“Seeing The Light” – Lychee Light Club (manga) – 9/10 Sunflowers

You don’t have a soul.  You are a Soul.  You have a body.  ~C.S. Lewis

Mangaka: Usamaru Furuya

Genre: Horror/Drama/Ecchi/Psychological

Review Status: Comlplete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, ths is licensed in the US by Vertical.

Art: This is fairly typical manga-style art, but the detail in the gore and dramatic shading make this visually darker and more atmospheric.

Summary: In an abandoned warehouse, a band of nine students have assembled to plot out a new future.  Their “leader” Zera is determined to cleanse his community of the ugly and cowardly. Having taken command of a band of young men to build him a god-like machine capable of changing the world.  This machine, named “Lychee,” will give them what they’ve been searching for…a beauty of the finest quality. (Amazon.com)

Review: Sometimes there really aren’t that many words to describe a series. This is one of the series that just leaves me speechless in many ways. Shocking? Yes. Dark? Definitely. Good? Amazingly so. This is in no way, shape, or form for those with weak stomachs – this is horror and starts crossing the line into Ero Guro simply because of how detailed and common the gore is and how the boys are part of and descending into a life of self-fulfillment at the risk of others. It never really crosses the line, since they are aiming for a kind of domination, though how far their goal is to spread and control is never really gone into.

What this story really is, is a tale of awkward adolecense crossed with Frankenstein. These boys have a highly unhealthy outlet for their teenage hormones, thinking that instead of learning to talk to girls they’ll just capture and hold them. To do it, they need someone able to capture the girls… a robot. It goes almost hilariously wrong at first, a strange injection of humor into an otherwise very sober story. To make it understand beauty as they do, they input a simple program: for the robot to think of itself as human.

This is where the various story threads start coming together – one story of the robot and the most beautiful girl teaching it to really be human, and the other a story of ruthlessness, madness, and paranoia bringing down the club from the inside. How these stories weave together makes perfect sense and is one of the most tightly-written plots I’ve seen in a while. Things get ugly a members grasp for power or try to stop each other. Many die horrific, gruesome deaths. At the same time, the girl imparts humanity to the robot, and it brings about the final downfall of everything the Lychee club was trying to do.

Overall, this is disturbing, but in many ways brilliant in execution.

Recommended: 18+. There is violent, graphic death, and a lot of it. There is one panel where it shows a young girl was violated with metal tubing. There is one sex scene, and one masturbatory scene.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I have nothing. I’ve never encountered something like this before, and it leaves me at a loss for recommendations.

“Me Against The World” – Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime) – 9/10 Sunflowers

Depression is nourished by a lifetime of ungrieved and unforgiven hurts. ~ Penelope Sweet

Genre: Mecha/Psychological/Action/Drama/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes) *Review note- Episodes 21-24 were the Director’s Cut

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: It looks just fine until the last two episodes. At that point, it goes into some very low-budget art and animation, and attempts to pass it off as part of what’s going on in the series.

Dub Vs. Sub: While the dub is pretty good, I noticed around episode 15 or 16 that there were peices of information being left out of it. Not only was I getting more information via the sub, but the sub is a cast of all-star VAs in all the roles! They’re Japan’s biggest names and best voice actors in the country, gathered together to create this. You will never find anything like it in another anime.

Summary: In the year 2015, the Angels, huge, tremendously powerful, alien war machines, appear in Tokyo for the second time. The only hope for Mankind’s survival lies in the Evangelion, a humanoid fighting machine developed by NERV, a special United Nations agency. Capable of withstanding anything the Angels can dish out, the Evangelion’s one drawback lies in the limited number of people able to pilot them. Only a handful of teenagers, all born fourteen years ago, nine months after the Angels first appeared, are able to interface with the Evangelion. One such teenager is Shinji Ikari, whose father heads the NERV team that developed and maintains the Evangelion. Thrust into a maelstrom of battle and events that he does not understand, Shinji is forced to plumb the depths of his own inner resources for the courage and strength to not only fight, but to survive, or risk losing everything (AniDB)

Review: Until this last winter, I’d stayed away from NGE simply because it caused a firestorm of controversy. As beloved and classic as it is, I felt like I knew too much to enjoy it and wasn’t that interested. Then I remembered that I like psychological series and really should see something so classic.

