“Prime Time” – A, A’ (manga) – 8/10

Mangaka: Moto Hagio

Genre: Sci-Fi/Romance/Psychological/Gender-Bender

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this is unlicensed in the US.

Art: Very 80′s shoujo, with big galaxy-sparkle eyes and pretty guys. This still retains the nice, detailed backgrounds that modern shoujo lack.

Summary: A volume of short sci-fi shoujo stories all featuring a new race of humans called Unicorns. The major theme in all of the stories are about human emotions. As the characters in the story try to interact and relate to these Unicorns who lack a lot of the natural emotions humans normally feel. (MAL.net)

Review: In addition to the summary above, I would also like to posit that the stories that these three tales tell is also centered on identity, explored in three different ways: individually, emotionally, and sexually.

The first story pre-empts the Western world’s obsession with cloning and its effects by about 30 years. A Unicorn wakes up to discover that she’s a clone grown from the cells of a scientist who died on a distant planet. Because the original’s work was so necessary, they send her off to replace her. The problem is that all the members there remember her as she grew and changed, forgetting that the clone was a turn back in the clock to when she first came. Relationships – especially the romantic one that grew between her and another scientist – are all reset, much to their dismay. The clone must come to terms with the idea that she’s not the original, that these people aren’t crazy or trying to irritate her… that they’re merely trying to connect with her as they knew her. Where does the original end and the clone begin?

The second story really has no relation to the first, but does serve as a prequel story to the last in the trilogy. A young psychic makes a connection to a Unicorn that’s been raised in glass walls, expected to behave a certain way and live a certain way. It turns out not all is as it appears. Other’s expectations blinded them to her potential, and when she awakens there is no turning back. How can these two keep their bonds with each other? How can she find freedom?

The last explores the idea of sexual identity. A Unicorn is born with the ability to change gender at will, but currently has settled on the male form as dominant. But a chance encounter with the psychic from the previous story unsettles everyone as they try to deal with ‘his’ attraction to the man. What effect does it have on their love, and can their relationship survive?

All three have interesting insights into what it means to love and what it means to find oneself. It’s endlessly fascinating, and while I don’t feel that the themes are always explored to their fullest, I do think they’re explored well.

Overall, it’s pretty good, but with some issues exploring these ideas in depth due to these being one-shots, I can’t really give it a perfect ’10′. Even so, the ideas explored are fascinating, and the emotional parts just gut-wrenching.

Recommended: 14+. The ideas of sexuality and identity are definitely for the older crowd. This also has a few (non-graphic) character deaths.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

To Terra… (manga or tv anime)

Please Save My Earth (manga)

“Lying Eyes” – Lying Mii-kun And Broken Maa-chan: Precious Lies (manga) – 10/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Hitoma Iruma (Story), Satou Atsuki (Art)

Genre: Mystery/Psychological/Romance

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is unlicensed in the U.S.

Art: This is very much a modern manga, with clean lines, good shading, and solid detail when needed on the characters and background.

Summary: The setting is a rural city in which a kidnapping and a series of murders are happening simultaneously, where there was also a kidnapping 8 years ago. The victims, the compulsive liar “Mii-kun” (the narrator), and “Maa-chan” (Misono Mayu) reunite and start living together, despite of the fact that the kidnapped children were in Mayu’s apartment… (MAL.net)

Review: If you can’t tell by the title, this is all about lies. The lies we tell others, the lies we tell ourselves, all the lies that we can fill our lives with. This is told via an unreliable narrator, so not only do the characters lie (and lie, and lie some more), but each chapter reveals how we assume things about how stories work and shows us how wrong we can be about what’s happening. It’s a brilliantly executed idea, letting the story reveal in bits and pieces what’s really happening and never letting on about it from the beginning.

The characters are as engaging as the method of storytelling. This revolves around two missing children. Who took them? Why? It turns out that there’s a whole lot of trauma and terror behind the events. The names of the characters should also be major hints of what’s happening – Maa-chan is broken by a horrific past. It’s no secret that the police have their eyes on her because of it. Mii-kun ends up her accomplice, lying to protect her and himself. Lies are a powerful force in this story and often drive their motives and actions. The lies they tell also end up revealing a lot about them (doubly surprising since lies are usually meant to hide things) and what is going on between these two.

