't conscious enough about her feelings to jeopardize her friendship with Komi. Aside from that, time continues to pass, and we get a summer break arc! One of my favorite sequences ever is when Komi brings up a list of things she wants to do over the summer at the last day of classes, and all of her friends write more on it. It's so wholesome, it almost brought a tear to my eyes. Besides that, Hitomi, Tadano's little sister, and Shosuke, Komi's little brother, have also enrolled into Itan High are now classmates. Shosuke's gimmick as part of the Komi family is that he doesn't need to communicate, because he actually is every bit as perfect as people get the impression his older sister is. Meanwhile, Hitomi, with her grand social powers, gets the wrong idea and decides to assign herself the same role her older brother got when he met Komi in volume 1. It's really funny. If you aren't reading Komi Can't Communicate yet, what is wrong with you? Now is the perfect time to start catching up. If not for me, do it for the escalating romantic tension between Tadano and Katai. I hope Katai will one day find happiness... 5/5.

Maison Ikkoku, Volumes 1-3 (Viz Media)

Originally published in: Big Comic Spirits (October 14th, 1980)
Story and Art by: Rumiko Takahashi
Translation: Matt Treyvaud
Touch-up Art and Lettering: Inori Fukuda Trant
Design: Alice Lewis
Editor: Nancy Thislethwaite

Lauded by many Rumiko Takahashi fans as the most "mature" and probably "best" of her romcoms, Maison Ikkoku has finally been rereleased as of last year, in both print and digital. The story follows the residents of a boarding house sharing the same name as the title of the series, and the many hijinks and misunderstandings that they subject each other to. It's very grounded in both its comedy and chapter-to-chapter plots, as there are no supernatural elements of any kind. The appeal comes from a notably older protagonist in Godai Yusaku, who is in his 20s and trying to get into University after failing his entrance exams. He's not as lecherous as Ataru Moroboshi from Urusei Yatsura, but he does have his moments where he pines for love and sex. What makes him work as a protagonist is how Takahashi-sensei has him dance the line between selfish and considerate. His love interest, Kyoko Otonashi, is a widow who is two years older than Godai. She married an instructor she knew as a teen and still can't move on to find love after the tragedy. Godai and Kyoko, for the most part, are a pretty standard couple for a romantic comedy. Takahashi-sensei does a good job of rounding out the supporting cast with colorful personalities that bounce and clash with each other, and it's the moments when they take a minute to seriously reflect or give heartfelt advice to each other that helps sell their relationships as tenants who treat each other like family. 

Naturally, there's a ton that happens within these three, thick volumes (over 300 pages each!), and thanks to it being a Takahashi series, the romantic progression itself proceeds at a steady albeit slow pace. For the sake of clarity, it's by well near the end of volume 3 that our main couple shares their first kiss. That's no doubt due to the efforts of rivals like Coach Mitaka, who openly courts Kyoko whenever Godai does something stupid enough to make her jealous and want to blow off steam. Godai is also in a not-quite-but-sort-of serious relationship with a former coworker named Kozue Nanao, who is head over heels for him. It reminds me a lot of Kimagure Orange Road--I'm sure this wouldn't be the first time the comparison is made--and how the relationship between Kyosuke and Hikaru felt pretty contrived, and mostly for the purpose of adding more tension between Godai and Kyoko. There are times, even, where either or both rival characters are conveniently forgotten  or not addressed at all during some serious arcs. The most egregious being the one month period where Godai moved out of Maison Ikkoku after misunderstading that Kyoko was going to get married to Mitaka--in truth, she was helping him shop for a wedding gift to his little sister. In that whole period of several chapters, Godai's girlfriend Nanao is nowhere to be seen, even though he's homeless and trying to jump between friends' couches for shelter. I get that the inconsistency is more to focus on the drama between the main pairing, but it was a bit clumsy. The other serious storylines were impactful enough for me to gloss over this, though. I enjoyed seeing Kyoko confront her parents for being too stubborn to apologize once her husband passed, and any story where Godai just genuiely tries to help out others. There is a lot of soul in the cast, and while the other tenants at Maison only get a handful of moments where they act like real people and not caricatures that live off tormenting Godai, at least a lot of the humor is grounded in real life. I would heavily recommend this to any fans of classic romantic comedy. 4.5/5, it's what I expected from Takahashi-sensei. Also Kyoko is beautiful, I don't blame Godai for losing his head when it comes to her.

