“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!

“Simply Touching” – The Magic Touch (manga) – 6/10

Mangaka: Izumi Tsubaki

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Shoujo/School

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed by Shoujo Beat Manga.

Art: Typical shoujo art. It could be a template for other shoujo.

Summary: The star of her high school’s Massage Research Society club, Chiaki Togu is otherwise a normal, quiet girl until she falls in love at first sight with a gorgeous back – a back that happens to belong to Yosuke, the hottest guy at her school! Unfortunately, Chiaki’s attraction to Yosuke is thwarted by her own insecurity and the scheming of other girls – especially her twin sister Sayaka! Although Yosuke seems to be out of Chiaki’s league, she would do anything to give him a massage. The two eventually strike up a deal in which she will be allowed to touch his back…if she can make him fall in love with her! (back cover of 1st volume).

Review: This manga has by far and large the most unique premise I’ve come across in manga; A romance that happens because of  massage. And I don’t mean any massage parlor, either – it’s a school club dedicated to the art, and a girl who’s obsessed with it because it’s the only skill she has. Chiaki wants nothing more than to be a great masseuse, so that attracts her to the most irritated, painful back she’s ever seen.

It’s amazing how such a unique and interesting plot can fall so hard into all the tropes of shoujo ever. Chiaki is very much a typical heroine, torn over her feelings towards Yosuke and determined to do her best no matter what. The issue is that she’s torn over her feelings – she clearly was attracted to the prospect of massaging him from the beginning, and we the readers are explicitly shown that. So why all the drama about whether she had actually fallen in love with the person it belonged to first? It simply didn’t happen. Yosuke is a little different from the typical love interest by being angry and irritable. He’s not into other girls. Or, heck, other people. The issue comes in when he’s attracted to Chiaki for her charm…which is cheesy to begin with.

A lot more could have been done with that if they hadn’t decided to ignore the family dynamics and relationships of these two. The first volume introduces Chiaki’s twin sister who’s been busy making Chiaki’s life miserable, ruining her good name, and it’s resolved with barely any issue in that same volume. That same volume also brings up an interesting relationship dynamic between Yosuke and his brother, and that brother with Chiaki’s sister. All the mistaken identity issues just wrapped up for the sake of introducing club activities! Bah.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I thought the club activities and trickery were pretty funny – I’ve never seen so much involvement from a club president in a manga before, and he’s crazy enough to make me forgive a lot in this series. The only goal is to learn massage and if that means entering an underground massage tournament, then so be it! Summer parties? Massage! Sleepovers? Massage! There is no rest for these kids. (wat) I’m also rather fond of the opponents introduced here. It provides an interesting mash-up of quirks and personalities, and I really enjoyed how it worked with that.

Overall, it’s cute, but a fairly typical shoujo romance. If you have a particular interest in massage then it might be a little more entertaining, but other than that nothing special.

Recommended: 12+. There is some innuendo in some later volumes, especially after Chiaki mistakes a comment about her being ‘small’ as about her breasts. This is discussed.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Kitchen Princess (manga)

“Play Ball!” – Taisho Baseball Girls (anime) – 9/10 Peeps

“If All You See Is How I Look, You’ll Miss The Superchick Within” – “Superchick” by Superchick

Genre: Sports/Comedy/Slice-of-Life/Historical/School/Romance

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Sentai Filmworks

Art: It’s super-cute! The girls are all fairly recognizable, which says a lot because of how large a cast it is, and it’s in bright, vibrant colors. Definitely nice to look at.