This is a story I would happily pay someone to translate the light novels for. This manages a compelling story about two characters that are broken, twisted human beings, driven to actions by forces that were beyond their control and in some ways are still unable to stop. Top that off with managing to upset the normal form for storytelling in a clever – nay, ingenious – way that connects with the title, and I’ve found a winner!

Overall, this is a manga that I can’t help but recommend!

Recommended: 16+. This deals with some very, very harsh themes. Child abuse and murder are the order of the day. There’s nothing particularly gruesome shown, but the implication is more than enough. There’s also a good deal of blood shown even if the outright violence is avoided as much as possible.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Liar Game (manga)

Kimi no Knife (manga)

“What’s New, Pussycat?” – Nineteen, Twenty-One (manhwa) – 10/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Hye Jin Kim (Art), Na Che (Art), Han Yu (Story)

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: This is unlicensed in the US.

Art: This is done in a fairly typical manhwa style, but in lovely pastels and with a delicate watercolor look.

Summary: Yun-lee is a girl who is carrying a huge emotional scar in her heart. Due to an accident, she lost 2 precious years of her life, the time period between 19 and 21 years old. Her life is empty. She is miserable, but still attending a preparatory school in an attempt to catch up with all the time she has lost. Suddenly, one day on her way to feed some stray cats, she comes across a young man who seems to have what she has lost… the period between 19 and 21 years old. (Easy Going Scans)

Review: What do cats have to do with love? No, this is not a trick question. Sometimes we have an interest that guides a lot of our interactions with people and how we deal with them. For Yun-lee, this happens to be cats. She loves cats. She’ll feed the strays with any spare cash that she has, and does what she can. It’s especially important for her since she’s missed out on a good chunk of her life and feels disconnected from other people her age – she missed out on her 20th birthday, a huge celebration of adulthood.

Where does this leave her? That’s what she’s trying to find out. The only beings she feels any connection with are the stray cats that she feeds every day…and later, a nineteen-year-old boy that she discovers has also been taking care of them. The dialogue between them is loaded with double-meaning. It can be read either as a simple tale of two people falling in love, or as one about these two finding their place in life. With all that going on, I had to read it twice just to catch everything! The use of the cats and metaphor was very subtle and very appreciated since short stories often don’t manage it with the space they have.

Some of the issues it hits tend towards the cliché (dealing with nosy/rude neighbors, trying to find them a home), but tend to be dealt with rather ingeniously. It also never comes off as being shoehorned in for the sake of the story. The ending was also as good as I could hope for. Things aren’t left completely open-ended, instead opting for solid, almost fairly-tale like ‘and they lived happily ever after’, but with a few caveats. They know that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy but are willing to keep trying anyway. It was wonderfully touching.

Overall, I adored this little romance romp for pet-lovers.

Recommended: 9+. The worst thing in here is how one of the cats dies from being hit by a car, but there’s no gore to speak of. It’s clean, clean, clean besides that! Younger readers probably won’t appreciate the finer points of the story, though.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Honey and Clover (anime or manga)

Someday’s Dreamers (manga or anime)

“Quoth The Raven” – Black Bird (manga) – 4/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kanoko Sakurakoji

Genre: Romance/Drama/Supernatural/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/19 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Shoujo Beat.

Art: It’s standard. I liked the judicious use of toner, backgrounds, and really thought the tengu designs were interesting. But the art really doesn’t stand out in any way.

Summary: There is a world of myth and magic that intersects ours, and only a special few can see it. Misao Harada is one such person, and she wants nothing to do with magical realms. She just wants to have a normal high school life and maybe get a boyfriend. All that changes one day when Misao is attacked by a demon. Her childhood friend Kyo suddenly returns to save her and tend her cuts – with his tongue! It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives power to the demon clan who claims her. But most demons want to keep her power for themselves – by eating her! Now Misao is just trying to stay alive…and decide if she likes it when Kyo licks her wounds. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This is one of the Shojo Beat titles I hear thrown around a bit, so when the opportunity to check it out from the library came up, I took it with few expectations about what it was. I figured it might be a slightly smuttier version of Kieli, one of my favorite supernatural romances. I was a little off; Sure, this girl might be able to see spirits, but that’s about it!