SUPER SENTAI: Himitsu Sentai Gorenger -- The Classic Manga Collection, Volume 1 (Seven Seas)

Originally Published in: Weekly Shonen Sunday (May 14, 1975) , Shogaku Gonensei (April 1975)
Story and Art by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Translation: Alethea and Athena Nibley
Lettering and Retouch: Roland Amago, Bambi Eloriaga-Amaago
Cover Design: Nicky Lim
Editor: Alexis Roberts, Dawn Davis

Shotaro Ishinomori gets a brief bio in this book, and in it we're told, "If Osamu Tezuka was the 'Godfather of Manga', Ishinomori is the 'King of Manga.'" I haven't read other works by him before this, but was definitely aware of his prolific catalog of published work. From Kamen Rider to Cyborg 009, the concept for the appeal of Tokusatsu (live action special effects) featuring heroes and hero "teams," owes much of its foundation to Ishinomori-sensei. Frankly, the paneling in this collection is astounding. I love classic manga as much as the next person, but something about Ishinomori-sensei's layouts really blew me away. There's a very simple quality to them, with no super complicated panel shapes, mostly rectangles and squares, but plenty of depth in the scope of what is portrayed on the page. There are multiple double page spreads that use 1-4 panels on the rightmost side and the rest of the layout being used for an action setpiece or sprawling background. The details found in some such pages are mind boggling once you consider that most of these effects were drawn by hand on pen and paper, without any kind of digital assistance for all of the cross-hatching or inking done for explosions or lighting effects. The character designs are charming, with unique silhouettes even for a Sentai Team that all wear similar shaped suits. Every team member is cleverly drawn a different body build to help distinguish them from each other while completely shaded in. The story itself is quite basic. The book is split into two sections, with chapters collected from WSS itself and a sister magazine called Shogaku Gonensei, or "5th Grader" Magazine. There are no chapter breaks in the WSS half, which makes for two complete stories, while the Gonensei chapters repeat the origin story and seem to go more for a detective/spy mystery angle for the missions the team must complete. My favorite team member is probably Asuka Renji, the short, quick-witted punster who dons the green suit for Midorenger. My favorite story chapter was probably the second one from the WSS chapters, because it had a mecha-dinosaur and a message about eco-terrorism, which was pretty ambitious! There's also the concept of Flying Devil Ships and the sinister Clockwork Mask--thinly referencing Gear Mask from the TV series! If you have at all any passing interest in Super Sentai or the history of how Power Rangers came to be, I implore you to check out this series, and support Seven Seas' Classic Collection imprint! They have some really amazing stuff that also serves to preserve these classics--which would otherwise never be released in English. Easily a 5/5 with the extra materials added for historical context.

Dai Dark, Volume 1 (Seven Seas)

Originally published in: Monthly Shonen Sunday (March 2019)
Story and Art by: Q Hayashida
Translation: Daniel Komen
Adaptation: Casey Lucas
Lettering: Phil Christie
Original Cover Design: Shun SASAKI + Yoko NAKANISHI (AYOND)
Design: Nicky Lim
Proofreader: Kurestin Armada
Copy Editor: Dawn Davis
Editor: J.P. Sullivan