I have to say, this is definitely one of the most interesting series I’ve seen in a while. There’s a cast of characters that are pretty obviously prototypes for later anime stereotypes (which, unfortunately, makes them rather unmemorable to someone who’s already familiar with the stereotypes). Shinji, the protagonist, is cast unwillingly into the role of hero and protector of Japan, a place under seige by unnatrual – perhaps supernatural – beings. He’s a weak character, bothe motionally and otherwise, for the most part, with spurts of being memorable and awesome. He’s angry all the time and for good reason, but is trapped by those emotions and becomes unable to break free of them and be a person apart from that. He and Asuka, one of his partners, are in much the same boat. They are plagued by guilt and feelings of abandonment, and both choose to deal with it in very different ways. Rei, the third kid in the group, is an aloof and cold being, with vaguely romantic feelings towards Shinji’s dad and is mostly an outside observer on what is happening to the rest of the cast. All of them are dealing with their own emotional scars, which play out as the fights get more dangerous and their missions become more personal.

They are surrounded by a cast of adults that are trying to manipulate them and the events around them to ends that are a little surprising. Misato is given charge of caring for them and becomes a surrogate parent at a time where she’s not really in a position to take care of children. She does try her best, but dealing with teenagers and their angst can be tricky at the best of times, and when you are also given orders to make them fight, that those teens don’t necessarily agree with. Ritsuko is her best friend but an emotionally charged scientist, emotionally entangled with her superior in unrequited ways. Kaiji, Misato’s off-again-on-again boyfriend ends up a surrogate dad/love interest, but his other activities in the organization lead him into certain danger.

Forcing everyone to play their parts in a power struggle are the organizations of NERV, headed by Shinji’s dad – a complete and utter douche for the most part, but with a shocking ultimate goal for the future – and Seele, the group that had given him control but now are wary of Shinji’s dad’s goals. NERV is simultaniously trying to stop the Angels from destroying the world but is ultimately working toward the future… but it could easily lead into the destruction of the world.

Watching them all interact and deal with the attacks and motives of everyone else is really a fun thing to see. They all act like people, all of them very different, who’ve been forced into living together. And it feels real. They don’t get along all the time, but the issues and difficulties that they are trying to overcome speak to how human they are. These aren’t shallow harem shenannigans by any means! Many of the events really just seem to break these kids further, and I can’t help but want to hug them. That being said, while I’m sympathetic towards the characters, I rarely ‘get’ them. They are so deeply flawed but in a very specific way that it can be hard to connect on that deeper level. That level of detatchment sometimes made it hard to really feel for some of the characters. But I did like them, and that’s the important thing.

The religious iconography is shallow at best, as acknowledged by the creator himself. It’s the battles and the emotional aftereffects that provide all the themes and symbolism that run through the series. Isolation and loneliness are two themes that are played out in a multitude of ways. One of my favorite things to analyze became the idea of space and where the action was in relation to the emotional confusion that was going on within a character. Trains provide a metaphor for journeys and a hint to what’s beginning to happen to the characters in regards to the ending. Mental breakdowns begin the process of self-discovery that really is the hallmark of this series.

During the last two episodes, the meta-story for NGE is abandoned for completing the thematic story arcs, partly due to a lack of funding (which is completely obvious in the art for them). Brief shots of the ‘real world’ give hints to what’s going on and what it all means. I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with the ending. It’s both very tragic but rather beautiful in it’s own way – and I’m okay being torn on it. Most people are take-it-or-leave-it. I just regret that there wasn’t the ability to flesh out what was happening more.