Misao is just an average teen girl who happens to see spirits, and when she’s attacked one day, she’s rescued by a super-handsome guy that is deeply in love with her and wants to get into her pants.

Still with me?

So far, these four volumes have centered around how she’s the DESTINED ONE and sex. Not necessarily in that order, though, and not necessarily separately. The big deal is that if she has sex, then the clan of whomever manages to have bedded her will prosper. This is a big draw for Kyo (though apparently there’s some childhood friendship there that’s blossomed into love as well, but there’s a big mystery surrounding this). It’s also a big draw for a few other clans, so they’re completely willing to fight over her. Honestly, how it’s carried out is a major teen girl fantasy, and not unlike…I hate to say this… Twilight. It’s so full of near-sex and sexual tension it’s hard to believe they managed to squeeze anything else in.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t that much else here. Misao and Kyo are as standard and uninteresting as possible, and while I’m intrigued by some of the side characters (the brothers seem like awesome people and I’d love to have more of them!) we’re only treated to brief glimpses of their personalities, making them one-note characters. The story also assumes that knowing absolutely nothing about them, we’re supposed to adore them and understand they’re Misao’s New Best Friends. Even the bad guys are completely boring! This is as average as average can be, and definitely uses it to its full advantage.

Overall,  it’s a teenage girl’s ultimate romance story, mixed the angst of having sex for the first time with being the sexual fantasy of a really hot guy and adding some supernatural drama. I got over this stuff long ago. There’s so much sexual angst that it’s hard to see the character development. I can’t even mention the plot development because it’s all about the sex.

Recommended: 18+. It’s not hentai, but it comes darned close quite a few times. There are a number of highly sexualized scenes, where they are kissing half-naked and whatnot, but I suspect that when it gets to it the actual scene will be mostly stylized editing. I’d probably label it ‘softcore porn’.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (manga)

Bride of the Water God (manhwa)

Love Monster (manga)

“Easy As Pie” – Antique Bakery (anime) – 7/10 Peeps

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Shoujo/Shounen-ai(?)/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Nozomi.

Art/Animation: I can’t say much for the OP, because it’s carboard cut-outs against a dollhouse background, but the actual series looks quite good. It’s a more airy/sketchy look to it, rather along the lines of Honey and Clover, and in light pastels, though the backgrounds are often CG and not quite as nice-looking as the characters. You do get used to it, but it is disconcerting at first. The animation is very good. Since it’s a slice-of-life series, the budget is used to make things look nice, and it works.

Summary: A high school crush, a world-class pastry chef, a former middle-weight boxing champion… and a whole lot of cake!
Ono has come a long way since the agonizing day in high school when he confessed his love to handsome Tachibana. Now, some 14 years later Ono, a world-class pastry chef and gay playboy has it all. No man can resist Ono’s charms (or his cooking skills!) but he has just found a new position under a man named Tachibana. Can this be the only man who resisted his charms, and if so, will the man who once snubbed the “magically gay” Ono get his just deserts? And how in the heck did a former middleweight boxing champion wind up as Ono’s cake boy? (DigitalMangaPublishing)

Review: This has the cutest opening I’ve seen in a while. No, seriously, check it out!

It’s sweet and adorable (instead of looking cheap, like I had worried), and serves as a fantastic intro into a series that has the iffiest premise I’ve ever come across: A man who was kidnapped and forced to eat cake as a child ends up opening a bakery to find the man. It’s terribly strange, and if this wasn’t filled with handsome men baking delicious things, I might have turned this off right then and there. Thankfully, this wasn’t as ridiculous as it seemed to be, even though there are a number of moments that are… less than realistic.