The long anticipated English release of Q Hayashida's latest serial is finally here! It's an outer space romp with only the unique flavor of magic and fantastical elements that Q can bring us. I honestly had no clue what to expect, besides quirky cast members and possibly tons of gore, as Dorohedoro once gave us. The beginning was kind of rough and hard to parse, after being thrown in media res to pirate space ship where our teen protagonist Zaha Sanko, known across the universe for having bones that can grant any wish, is captured. There's tons of lingo spread throughout the volume that refers to unique items and properties that are part of this universe, like "paggy" which seems to be a kind of space suit apparatus that helps with breathing, communicating, and seemingly general essential space things. Sanko has a special black "paggy" (they look like spacesuit backpacks) named Avakian who can use dark magic and watches out for him. The tone of the series seems purposely more lighthearted, with plenty of overt gags and snappy dialogue scripts that aim to rouse laughter from the readers. It's generally pretty successful, but there are times where the humor clashes greatly with the violent imagery sometimes on display for what became a pretty disorienting experience for me--no doubt done on purpose. Narratively, it was a little hard to follow and understand what the point to this adventure was, until a little over halfway through. It's a similar situation to Caiman at the start of Dorohedoro, where Sanko wants to find whoever made his body the way it is and spread those rumors about him, so that he can kill them and hopefully remedy this situation. Shimada Death, a reaper-like entity that can condemn basically anyone to death and subsists off the dead's souls, is by far the stand-out character for me. They are capricious, fun, and the design reminds me a lot of Curse and Noi from Dorohedoro. It seems like there's still maybe one more person to add to Sanko's party, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of this journey play out. The use of outer space as a setting is really outstanding, and used to great effect. My favorite set of pages was when Sanko and Avakian end up traversing through a Black Hole to enter a planet called Darknest, and the explanation of how the phenomenon works by breaking down and twisting atoms by visually twisting and distorting the character designs was visually interesting and unique. Q Hayashida is still a great comic artist and seeing her foray into new genres like science fiction while keeping her trademarks of horror, comedy, and fantasy is absolutely one of the most satisfying things about this manga. I give it a solid 4.5/5, because I'm sure the beginning will feel less rocky on a re-read.

Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance, Volumes 1-2 (Yen Press)

Originally Published in: Monthly Cheese! (November 2018-2020), Monthly Flowers (April 2020)
Story and Art by: Kaho Miyasaka
Translation and Adaptation: Taylor Engel
Lettering: Lys Blakeslee

It's been a good while since I've dipped my toes into some melodramatic shojo, and boy--should I say girl?--did this scratch a particular itch. Kaho Miyasaka has been drawing shojo comics since the 90s, and before this, we've only had Kare First Love officially brought over in English. The story for Japanesque follows a blonde girl of mixed heritage named Maria, living in Meiji-era Japan. In order to avoid discrimination, her mother has ceaselessly devalued Maria's sense of self-worth by forcing her to hide her blonde hair and know her place as a commoner. Unfortunately, she catches the attention of a well-off scion of the Mayuzumi family, Rintaro, who teases her with pranks in pursuit of a reaction. With her lack of any thereof, he starts to view her differently. Once he discovers that Maria is hiding her features, he grows enamored with her, and gradually gives her confidence and self-esteem by calling her beautiful, and sharing the story of the Little Mermaid with her. This gives her an opportunity to continue studying English and familiarize herself with the culture of her estranged father. Overall, the flow of the plot is remarkably simple, and the character development is pretty sparse. Some readers familiar with standard beats for these kind of Cinderella stories will likely roll their eyes at the female lead being unable to love herself and take a step forward in her life without the emotional support of the male lead. Rintaro himself was initially not quite appealing to me as a reader, because his infatuation seemed to bloom after seeing her outer beauty, even though his initial curiosity came from her lack of reaction--which comes across as shallow. What's important, at least, is that as events unfold, he does eventually act firmly in order to support and openly court Maria. What this story lacks in innovative story is made up for with firmly established characters. Maria's wavering confidence eventually erupts in volume 2, as she's able to defend herself at a party hosted by Rintaro's family, and giving due cause for him to kick out one of her female bullies. It was a strong moment that landed the emotional punch it was aiming for. Another positive is that the chapters are lengthy and take full advantage of the tendency in shojo comics to devote lavish real estate on the page to wide shots and full page panels that set the scene in the appropriate emotional space. Kare First Love came out in 2002, 2004 in North America, and this 2018 foray shows that Miyasaka-sensei knows exactly what she's doing in this industry. I give this a 3.5/5 but will continue picking up the series as it comes out because it's my type of popcorn shojo.

Whew! That was quite a lot, and to be honest, it wasn't even every single thing came out this year! Of the top of my head (aka my handy excel sheet), we also had all of these titles recently published!