Summary: 1925 – six years since the end of the Great War, four years since women were allowed to join political associations and one year since Emperor Hirohito assumed the throne. Only thirteen years after the death of the Meiji Emperor, Japan is a nation re-inventing itself, swept by wave after wave of wars, disasters and political unrest. War looms in China, males over the age of 24 are about to receive the right to vote and a strange new type of school uniform called the “sailor suit” is being introduced. But at least the national pastime, baseball, remains bound by tradition, the exclusive realm of men and boys. Until now. When a local player arrogantly states that girls should become housewives instead of going to school, teenage firebrands Koume and Akiko respond by forming their own baseball team. It’s shocking. It’s scandalous. And yet, in a nation in which almost anything seems possible, it may just be the start of something greater than any nine girls can imagine. It’s not just a game, it’s history in the making in Taisho Baseball Girls! (Back cover of DVD case)

Review: This was one of my favorite anime that I watched over winter vacation. Taisho really succeeds at capturing an era, before the destruction of WW2 and during the years when massive social change was happening. Koume is a young girl that wants nothing but to embrace the coming era. She wants a new, modern hairstyle. She wants a sailor suit instead of a kimono. She wants things that her traditional parents would never let her have, and it bothers her to no end. Her best friend Akiko is in similar straits, but because of her fiancée’s arrogance, has latched onto one way they can show that they can be modern: Play baseball.

But this is not a time or era when you’d have a flock of girls ready to sign up! They have to beg, plead, and cajole to get even six members, and all 12? It takes half the series just to get the team together. At the same time, it doesn’t fall into a trap of being repetitive. While they’re looking for members, the girls who are interested have to learn baseball from the ground up. None of them even know how to throw the ball, and have to enlist their English teacher, Ms. Curtland (yep, she’s actually English!) to teach them. They have to create their own clubhouse, tend their own field, and fight the school administration to be able to do the most basic school activities. It’s pretty cool to see these girls so willing to put themselves on the line, because everything is against them. They are outright dismissed by other schools because the only other teams out there are boy’s teams – and many see it as silly to challenge girls. Their families definitely don’t approve when they find out. And the school wants nothing more than to shut them down.

This is never really presented in an overly dramatic way, which is really admirable. All the these things are just the Facts Of Life in this story and the girls just find ways to deal with it.

At the same time this weaves in everyday life, mainly in the form of Koume’s family and what happens when a boy she meets falls in love with her. She’s not really thinking about that at this point in her life, but she has unwittingly brought a major complication into getting her family’s support. Her friend Akiko is in an arranged marriage against her wishes. And while some of this falls back on traditional tropes, it’s another thing that is just seen as being what it is – something common in those days, nothing surprising or overly shocking. And these things do manage to come to a fairly satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, it’s a wonderful series that wraps up perfectly in 12 episodes, and definitely one that I am happy I invested in.

Recommended: The back cover rates this as PG, and I think that’s pretty accurate. The most offensive that it could get is there’s one girl that clearly has a crush on the main, and another girl that crushes on that girl, but it’s hard to say whether this is romantic or a case of girls just idolizing each other like modern girls idolize famous women. I’m fairly sure that it could go either way.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Bamboo Blade (anime or manga)

Hikaru no Go (anime or manga)

Girls Und Panzer (anime)

Chihayafuru (anime or manga)

Moshidora (anime)

Big Windup (anime)

“A Shocking Conclusion” – B-Shock (manga) – 1/10 Desks

Deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. ~ Oscar Wilde

Mangaka: Junko Nakano

Genre: Romance/Comedy/School/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: This manga is unlicensed in the US.

Art/Animation: Eh. Typical manga art. I really wasn’t that impressed. Both th characters and backgrounds are very undetailed, and could be replaced with Generic Manga Character #2. Nothing really stands out.

Summary: “B-Shock!” is mostly a screwball romantic comedy, a showcase for Nakano’s wry sense of humor that does not often show in her work in “Young You”. However, “B-Shock!” is also a shrewd commentary on the relationship between the upper and working classes. As much as the Japanese pride themselves as being a homogeneous society, there still exists economic “haves” and “have-nots” as in all industrial societies. What would happen if you force together two people from different social strata who would normally not give each other even a passing glance? (Manga-Sketchbook)

Review: I can have a harder time connecting with romantic comedies from a guy’s point of view, simply because I’m not a guy and still don’t understand quite how guy’s minds work. However, there are certain standards of comedy that I think both genders can enjoy. Instead, this goes for a raunchier attempt at romance which manages to fail hard on a number of levels.