This is mainly a character-driven story, and gives the impression that it’s shounen-ai off the first episode when Keiichiro ends up asking Yusuke whether he would work for him. Yusuke comes right out and says that Keiichiro used to bully him because he was gay and that he was madly in love with Keiichiro. Keiichiro has absolutely no interest in him however, but Yusuke gives into the pleas because it gives him a chance to show off his baking skills. And because he’s such a player that he can’t work anywhere else. But the staff isn’t complete yet! Chikage, a bodyguard that’s a touch slow, ends up becoming a waiter  (and love interest of Yusuke, but that’s minor). And the cast is rounded out by Eiji, a young man that desperately wants to make sweets and ends up becoming Yusuke’s apprentice.

The majority of this show is really the everyday happenings around the bakery, from developing a new cake, to being featured on televisiton, to sending Eiji away to learn more. And these things really are a lot of fun to see. The parts where it stumbles are on Yusuke’s personal life, because it’s so absolutely full of drama that it’s ridiculous. I suppose there’s something to be said about depicting how terrible abusive relationships are, but it’s still very out of place with the rest of the show. I’m also not fond of the kidnapper sotryline. It really highlights how silly the premise is overall. But… there are parts of it that really made my day, like tracking down people meant delivering cakes in ridiculous costumes as well as being asked to do truly difficult pastries. So while it was far from perfect, at least the kidnapper arc had a number of redeeming things.

For 11 episodes, though, it was too much time wasted and a little too much drama for what really should mostly have been an upbeat show.

Overall, it was fun and a decent series. Rate higher if you’re really fond of drama involving handsome men.

Recommended: 18+. Implied sex between two men, along with some partial nudity. There’s a series of murders of little boys happening (we never see them die, but it’s impied offscreen). Someone gets stabbed, and you do see some blood.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Ristorante Paradiso (anime)

Bartender (anime or manga)

Sommelière (manga)

“Devil On My Shoulder” – Stray Little Devil (manga) – 5/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kotaro Mori

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Action/Supernatural/Shoujo-ai

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by DrMaster Publications.

Art: It’s modern, it’s simple and unremarkable. But the characters do look pretty unique, and the clothes look pretty cool.

Summary: Meet Pam Akumachi, an energetic 13-year-old junior high student who has just turned into…a little devil! One day, when Pam and her friends try to summon the “benign devil”, the magic circle goes out of control and Pam is transported to a strange parallel world where angels and devils reside in an uneasy coexistence. Now Pan’s only means of returning home is to become a full-fledged devil. This is no easy task. The rules and precepts are so hard to follow, especially since Pan can’t read Devil Scripts. But first, Pam needs to claim a “familiar.” No devil worth her wings can go without one. (Back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This managed to grab me from the beginning with a solid, intriguing premise: that a magic circle goes wrong and a girl is drawn into a magical world, where the only way for her to stay safe is to be transformed into a devil, and then for her to be enrolled into a school to make a surefire devil out of her. But there’s a few catches: the mysterious stranger who greets her upon entry has no intention of telling her why, and humans are beings out of fairy tails…so how is she going to get home?

This decides to slam right into the Shoujo-ai right at that moment, with Pam confused about an Angel that looks just like her friend back home – a friend that we see for all of two panels, mind you – and desperately wants Linfa to acknowledge and recognize her, and never really gets it out of her head that she’s some sort of alternate spiritual whatever of her friend and that if she tries hard enough, she’ll get Linfa to remember her. This really forces the romance aspect, especially since we have NO idea how deeply she was in love with her friend (if she was in love with her), and it never seems to cross into the realm of realistic romance.

Thankfully, I wasn’t reading it for the romance, it was more for the friendship that Pam develops in the school for Devils. Most of this really revolves around school and that friendship is really well-developed. I adore how mixed reactions are to her – Raim instantly thinks she’s an utter ditz and will hold her back, while Vine is willing to help her out. They have such a dynamic relationship! None of it feels forced or awkward.

Unfortunately, these characters were really forced into a plot that is too ambitious for its length. It decides to hide the true plot for over three volumes, which leaves one and a half for a slammed-in story about how the spirit world is falling apart and how ~true love~ can save it. With minimal explanation for what’s happening and why it needs to happen, plus the forced romance, it really makes this feel silly and melodramatic.