But hey, that’s what the movies are for, right?

Overall, this is a classic for a reason. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and this really shows that the creator knew what he was doing in many ways.

Recommended: 16+. There are three-four instances of partial-to-full nudity, but all of it is Barbie-doll with no genetalia. There is one offscreen sex scene. People die, usually offscreen, and if you see anything at all it’s a blacked-out-shadow against a background or has a cutscene to something else.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)

RahXephon (anime)

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (anime)

Bokurano (manga)

“Alone In The World” – White Rain (manga) – 10/10 Belleflowers

With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves.  For they see in the eyes of others only a reflection of themselves.  ~Eric Hoffer

Mangaka: Yoshitoshi Abe

Genre: Psychological/Drama/Horror

Review Status: Complete (1 Chapter/1 Chapter)

Licensed: No, this manga is not licensed in the US.

Art: This is recognizeably ABe’s art. It’s a rougher style than his other works of Haibane Renmei, Technolyze, and Niea_7, but that’s because this is an early work of his from when he was a student. Even so, this is still very much his style. The color pages look fantastic, with a dark, dirty look to them that reflects the bad circumstances the characters have found themselves in.

Summary: A girl wakes up in an unknown world all alone. In this world she sees another girl who is her exact twin. Their names: 328 and 329. There is only running water; no food anywhere. In their search for food, they find a raft to take them beyond this unknown place, but it becomes evident that only one person will be able to board this raft. The annoying buzzing sounds and voices of a winged insect, the craving for food, and the desire to leave will push them to the brink. One of them will snap…  (mangaupdate)

Review: This short was recommended to me because I enjoy horror and psychological above most every other genre out there. ABe really managed to start this out brilliantly, with two different lines of text/thoughts, mirroring each other (quite literally!) in both color and how one below the other and upside-down. Careful reading shows that these are the simultaneous thoughts of two different people in a similar situation – having woken up with no knowledge of where they are or what they must do to escape.

White Rain layers a story about survival ith one about self-identity. They are confronted with a situation where both have to make a decision about which one is going to survive, but how that comes about and why they need to do it is both horrific and fascinating, shedding light on what the are and what the survivor will experience as she moves into the wider world in search of the others that exist there – however many of them there may be.

There are questions left about what happened to create them and the world, why it’s set up the way it is, and how she will keep herself -herself- in the coming days… months… years, as she comes across more and moves on, but the immediate decision she makes, between herself and the other, in the place they are in at that point in time, is moving and bittersweet. I was utterly depressed to see this end when it did because this left me knowing I was just scratching the surface of this place and what was going on, but it ended at a good place – one that had a sense of finality, even if it was about a character going to places unknown.

Overall, for this to manage to make a statement about individuality in the face of adverity so clearly in the space it has is astounding. That it’s incredibly well-written is the icing on the cake.

Recommended: 16+. There’s off-page murder and cannibalism. This is overall a very dark manga.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

LooP (manga)

BLAME! (manga)

“My Eyes” – Eien no With (manga) – 10/10 Belleflowers

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.  ~From a headstone in Ireland

Mangaka: Saya Miyauchi

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is not licensed in the US.

Art: This has a more sketch-like feel than other manga. The dogs are very well-depicted, very realistic, but the people tend to be in a more typical manga style.

Summary: Hitomi has always felt lonely, having had to move from place to place because of her father’s job. One day at school, someone comes in to talk about raising guide dogs, and she volunteers for it. But one day, she has to give him up…

Review: I admit it, I’m a bit jaded about dog stories. I’ve had to read enough of them growing up, from Where The Red Fern Grows, to Old Yeller, to Julie of the Wolves and Sont Fox, that I come into these expecting a certain type of ending (and if you know anything about these books, so do you!). So it takes something special to get to me these days, and Eien no With did it!