The premise is that a normal guy, Arata, is at college and in love with a girl, Hatsune, from afar. One day, a wacky professor decides that for the heck of it, he’s going to connect them via electronic bracelets; should they attempt to move outside of a safe range (for most of the series it’s one meter) then they’ll be blown to bits! This is where the first misstep is – the idea that physical violence (DEATH) can inspire romance between two people. It’s not improbable, otherwise there wouldn’t be Stokholm Syndrome, but these two can live and work in the outside world. To boot, they aren’t allowed to tell anyone about the situation or they’ll be killed remotely.

I’m not against having two people trapped together and developing feelings for each other. My issue is how this is executed. There are the standard issues for when they’re stuck together, like how they navigate going to the bathroom. That was good for a few chuckles, but wasn’t anything new or interesting when I’ve seen tsundere romcoms. A lot of elements were pretty similar. It was the same case for how they navigated living in the same room.

What caught my attention and was different from the norm was how they had to deal with not being able to tell anyone what was going on. This meant Hatsune was forced from her family’s home under the shame of the assumption that she’s not a virgin anymore and therefore spoiled goods. While that was unbelievably insulting – no woman’s value should EVER be determined on her sexual experience alone, and Hatsune was the smartest girl in the school! – it still made for an interesting situation when they had to find work to support themselves. Often, how a student does so is glossed over or assumed to be taken care of by the parents. This plot twist left Hatsune without any money, and because of their inability to be farther than a meter apart, Arata couldn’t keep his original job. Trying to find one that they could do together was honestly the best part of this manga!

That doesn’t make up for the rest of it, however. This goes for blunt ecchi comedy, including discovering Hatsune’s father in the midst of an affair, Arata almost being seduced while Hatsune was in the same room, and the repeated use of rape as comedy. That’s right, rape is supposed to be funny and/or alluring. The first time they go to Arata’s room he makes a move to have his way with her, even though she’s not hot on the idea. Who would have guessed that she wouldn’t want to have sex with a complete stranger?! Around the middle of the series he seriously considered making a move on her while sleeping and she’s depicted as liking it even though she didn’t want it. It is never disputed, and the only reason he decides against it is simply because she doesn’t want him in the same room. Appalling? YES. Ever so much.

It repeatedly goes for objectifying women sexually, not only in how Arata treats Hatsune (and how the rest of the family treats her, to boot), but with the side characters as well. One member of their group is trying to create the perfect sexbot and constantly is asking Arata and Hatsune about their sex life in order to create a better one. Another one has absolutely no moral compass of his own and marries Hatsune’s rival merely because he took her virginity (supposedly. He thinks so, and the rival uses it to get him to marry her). There’s no actual love in their relationship and that is disturbing on so many levels. Hatsune’s father? Has affairs because he can’t get it from his wife. The sexual shennanigans are simply appaling because there’s no romance behind it and no reason to like these characters. They’re all in it simply for their own self-satisfaction and personal goals! Seeing them doesn’t contrast against Arata’s and Hatsune’s relationship and shows how much better it is – it highlights why so much of it is so wrong.

And in their relationship there are lewd daydreams and a horrifically contrived romance. It feels more like she falls for him simply because she doesn’t see any hope of ever being let out of the cuffs than anything else. And the worst part about of all this? The whole reason behind the experiment and why they were chosen is never explained! There’s no rhyme or reason to what happened other than a mysterious island laboratory and an explosion that leads to the disappearance of the scientist that cuffed them… and the only person that knows why he did what he did. It’s the dumbest, most contrived ending that I’ve come across in a long time. Between the completely unfunny jokes, the lack of explanation for anything, and the unbelievably offensive attempted rape, I am appalled that this ever was printed! It was a complete waste of my time to read it.