Overall, these characters deserved a better story.

Recommended: 16+. There’s the shoujo-ai, and some fairly brutal injuries that are only briefly lingered on but are clearly gory.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

I really don’t have anything for you here. Sorry!

“Birds And The Bees” – Honey and Clover, Season 2 (anime) – 10/10 Peeps

Genre: School/Slice of Life/Romance/Drama/Josei

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by VIZ.

Art/Animation: This goes for more sketch-like art and done in pastels. It’s kind of artsy itself. Most everyone and everything looks delicate, and works in so many ways. The chibis are also incredibly cute. The animation is more than adequate as well – it looks great.

Summary: Is there life beyond art school? Yuta returns from his journey of self-discovery only to find everyone around him deep in their own struggles to shape their futures. Ayumi finds herself increasingly encluded in projects involving Takumi and Rika, and the strain is breaking her. Far away in America, Shinobu and his brother’s enless quest for money finally helps them achieve their ultimate goal, while back home Hagumi must face the devastating consequences of an accident that could change her life forever. Can the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of art ever be one and the same? (back cover of DVD set).

Review: Continuing where the first season left off, the second season finally delves into these character’s pasts and their drives in life, and brings everything to a fantastic conclusion. At the end of the first season, Yuta decides that he can’t continue on the path he’s on – no path. Lost and aimless with his life, he went on a bike ride to the farthest reaches of Japan. Seeing this play out is fascinating. It’s something that most people don’t set out to do, and is in some ways tougher than it was 100 years ago. And along the way, he finds people doing work, work that Yuta finds incredibly meaningful and fulfilling, and finally finds something that he could do for the rest of his life. In a way, it really rings true to what a lot of college students discover – that sometimes it takes actually going out and being in the world to begin finding ourselves and what we want to do. In a few episodes that span a number of months, he’s made a fantastic journey and finally figured out some of the most important things in his life.

Against that backdrop, everyone else’s life seems to be falling to pieces. Ayumi has always waited in the wings for her best friend, but another man has fallen for her. Takumi has never really been as upstanding about their relationship as he should have been, leaving her as a back-up, but finally has to make a decision on letting her go and letting her find the love that she deserves. His own relationship with Rika also comes to a head as he fully faces what it means to help deal with the heart of someone who’s deep in grief. I never felt that any one of these characters was making bad choices – I could only feel that these characters made real desicions. They’re torn by indecision and unable to really make a leap of faith with their futures.

Putting all their concerns in perspective, Hagumi is injured so badly that she might never make art again. This story could have taken the easy route of having her find something else that she could do, but no. This fully deals with Hagumi’s own past. She was trapped in a house with no escape for a long while. Art was what made life bearable. Her grandmother’s death and the freedom that her cousin gave her meant that she could truly express herself and get delight out of life… and that’s taken away in an instant, and there’s no certainty that she will ever recover enough to do it again. It really beings to light the fact that Shinobu has never been around for Hagumi when she needs it, but Yuta has been… but Hagumi’s relationship with her cousin might mean that she doesn’t make a move. I can’t say more because that would spoil it.

But when all is said and done, each step on this journey makes the story deeper and more relatable, and more beautiful. These characters never have a sure future, and nothing plays out predictably. Each episode highlights different, difficult issues that people have to face in their darkest times. It’s really one of the best anime I’ve ever seen, and really embodies the meaning of the phrase that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that’s important. And each character has a difficult journey that’s playing out that we get to witness, and makes the entire show bittersweet.

Overall, this is an anime I can’t recommend highly enough.

Recommended: YES. 16+. Implied sex in one scene again, along with a few swears. But other than that, this is unbelievably clean, and a beautiful story to boot.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

NANA (anime and manga)

Moyashimon (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

Ano Hana (anime)

Kids on the Slope (anime or manga)

Welcome to the NHK (anime or manga)

Genshiken (anime or manga)

Tatami Galaxy (anime)

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