Hitomi wants nothing more than friends, but having moved around so much, she has never really been able to make them. She’s shy, doesn’t know how to approach the others, so jumps on the chance to get a dog. The system seems perfect – since she and her family will only be living in the area for two years, and they don’t know where they would be living after that, the one-year program to raise and socialize the dog fits their family. The dog she takes on is the runt of the litter, afraid of the others and not really feeding. She takes on a lot of responsibility to raise Eye, really pushing herself to be the best friend she can be.

It’s rewarding to see that she is rewarded for her persistance in finding that this opens up friendship venues… a mixed blessing, because she has to learn how to balance friends with her pet. Eien is very much everydog, loving her unconditionally, waiting for her when she doesn’t come home, and still wanting to be her best friend. Watching them have to part at the end of the chapter was heartbreaking because their bond felt as real as any I’ve ever seen.

This also makes the next two chapters especially heartbreaking. Eien eventually must retire, and Hitomi has to deal with the knowledge that he was someone else’s beloved companion for a long time. She doesn’t understand how they could bond and how she could be forgotten so easily, and when she loved Eiein so deeply it’s easily to understand. Regardless, they share one thing: a love for Eien. Watching the bond between the new and old owners grow and blossom into something more was incredibly well-done and really felt like it happened naturally, and so seeing them rejoice and take comfort in each other when it becomes clear that Eien is at the end of his life – no matter how hard they fought for him – brought a few tears to my eye.

Eien reaches an end that a good number of dogs do, but he really made a lasting impression in his owners, and seeing that change really was wonderful. Eien’s portrayal was also top-notch and something that made me hope for him as much as the characters did. It is a great story, and a unique one on the way it deals with the issues of blindness and working dogs, so I really respect this manga for doing something different with the dog-story that I normally read.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with how this was written. It’s top-notch.

Recommended: Any age. There’s nothing objectionable in here, and many families have had to teach their kids about euthanizing a pet.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)

Deep Love – Pao no Monogatari (manga)

“Putting Limits On Me” – Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (manga) – 10/10 Hotsprings

Mangaka: Motoro Mase

Genre: Drama, Psychological

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

Summary: Dear Citizen,

Thank you for your loyalty. You’ve no doubt noticed that the world is a troubled place. People are apathetic, lazy, unmotivated. You’ve probably asked yourself


Rest assured that measures are being taken. Beginning immedately, we will randomly selevt a different citizen each day who will be killed within 24 hours of notification. We believe this will help remind all people how precious life is and how important it is to be a productive, active member of society.

Thank you for your continued attention and your cooperation and particiaption…

(back cover of 1st volume)

Review: The premise is simple – following a young man, just turned 25, as he begins his job as a messenger. Fujimoto works for the government to deliver Ikigami to those who have been determined to die. He’s shaken from the start, seeing someone he was being trained with hauled away as a “social miscreant”, and wonders if he can really go through with this.

He can, and he does. From thereon, this turns into what seems like an episodic storyline, following the last 24 hours of those who are doomed to die. These stories are fantastically sympathetic, and run a whole range of situations. There are those who become violent, such as the man who was bullied in High School and decides to get revenge, to the heartbreaking, like the mother who tries to get her daughter away from Japan when she herself recieves one, to the bittersweet, such as the brother who decides his one last gift to his sister will be his corneas so she can once again see the world. They highlight the one thing that’s repeated over and over – that people all react differently and unpredictably to the Ikigami.

The individual stories at first seem to be setting the scene for that, showing the various facets of people and how they come to terms with their death. After that, they start taking a more plot-relevant bent, highlighting the turmoil that’s happening within Fujimoto’s mind. They start highlighting the political side to the whole issue, showing those who are for it and against it, and how they’re connected to the growing unrest of the people. Things are obviously coming to a boil and there is nothing that anyone can do about. The slow reveal of how people are dissatisfied and retracting their support really is done well, with all sides of the issue coming to light. Those who are for it end up being burned and done harm, while those who are against it manage to have little triumphs in the face of despair. What some people do to speak out is astonishing.