Overall, don’t even bother.

Recommended: 18+. This has plenty of partial nudity and suggested nudity, plus at one point the mains work at a love hotel… where they catch Hatsune’s father in the middle of sex.

Other titles you might enjoy:


“Come Fly With Me” – Hatoful Boyfriend (Visual Novel) – 10/10 Desks

Come live in my heart, and pay no rent. ~Samuel Lover

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Fantasy/Romance/School/Mystery/Horror

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: Yes, it’s licensed and available for download here. It does cost $5.

Art/Animation: The art looks great! While it’s mostly pictures of various birds, their human pics looks great and very professional, and the backgrounds are wonderfully rendered. The various transitions are done great – perfectly timed, appropriate for the situation – and all in all, I really have absolutely no complaints in this department.

Summary: You’re a new student – the human representative – at St. Pigeonation, a prestigious school for birds. You attend classes, fall in love with your fellow students, and as you unlock more options in the game, discover there’s more to the school and students than meets the eye.

Review: This is defintiely one of the most unique VNs I’ve come across. I mean, a dating sim with pigeons? How does that even work?! Shockingly enough, it does, and rather well. One thing that helped were the character pics that showed up – I liked having the human equivalent up there on screen to make is ever-so-slightly less odd. I mean, interspecies romance is more than a little strange, even in VNs. But somehow, this makes it work – all the characters are pretty unique and interesting (well, okay, they fill otome game stereotypes, but the various interactions and the interesting scenarios make it more memorable).

I’m fond of all the characters, from the wacky Okosan to the debonair Yuuya. And yes – each and every character you encounter has a possible romantic ending! Though for one character, it won’t be with you. Not all the character ends are available at the beginning; You need to play through the five classmates and teacher before you get more options. Just make sure you go through all the credits! When you get to the ending picture, it will load in your gallery and count as another step to unlocking the next part.

What really is the driving force in Hatoful Boyfriend is the plot. The more character endings you do, the more clues you get that the school isn’t all that it seems to be. Strange plots and sinister characters abound. Murder is the order of the day in some of them… and not always that of strangers. The unlockable chapters are the ones that can get outright freaky, but the highlight of it all is the BBL stage! That is where things are taken out of your character’s POV and you play as one of the other characters, and the whole secrecy and story behind the school comes out. It’s both awesome, terrifying, and one of the best stories I’ve played in VNs! Two thumbs up all the way! It was entirely unexpcted but a fantastic ending to a great game. And bittersweet, to boot. I thought just the right tone and dialogue really made this storyline.

Overall, it’s a strange premise, but a wonderfully great play.

Recommended: Uh, we’re going to go with 16+. While you never *see* any of the terrible, gruesome things described, it can be pretty bad. Your character can be (is) killed in a few options. And you have t go through them to get to the BBL ending.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Honestly, this is so unique I just can’t put anything here. It’s a great VN! Check it out!

“A Game Of Love” – Cross Game (manga) – 8/10 Belleflowers

Don’t tell me about the world.  Not today.  It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.  ~Pete Hamill

Mangaka: Mitsuru Adachi

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life/Sports/Comedy/School/Shounen

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/8 volumes) *Note- in Japan it was originally released as 17 volumes. It’s being released in omnibus format in the US.

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Viz Media in the US.

Art: This definitely has a softer, gentler take on the characters than most manga today look, making it visually distinctive but not unattractive. It works very well for the story that’s being told.