Asadora by Naoki Urasawa, Volumes 1-3 (Viz Media)
Blue Giant Omnibus, Volumes 1-2, 3-4 (Seven Seas)
Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Volume 6 (Light Novel) (Yen Press)
Case Closed
, Volume 78 (Viz Media)
Cirque du Freak, Volumes 1-2 (Yen Press)
Do You Like The Nerdy Nurse? (Yen Press)
Hayate the Combat Butler (various volumes, digital debut) (Viz Media)
How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift? Volume 6 (Seven Seas)
The King's Beast, Volume 1  (Viz Media)
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Volume 8 (Viz Media)
Pokemon Adventures Collector's Edition (various volumes, digital debut) (Viz Media)
Queen's Quality, Volume 11 (Viz Media)
Rin-ne (various volumes, digital debut) (Viz Media)
Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle
, Volume 14 (Viz Media)
Sneeze by Naoki Urasawa (Viz Media)
Splatoon: Squid Kids Comedy Show, Volume 3 (Viz Media)
Revolutionary Girl Utena: After The Revolution (Viz Media)
, Volume 15 (Viz Media)
Urusei Yatsura, Volume 10 (Viz Media)

By all means, if you have a series you're really interested in or want more of, do your best to support the industry and buy what you like! We're living in a very fortunate time for the English manga world, where tons and tons of titles are being licensed and published from all sorts magazines that serve different demographics. To my knowledge, all of these titles are now available in print and digital, with most digital retailers being Amazon (Kindle and Comixology), Google Play, Apple Books, Nook, Kobo, and Bookwalker. Viz Media also has their own digital store and app if you'd rather support them directly. I'd like to take this time to also thank Viz Media for providing review copies of every single title directly reviewed in this guide! For the Seven Seas and Yen Press manga reviewed, I purchased my own copy digitally via my preferred retailer.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Sunday Maiko: Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san anime preview.


Hey all! Your constantly on the move host Sakaki here with yet another thing I didn't write! Though no, this is a real honor to bring to you since this is not something by the usual writers Marion or Jecka either --yes we have fresh blood. A new eyes into the skies of Sunday. Hippo has honored us with their presence and with a preview of the newest Sunday anime to hit Japanese airwaves: Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san  or as it's affectionately called in English "Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House." We're always welcoming of guest writers so please take Hoot's kind example and let us know if there's a Sunday thing you've always wanted to share or talk about! But that's enough from me, take it away Hippo! 

I think the most important keyword when it comes to the new anime Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House, adapted from the manga Maiko-san Chi No Makanai-san by Aiko Koyama that runs in Weekly Shonen Sunday, is “context.” Context is important both to the show itself and the things that happen in it. Allow me to try and explain. Kiyo in Kyoto is airing worldwide on NHK World Japan ahead of a domestic release this Fall. When I first found out about this I was surprised, as a viewer of NHK World Japan for many years now, this was the first time i’d heard of them airing an anime, let alone before it aired in Japan! Having now watched the first episode I have to imagine it was produced at least partially with the English speaking audience of NHK World Japan in mind. Other than that fact that it is a scripted show, Kiyo in Kyoto fits right in with shows like Journey’s in Japan, Cycle Around Japan, and Japan Railway Journal (Russel if you’re somehow reading this please come back, the show hasn’t been the same since you left) In fact, the episode also features the narration in English and it sounds exactly like any of their other shows, though the rest of the episode is presented in Japanese with english subtitles. It’s also for this reason that while I enjoyed this show I am somewhat skeptical if the average anime viewer will get that much out of it. That aside, I must state that I myself enjoyed myself and plan to keep watching the rest of the show.