Things are obviously not hunky-dory at the Ikigami office, and Fujimoto suspects that he’s under suspicion of being a “social miscreant”. It’s shown time and again through office occurances and Ikigami stories that he can’t trust anyone except himself, so when a coworker approaches him, suspecting him of having misgivings, he has to make a tough decision on what is going to save his skin. The revelation of what was really going on probably shouldn’t have suprised me, but I was. There was so much doubt and mistrust that made me second-guess myself several times, and that really made this a great turn of events. Tragic, as well.

Overall, this all is really building into a fascinating game of society vs. government, and it’s a top-notch story of the rights that people have to live. I can’t recommend it enough.

Recommended: 16+. There is some violence, but very little gore – it’s mostly blood. There are some rather gruesome images though (glass clearly sticking out underneath a young girl’s eyelids on one page), but they are rare. The rating is more for the rather heavy and dark themes this deals with.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Bokurano (anime and manga)

Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)

Shigofumi (anime)

“Another Side Of Me” – Perfect Blue (anime) – 10/10 Hotsprings

Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal. ~Bishop Robert South

Genre: Psychological/Horror/Thriller/Mystery

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: This has typical Satoshi Kon character designs, which means it’s more realistic art than

Dub Vs. Sub: I only watched the sub.

Summary: Pop singer Mima Kirigoe looks forward to a bright new career when she quits her chart-topping trio to become an actress. When she lands a role in a sexually-charged murder mystery, Mima’s life begins to fall apart.  Reality and hallucinations merge into a terrifying world where innocence is lost and dreams become nightmares.

Quickly decending into a dangerous state of paranoid delusions, Mima watches as Internet sites appear describing every intimate detail of her life.  She is helpless and afraid as her associates are threatened and killed by a mysterious stalker. (Rightstuf.com)

Review: Self-doubt is common when we make big decisions, and that becomes the lynchpin for this mystery: Mima’s self-doubt about her career and whether she’s doing the right thing. She’s making a big change from pop idol to tv star, and that means she needs to start from scratch. Her music won’t help her, she’s going it alone, and even one of her agents has big doubts about this career move.

Seeing things begin to spiral out of control is one of the best parts about this. Strange faxes and an unusual internet page give her the inklings that something’s wrong, but it isn’t until a letter bomb goes off that she realizes that things are taking a turn for the worse. This slightly dates itself in how it handles the internet  – she doesn’t know how to use one or really how to access a computer – but even with small things like that, it still makes for an interesting story. As in many of Satoshi Kon’s later works, imagination and reality begin to blend into a mind-bending mess, and it’s glorious to behold.

She gains a split-personality, a reflection of herself that wants nothing more than to return to the stage, and goes off happily on her own to do so. The question is whether it was just her imagination, or whether she herself is showing up at events to perform. And then it gets worse, with a series of murders taking down everyone associated with her tv career. She can no longer tell if she’s the one who did them or not, especially when she’s cornered and thought she left her assailent alive… but he’s disappeared. Mima is confused and scared and utterly sympathizeable. She has virtually no one to turn to since she’s living alone in the big city. Her isolation makes a great backdrop as she comes to think that she’s behind everything…. and the realization of what’s going on all the more terrifying.

The revelation probably shouldn’t have been as interesting as it was, but there were few clues and the psychosis that was happening on screen really made it hard to really discern what was reall happening. At the same time, i really drove home how unsure Mima was of herself and how that played into how she was seeing the world. I was impressed with how it was presented and can tell what influenced later works like Paprika. The very ending, though, manages to bring her to a cautious acceptance of what was happening and how comfortable she was with herself, though it’s obvious she’ll have a long way to go after.

Overall, this is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen, very engaging and interesting.