Summary: 5th grader Koh Kitamura lives next door to the Tsukishima family, owners of a batting cage and the Clover cafe. His girlfriend, Wakaba, is the 2nd Tsukishima daughter; the 3rd daughter, the baseball prodigy Aoba, can’t stand him. Wakaba dreams of Koh pitching at legendary Koshien Stadium, site of the national high school championship finals. However, tragedy strikes, and it is up to Koh, with the help of Aoba and his other teammates, to make Wakaba’s dream come true. (ANN.com)

Review: I’m not used to gentle, slow, and sweet romances in my shounen. I’m not used to shounen being slow and steady, either, so that probably does a whole lot for my perception. This really turned me on my head when I first heard about it. Could a shounen really develop it’s characters in a realistic setting, where the characters are dealing with life sintead of giant monsters, and baseball instead of magic powers?

The answer is that yes, it can. The characters are charming, each with their own quirks and personalities. This seems like a simple slice-of-life until an event in the first volume sets up the plot for the rest of the chapter – the death of Ko’s girlfriend and one of the Tsuishima girls, Wakaba. A good deal of the manga is either overtly or unconciously these characters dealing with her death. For Ko, it provides a drive to play baseball in the most prestigious tournament in the nation, something that Wakaba had dreamed about. As the years pass, there are little things that show that he never forgets her, that she lives on his memory as strongly as if she was there.

The romance that starts growing between him and Aoba isn’t immediate or obvious. They have to deal with Wakaba’s death, since she adored Ko, and Ko still loves her. Aoba doesn’t even really like Ko all that much, but as he pursues his dreams of becoming a baseball player, she starts supporting him in surprising ways. She practices with his team, gives him the pitching form that makes him so good at it, and shows up for games. She sees him as a player who could be really good, but it’s only as his pitching speed grows faster and faster that she starts paying attention, since she said the man who could win her heart had a pitch of 100 MPH. Seeing her come to realize that one day he might hit that speed is adorable and heart-warming, but at the same time bittersweet, since she recalls her sister’s warning to not steal Ko away from her. Since I’m only halfway, I’m wondering how she’ll deal with this.

Cross Game is as much about baseball as it is about relationships, though. The path to becoming a great baseball player is littered with hard practice, a dismissive coach, and unsupportve teammates. Somehow, a team forms from Ko’s childhood friends that played baseball together once upon a time, and are bonded through love of the game and the ties that have to each other (Aoba, in many cases – many of the boys are in love with her at some point or another, and all know how much she loves baseball). Through the usual small-town connections, it’s impressive to watch them undermine and overthrow the coach that dismisses them as dirt. This has some great moments when they do it, that had me cheering. But for all that, I wasn’t really drawn into the baseball parts. I’m not a huge baseball fan, and unfortunately, the way the game was presented was dynamic and did a good job of making it tolerable, but it still wasn’t my cup of tea.

Even so, this really managed to bring together the baseball and relationship elements perfectly. I was impressed by how much heart went into the story, and how well it was told. This really changed my perception of shounen manga, and for that I take my baseball cap off to it.

Overall, this is a really well-told relationship manga with some sports thrown in to keep the target audience interested.

Recommended: 13+. This does touch on how the characters are affected by death at a young age, of someone very young. There are occasional pantyshots, as well as scenes of girls in bikinis that are obviously meant to titilate, but it never is obscene or really prevalent.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Touch (manga)

H2 (manga)

“Food, Glorious Food!” – Oishinbo: The Joy of Rice (manga) – 8/10 Hotsprings

It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.  ~Lewis Grizzard

Mangaka: Tetsu Kariya (story), Akira Hanasaki (art)

Genre: Comedy/ Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Incomplete (1 Volume/ ? Volumes) *Note- only 7 volumes were licensed/published in English.

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in America by VIZ Media.

Art: This has a soft, cartoony-like feel that is similar to Tezuka’s. However, while the characters might be drawn that way, the food certainly isn’t! It’s shown with great detail and skill, and looks absolutely delicious!