Kiyo in Kyoto follows the story of the titular Kiyo, who works as a cook at the yakata (geisha house) that her childhood friend Sumire is training as a maiko (apprentice geiko; known as geisha worldwide and in Tokyo) Kiyo initially came to the yakata with the intention of being a maiko herself, but wasn’t as skilled and has taken a more behind the scenes role in the operations. From this first episode Kiyo is the definite highlight and the biggest reason to watch the show. She’s super positive, kind and it’s hard to not fall in love with her as a protagonist. Even though she’s just cooking for her friends, it’s hard not to root for her. She’s also played by Kana Hanazawa, who I am a big fan of, and if you’re a fan of her as well, I think you’ll enjoy this performance. Sumire also gets a decent amount of screentime in this first episode and she seems to be interesting as well. In the first segment of the episode she is nervous to tell Kiyo that she’s been promoted, worried that Kiyo might be sad due to not being able to work as a maiko, in the end though Kiyo is just delighted by her friends success and doesn’t resent her position at all. Kiyo is happy where she is and supportive of her friend. It’s the touching display of their friendship that is the heart of the show. The other character who gets a bit of screen time this first episode is a man referred to as “onii-san” who is an otokoshi; a man who helps maiko with tasks such as helping them put on their intricate outfits. In this episode he helps move a fridge so that Kiyo can retrieve a book that fell behind it. We meet a couple of other residents of the yakata, who I assume will get more screen time in future episodes.

If it wasn’t already clear, this is a show that is primarily about introducing the viewer to maiko culture. While it has characters, the show is rather light on characterization (though Sumire definitely seems like she’ll have something of a character arc in regards to overwork) and is solidly in the realm of slice of life. That said I’m not completely sure if fans of slice of life anime would all be in love with this show. As I said, it’s a show about introducing the viewer to a culture, like the edutainment shows produced by NHK that I mentioned earlier. The show is primarily concerned with introducing topics relating to this somewhat more obscure aspect of Japanese culture, terminology, and food. If you are interested in learning about those things, then I think this is a show for you. The characters are light and fun and make for a good vehicle to understand these things. This edutainment aspect is further highlighted by the show’s structure.

Kiyo in Kyoto’s episodes contain three chapters, and in between each airs a segment called “Kiyo and Sumire’s Meal of the Day,” it really ought to be called “Meals of the Day” since it airs three times! These segments feature the two characters in a more chibi form discussing the meal that Kiyo made in the previous chapter, going over various aspects of it, often from a cultural standpoint. In the third segment they talk about a squid food that the pair used to enjoy in their hometown in Aomori, but can’t find in Kyoto. Even though this show is primarily about Kyoto culture, they manage to sneak in cultural tidbits from other regions of Japan due to the characters’ cultural heritage. Additionally, the airing of the episode was followed up by a three minute live action segment with a basic rundown of how yukata’s work, which was much more in line with a traditional NHK World Japan tv show, only shorter. It was unclear whether or not each episode would be accompanied by one, but this episodes’ was certainly interesting and helped me get the terminology straight for this review, so I’m grateful that it was there.

I suppose it makes sense to next go over the production of this show in more detail. The anime is animated at J.C Staff, and if you’ve watched a few of their shows in the last few years you’ll recognize a few familiar faces among the staff. The series, as well as this first episode, is directed by Yohei Suzuki, who I have a bit of a love hate relationship with. This is a serviceable effort on his end, but perhaps a bit workmanlike. Some scenes reminded me more of a presentation than a show with a story, but given the educational angle I got used to that rather quickly, even if I wasn’t in love with it. Susumu Yamakawa is in charge of the scripts. The animation in this show is quite minimal, so those who look for sakuga in anime first and foremost should look elsewhere. I feel like so far I’ve been somewhat negative of the production, so I do feel like I should give credit where credit is due. The soundtrack is quite nice to listen to, and definitely sells the tone of the show. I think that’s what the production does best in general, it’s not lavish or particularly pretty in motion, but it feels very warm, it does a good job of creating a world you want to inhabit for 11 more episodes.

Ultimately I think Kiyo in Kyoto will appeal to a very specific crowd. If you like traditional Japanese culture, learning, anime and illustrations of food, I think you might find something to enjoy here. If none of those things interest you, or you need your anime to look flashy, then this may not be your cup of tea. If this review for this show has caught your interest and you’d like to see more you have options.  It’s airing on NHK World Japan at 6:30pm on Wednesdays, and is slated to air in Japan in the Fall. The show is also getting a simulcast on Crunchyroll that was not announced until after it aired on NHK, which I am thankful for because I wasn’t looking forward to being at the whims of live tv again.