Recommended: 18+. There is murder, some of the deaths onscreen. Thankfully the most gorey parts are offscreen. The amount of blood isn’t over-the-top. There is a rape scene depicted (she shoots it for her new job, it’s not actually rape), but you do see her bare breasts. There is also some partial-to-full nudity when she’s manipulated into taking off her clothes for an unscrupulous photographer – her former singing group decides not to warn her about this. It doesn’t devolve into sex, but several of the photos are very revealing.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Monster (anime and manga)

Paranoia Agent (anime)

Millennium Actress (anime)

“Wasteland Wonderland” – Shaman Warrior (manhwa) – 7/10 Pencils

War grows out of the desire of the individual to gain advantage at the expense of his fellow man.  ~Napoleon Hill

Manhwaka: Park Joong-ki

Genre: Action/Drama/Fantasy/Historical

Review Status: Complete (9 volumes/9 Volumes)

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

Art: Stunning in how detailed it is! This uses realistic character designs, and doesn’t skimp on any details, from the prints of the cloth, the chothing designs, the details of faces or hair… it’s simply breathtaking to look at in many places!

Summary: Master Wizard Yarong and his faithful servant Batu are sent to remote desert wastelands on a grave mission from their king. These two mysterious warriors hae yet to realize that a whirlwind of policital movements and secret plots will soon engulf them and change their lives forever. When Yarong is mrotally injured, Batu must fulfill his promise and leave Yarong’s side and protect his master’s child. As Batu seeks to find and hide the infant, Yarong reveals another secret to those who have tracked him down to finish him off – the deadly, hidden power of a Shaman Warrior! (back cover of fiorst volume)

Review: This is definitely one of the more intense manhwa I’ve ever read. From the desert wasteland it’s set in to the characters that inhabit it, this really shows that a lot of thought went into making this on heckuva story! And they succeeded, with this being a most brutal story of a girl raised to be as tough as the lands that she was born into. At every turn her life is in danger; there is no mercy to those who hold Shaman blood, and that means she must go to a place where merely being a child is enough to get you killed. Batu and the girl part ways early, since he’s well-known for his past and is hunted for being both a Shaman and a former infamous wretler, whose name is known across the lands. Her life takes a drastic turn as she’s abandoned to she Slaughter, a training ground for assasins. It’s the only way she can survive in this land, and Bato knows it.

Bato meets with several more characters, from Genji, a woman who’s ties to him are revealed through the series, who is a solid mix of tough-as-nails grit and fighting ability, but has a softer side to her though she would deny it. She stays out of the politics, only seeing to it that the girl is raised, implied to be doing terrible things in order to raise the money to buy the girl out of the muderer’s camp when she’s ready. Another character, Horakaan, aided and abetted by Batu for a time, ends up joining forces with Aragorn, who seeks to drive back he corrupt kingdom that’s killing all the Shaman Warriors. Each one plays a part in the story to come, while even more come into it.

Politics and personal vendettas mix, with multiple factions attempting to wipe out the Kugai Empire for various reasons. Some of them end up fighting one another through misundertandings and political maneuverings by the enemy, which makes things even more complicated. The pacing for the first 8 epsiodes also mean that there was no way the 9th one could end well. Not only are things left unresolved on many levels (does Yaki actually live? What’s the purpose in telling us who her mother is? Does the relationships between her and the general work out? What about that technology that made the Shamans- where did that come from and where did it go since it’s OBVIOUSLY not in play in this story!), it’s done abruptly and very disjointedly. Several parts just seem thrown together, the last section the worst of it all. Everything that this had been building up to came out in a jumbled rush! Honestly, this series needed at least three more volumes, probably more, to really do it justice. Yes, it was enough to severely knock down by score of it..

Overall, while this had 8 fantastic volumes, that 9th really drove me up a wall with how terrible it was!