Summary: In this volume of Oishinbo, Yamaoka and company look into the single most essential food in Japanese cuisine: rice. Cultivated for millennia, a staple meal in itself and the basis of countless other dishes, rice is an important component not only of the Japanese kitchen but also of Japanese culture. When Yamaoka is asked by Tōzai‘s head chef for help in coming up with a new rice dish, what starts out as a simple culinary request rapidly grows into a disquisition into the past, present and future of Japan’s food culture. (Viz.com)

Review: This just happened to be the only volume my library had on hand, and as I happen to really like rice, it seemed like a great choice. Viz compiled a whole bunch of chapters of rice-themed stories to make this volume, and it works very well, exploring different aspects of rice, how it’s grown, how you store it, the differences between types, and what it means in Japanese culture. This is really very crucial, because rice is a staple of the Japanese diet. It means that a lot of care is taken to demonstrate everything that it takes to make a good rice dish.

One thing that’s for sure is that I was educated about rice as surely as I was made hungry! Everything looked so good, from the rice balls that they demonstrated (a dish made for the Ultimate Menu, demonstrating all sorts of things about Japanese culture and cooking), to the plain white and brown rice, to the rice-and-meat meals not unlike fried rice, but looking far more scrumtious than anything I’ve come across in a Chinese restaurant!

This showed how little things can affect how healthy rice is, from what it means to be truly grown organically to whether brown or white rice is healthier. That chapter was as funny as it was interesting, because there was a lot of information I think that even those who know the basics of organic eating might be unaware of. How important rice can be to the family – so much so that engaged couples shop for a rice mill together! – was brought up, and how to properly store rice so that it doesn’t cook properly was shown. That was really stuff for those who are hard-core into stowring rice properly, since the average joe can’t have perfect control over the conditions they have their food in. It did give some helpful tips, though, and I appreciated the story that was told behind it regardless.

The toppings that go with rice were also highlighted, from oysters simmered in soy sauce, to more exotic ingredients like mushrooms only grown in certain mountain conditions, to certain sea fish, and even simpler things like egg and sesame seeds! All of them went with the rice in so many wonderful combinations. I was very impressed and dying to get my hands on some of the ingredients to try them for myself!

The highlight of the volume was the showdown for the Ultimate Menu, where one newspaper and another compete over which one can create the best menu item that represents Japan. Rice balls, the onigiri that are so prevalent in anime, were chosen since they are so important to the culture. While one decided on ingredients from Japan, the other decided to do them representing the past, present, and future. It was astounding how they managed to show japanese culture in so few items, and even to someone who’s never been there, managed to convey it so clearly. Some themes really ring true, no matter what culture you are.

Overall, this was a delicious, informative, but incredibly fun manga, and I hope I can read more someday!

Recommended: 10+. But there’s really nothing that inappropriate – a little drinking, but that’s as bad as it gets.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

“Fighting Chance” – Samurai Girl: Real Bout High School (manga) – 5/10 Pencils

Mangaka: Seiji Saiga, Sora Inoue

Genre: Romance/Action/Comedy/School

Review Status: Complete (6 Volumes/6 Volumes)

Licensed: No. It was formerly licensed by Tokyopop.

Art: Typical shounen art. Reminiscent of Full Metal Panic!, but nothing aprticularly special.

Summary: In a school where martial arts are standard curriculum, Ryoko Mitsuragi, the Samurai Girl, is the top fighter and the most popular student around. This changes when the uncouth Shizuma Kusanagi transfers in from Kansai. He may not have the grace of Ryoko, but with his amazing fighting abilities, he could soon be the most dominant martial artist at Daimon High. Principal Todo encourages the rivalry between the competitors, setting up an exciting K-Fight trournament where even the teachers can join in and settle once and for all whos’ the top dog on campus. (back cover 1st volume)