Recommended: 18+ only! This is another title with gratuitous violence. It’s about war. People die. They are killed without mercy. You see heads hanging, and once a child is struck down. When Yaki is brought to the butcher camps, the wrestlers imply that they want to have sex with her (she can’t be more than 8 at this point!), and at one point nearly do rape her when she’s a bit older- about 13, perhaps.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Vagabond (manga0

Shin Angyo Onshi (manhwa)

Lady Snowblood (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)

“Falling Deep” – Miki Falls (OEL) – 8/10 Pencils

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. ~Mother Teresa

Mangaka: Mark Crilley

Genre: Romance/Adventure/Supernatural/Drama

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by HarperTeen

Art: This really goes for more sketch-like art. It’s very good, but everything is darkened by pencil, often making the art seem dreary, even when it’s supposed to be spring and sunny. A judicious use of white would have been appreciated. However, it still does have good art and design for the characters, even if the backgrounds are often lacking.

Summary: It’s spring –  a time for new beginnings. This is Miki Yoshida’s final year of high school and she’s determined to make this the best year yet. Miki is in control…. until Hiro Sakurai shows up. The tall, handsome new student is hiding something and Miki wants to know what. As she breaks down Hiro’s defenses, she is unnerved by how much she cares about him. Too bad he is the one guy who can’t care for her back. But Miki is falling for Hiro, and nothing’s going to stop her from getting closer to him –  not even his dangerous secret.

Review: It wouldn’t be any sort of understatement to say that I’ve been less than impressed with most OELs. They tend to be rushed, have dumb characters, don’t have great storylines, so I’m usually hesitant to pick them up. This is one that’s making me think that the tide is turning on the quality of these stories, managing to deeply impress me with every page I read. Miki is a very interesting character, a more sensible girl that tries to spice up her school life by getting close to a boy that’s seen as a social outcast. Hiro makes himself that way, treating everyone with disdain, trying to be rid of anyone that tries to approach him. He’s not actively disagreeable – just cold. Very cold. And this attracts Miki, who is determined to bug the heck out of him until he opens up!

She manages it, keeping a close eye on his activities. She manages to peice things together about him, but finding his notebook and his lair in the basement confirm that there’s something odd about him… something supernatural. He’s no ordinary human, that’s for sure! A matchmaker, called a ‘Deliverer’, who’s job it is to preserve love in the world by giving love to blossoming couples and taking it away from relationships that are failing, he knows that there’s no future in a romance between them. It’s been forbidden, and one of his fellow Deliverers makes sure of that. Even through four short volumes, the romance between them feels no less real or unbelievable as any relationship. They hang out togehter, talk about things, have fun trying to create relationsips… which makes it evestating to Miki when she discovers that he can’t save relationships and doesn’t even try. Her own nosing around ends up showing her the backlash of what happens when they try to go about it the wrong way, and it’s all too easy to do that.

It makes her desperate to save her own relationship when they’re found out, going to nigh-upon desperate and nothing less than astounding obstacles to try and make it together. The stakes get raised higher and higher with everything she finds out, from another Deliverer’s own feelings, to her own capacity to feel love, to what the society will do to those who breach their laws. Having everything taken away leaves her a choice- face those who made the Deliverers and make her stance on everything clear, and being offered something that might break her feelings for Hiro… forever. It all seems so corny and melodramatic when I try to explain it, and I think I sound very much like an ad for this series, but I was taken in by what this story was telling. It gave a solid relationships, and really had a smooth way of letting me let go of my doubts about the story.

There were some story elements I feel were underutilized, such as the ‘familiars’ that help Deliverers (especially in the first half of the story), and while I was happy with the ending, it was far, FAR too abrupt and out-of-nowhere. I honestly had no idea it was coming- in the bad way. So with that disconnected and badly-flowing ending, I can’t rate this a 10. But considering how impressive most of this is, it still deserves a high rating.

Overall, some poor art choices and a disconnected ending bring down my score, but really? It’s a great series, and at 4 volumes, I’d pcik it up and give it a shot!

Recommended: 9+. This is a very family-friendly manga. There is a little violence – Miki throws herself out a window (not committing suicide, she’s trying to save herself), and she gets into a physical fight with another girl, which doesn’t have any blows thrown. She does hit a guy over the head with a rock, and he’s knocked unconcious, and she is faced with a situation where she considers having to kill for her love.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Kimi ni Todoke (anime and manga)

Kare Kano (manga)

“Softly Falling Snow” – Lady Snowblood (manga) – 9/10 Pencils

Revenge is a confession of pain. ~ Proverb

Mangaka: Kazuo Koike

Genre: Action/Historical/Drama

Review Status: Complete (4 Volumes/4 Volumes)

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

Art: This overall looks really good. This keeps to realistic anatomy while looking… refined, for lack of a better word. It also uses a lot of light and dark imagery, rarely going into shades of grey, which goes well with the dramatic themes of the manga. The lines are very crisp and clean, the faces very expressive. There’s nothing that’s really lacking in this department.

Summary: She spells out revenge with strokes of gushing blood. Her name is Yuki, Japanese for “snow.” Born to be a child of hell, walking a path of vengeance for cimes committed against the family she never met, Lady Snowblood will prevail. For the price of one thousand yen, she works as a mater assasin, with a blade and her wits as weapons. It’s a time of change, of modern culture pressing in on archaic Edo, but in Lady Snowblood’s mind, the old tradition of a bloody grudge lives on. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: Whether you like Lady Snowblood will hinge on how you feel about her motives behind her journey for revenge. This is ultimately the driving force behind her actions, and even her jobs tend to reflect the uncertain nature of whether she’s doing the right thing. It’s fraught with shades of moral grey and notions of honor that are vaguely familiar.

Her motives aren’t clear at first, revealed through a series of flashbacks and incidents as she gets closer to her goal: finding those who destroyed her mother’s family. It’s the only thing she lives for, unable to lift the burden of her mother’s death and live her own life until it’s finished. Along the way, she encounters villains and rights wrongs to the few she does care about, feels responsible for, or even stains the honor of the nation. She will do any job, though, as long as she gets payment for it, but even with payment there’s no guarantee that the person who pays her will get off guilt-free as long as there’s some guilt in their past.

The variety of jobs she takes and trails she undergoes is astounding, from learning to pickpocket, to killing off many state officials.She encounters Yakuza gang leaders and small-time thieves. They are treated with the same amount of care and intensity with their stories, which makes her tales more compelling. The dramatic turn the last volume takes, with Lady Snowblood finding a way to flush out the criminals by revealing her story, seems as ingenuous a twist than any, making a story-within-a-story of sorts.

She does manage to find those who tormented her mother, and finish her revenge, but the story is as bittersweet as any. There’s a moral grey area that she must navigate, and it is never an easy task to find a way to save the innocent when all you want to do is kill the guilty and all associated – something that she has done before. It is a satisfying ending, though, feeling like the start of a new beginning at the same time.

Overall, this is one of the more interesting and compelling manga I’ve read, and it really does a good job of making me feel for the characters.

Recommended: 18+! This has some rather graphic violence – people are beheaded, imbs are cut off, they are shot and stabbed… Blood is a very common thing. There isn’t any graphic gore, but that doesn’t really help matters. Men, women, and children are killed. There are also a number of depictions of sex. Sometimes it’s rape, sometimes it’s consensual, sometimes it’s heterosexual sex, sometimes it’s homosexual sex, and while it never reaches pornographic it is fairly detailed in the implications. At one point you even see a penis right up there on the page (though it’s a filled-in-shadow, it’s a very detailed shadow).

Other titles you might enjoy:

Lone Wolf and Cub (manga)

Samurai Executioner (manga)

Sidooh (manga)

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