Review: Samurai Girl manages to take most of my common complaints and turns them upside-down for a change. Instead of standard characters in a non-standard setting, it’s one non-standard character in a semi -standard setting! Ryoko is all about honor and keeping up appearances. She’ll fight to support those who can’t, and occasionally is challenged to fight because punks feel intimidated by her stregnth. Her goal is to uphold the ideals of the samurai, and for the most part she’s successfull… “For the most part” being key! She’s not perfect, which makes her more likeable. Prone to bouts of anger and irritations, especially when a guy shows up that knows just how to press her buttons, she’s not the strongest in the school nor in love with him – her romantic prospect is her cool and kind sempai from Kendo club. Shizuma, her new arch-rival of sorts, is loud, brash, easily tempted into fighting…. He lacks the characterization Ryoko gets, and even some that the side characters get. For a main character, that’s pretty pathetic, but he’s played off as Ryoko’s for-sure future love (someday in the future!) and gets a lot of page-time. It really brings the story down.

Thankfully, some of the side characters get a solid amount of characterization, from Ryoko’s sempai, who shows other interests, his motivations for teaching her, and is in love with someone else. The other big players are Aoi, a girl recruited to the school’s ‘Shinsengumi’ to help regulate fights in the school, and Willard, the antagonist who has a chip on his shoulder and a thirst for blood. He and Aoi have a connection between them because of their past, and Aoi has a need to defeat him because of the monster he’s become. Aoi herself is as strong as – or stronger than – Ryoko, and Ryoko looks up to her for a number of reasons. Unfortuantely, there are so many side characters that even some of the most important in the story get a good glossing-over or even seem fairly pointless, like Ryoko’s best friend Hitomi, who has no martial arts skills but goes to a school with k-fights, or the various other members of the Shinsengumi, who’s pasts are hinted at but never revealed with any depth.

So this series really focuses on only one character: Ryoko. And to get her to fight, there has to be some sort of fighting system in place, right? It’s a shounen series, so the answer to this is ‘yes’. The principal decides that if the fights in it are sponsored, then there will be less chances of illegal fighting, and it can be monitored and used to reign in the student’s violent streaks since everyone would know who won and lost. I’ll run with it, since crazier things have happened. But there really seems to be no purpose to it other than creating the basis for the *real* plot that’s going on behind the scenes – that illegal gambling has been going on. Though this plot is SO secondary to the gang fighting that Ryoko & Co have gotten caught up in that it’s negligible to anything else that’s going on.

To be truthful, there really isn’t big point here. It’s not about the K-fights, it’s not about the gambleling, it’s not about the gang fight against the psycho that that they get caught up in… Considering that it’s the gang fight that becomes the central plot of the main arc, this seems like a horrible oversight in terms of story! But the whole set-up leads to Ryoko and Shizuma fighting, which is both stupid and insensible since they both are on the same side. They both were fighting the same people. Yet for no rason, they are left alone at the end of the series, and they decide to have a serious fight against each other. I was left speechless at how out of nowhere it was and that nothing – absolutely NOTHING – is resolved by it! It was just apparently there to provide some sort of conclusion, no mattter how it happened.

Poor choice. This really ended up a very weak fighting manga, not really wirth the time I spent on it. It had some good moments, but enough bad ones to really balance that out. But I can’t honestly say that this was bad, which drives me up a wall.

Overall, this was a purely indifferent manga, and only worth it if all you need is someone getting punched to get a thrill.

Recommended: 15+. This has fights (obviously), so people get beaten up. There’s some innuendo when a guy says he’ll make two girls his love slaves. There’s some depiction of child torture, including when one boy is made to murder another (the body is off-page, but you see him shoot the gun).

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Angel Densetsu (anime or manga)

One Piece (manga)

Mahou Sensei Negima (manga)

Salaryman Kintarou (manga)

“A Different Type Of Princess” – Kitchen Princess (manga) – 7/10 Pencils

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.  ~Voltaire

Mangaka: Natsume Ando, Miyuki Kobayashi

Genre: Shoujo/Romance/Drama/Comedy/School

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Del Ray

Art: Pretty typical shoujo, but it’s not half-bad on the food- everything looks absolutely scrumtious!

Summary: Najika is a great cook and likes to make meals for the people she loves. But something is missing from her life. When she was a child, she met a boy who touched her heart–and now Najika is determined to find him. The only clue she has is a silver spoon that leads her to the prestigious Seika Academy. Attending Seika will be a challenge. Every kid at the school has a special talent, and the girls in Najika’s class think she doesn’t deserve to be there. But Sora and Daichi, two popular brothers who barely speak to each other, recognize Najika’s cooking for what it is–magical. Is either boy Najika’s mysterious prince? (Source: Amazon)

Review: Kitchen Princess plays itself off as a shoujo that attempts to break ut of the mold a number of times. I have to say, overall I was pretty impressed with how it didn’t follow the traditional formula in a number of places, from the girl coming into the story as a fantastic cook already. The only thing she needs to work on is refining her skills a bit- a far cry from most heroines being absolute klutzes and needing to work hard to get a foot in the door for what they want to do! Entering the academy, Najika discovers two bys that could be her Flan Prince, and so the romance begins, and immediately begins to deviate from the predictable formula of her falling in love with the bad boy of the two. Yes, I had it called from the beginning, and I was heartily surprised at how the plot drove Najika to Sora, the sweet, responsible brother that takes charge of things and supports her in everything she does.

And boy, does she have her work cut out for her; Everyone has it in to shut her down and kick her out for not playing by the rules and winning the prestigous competitions they expected her to! Even if she’s blessed with perfect taste, able to tell everything exactly about what went into a dish and how it was cooked, that doesn’t mean that she’s going to have it easy when dealing wtih the exacting standards of judges or the director of the school when he sees her disappointing results and her rebellion against school rules. He’s willing to use everything at his disposal to get her to step down, usually by petty and semi-cartoon-villanous means. Hiring another student to take her down is an interesting idea, even if it backfires completely. It was the threat he makes towards her home and the people in it that caught my attention – extortion of the worst means, and more serious than most threats.

Most of this comes about from one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve seen in a shoujo *ever*. No, seriously, it was both the highlight of the manga and the most depressing point of it. I was astounded and touched by the thought that went into this and the aftereffects it had on the characters. At the same time, it was the point where the mangaka decided it had strayed too far from the shoujo mold and pounded it back with a disappointing ferocity. The good news is that while the romance was now between two charactrers who matured quite a bit from their previous selves, it still wasn’t unexpected; that silly spoon really was overused for all of this, and it was refreshing when I thought at some point it wouldn’t matter all that much.

But as they try to figure out their feelings for each other in the wake of their loss, Najika faces pressing issues on the homefront, and with more competitions coming up, isn’t up to par. While she doesn’t end up at the competition of her dreams by the end of the series (another thing that was a nice change, having to still work hard for her goals), she still has people supporting her and a path to go down that’s pretty clear of obstacles. I have to say, it was a cherry on top to have it end in a way that made it stick out in my mind from some other series I’ve read.

On a personal note to the series, I really adored some of the recipes that came up in here – the back pages are filled with ones that were featured in the series! I was mightily impressed with the ones they chose to include, and a number were very delicious. A lot of the sentiments expressed about it being lovely and brightening a day echoed how I felt about them. Yum!

Overall, while it’s not the most original shoujo out there, it still managed to surprise me a number of times, and was still fun to read.

Recommended: 10+. There is a death scene, where one boy is hit by a car. you see some blood and his body lying on the ground. One of the girls suffers from an eating disorder (recovers).  A boy sees Najiuka’s panties when she is climbing a tree. Najika’s dress rips, but she’s covered by someone’s coat. There are two or three kisses.

Other Series You Might Enjoy:

Mixed Vegetables (manga)

Bambino (manga)

Yakitatte!! Japan (anime)

Yumeiro Pâtissière (anime)

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