“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)

“Kiss And Tell” – Kill Me, Kiss Me (manwha) – 8/10 Sunbeams

Life is tough. Love is tougher. Heart breaks are the toughest. ~Anonymous

Mangaka: Lee Young You

Genre: Romance/Action/Comedy/Gender-bender/School/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 volumes)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop, currently unlicensed

Art: For the most part, this has pretty generic character designs, though the mangaka took enough care to make each character easily recognizeable with very different facial features and hair. It has very nice detail on the clothing as well, showing a wide variety of styles. There are a few cases where the art goes sketch-like, looking like it was drawn with a crayon and very little care, and that can be very annoying.

Summary: When Tae Im finds out that her favorite idol star is currently attending the same school as her identical cousin Jung-Woo Im, she convinces her kin to switch places – she will dress as him, attend his all-boys school, and try to get close to her lover boy; he will dress as her, attend her all-girls school and revel in its sea of babes. Flawless? Well, with the bullies, brats and bishounen around, everything can go wrong. (back cover of 1st voume)

Review: The summary is really pretty misleading. The first volume is definitely as stated, with Tae discovering that her idol isn’t all that he appears to be, and finding love in an unexpected place (I heart this author for breaking tropes and traditions with this thing!). Her adventures are pretty typical for a high school romcom, with the boys thinking they might be gay and she wondering if they aren’t gay as well, what with their attraction to her! She ends up falling for a pretty tough gang member, though, with a heart of gold and the desire to protect Korea. It’s all pretty cute. At the same time, the main characters here become completely irrelevant in the next four volumes, so if you thought it would be further adventures of Tae… no.

It instead switches focus to Tae’s cousin, or rather a girl who’s in love with him after protecting him from some girls in a gang. She becomes attatched from a mix of things – worry that he’s going to out her as a fighter when she’s been trying to bury her past with that, but because he’s also got a pretty face and brings out her protective instinct. Too bad she gets caught up with another gang, one who’s leader sets his sight on her! The other four volumes really deal with that relationship, the dynamics between Que-Min and Ghoon-Hahm, with Tae’s cousin as a rather important side character. Que-Min and Ghoon-Hahm have a very interesting chemistry between them, with her attempting to hod the fort on her personality, but him knowing it – and being a gangster himself, that means that she’s worrying over him, having to beat up her own bullies, and dealing with how their lives drag Jung-Woo into danger.

Jung-Woo, unfortunately, makes a very lackluster love interest. He’s pretty emotionless, clueless, and…. boring. I much preferred Ghoon-Hahm, who just comes alive with character. He’s been crushing on Que-Min since kindergarten, when he picked fights with her just to get her attention. And his fighting spirit never let up, getting together a gang of his own (following in the footsteps of his father) which has a really diverse bunch of personalities. Of course, things aren’t just bad with the other gangs trying to move in and take revenge on Ghoon-Hahm, there’s also troubles on the relationship front! I’m really glad that the spoiled girl who wanted to make it a love triangle – and failed massively! – ended up getting pushed off on Jun-Woo. She’s was an unbearably one-dimentinal character, an absolute brat, and getting with the other character that made me pull out my hair ended up being a great blessing.

For all that annoyance, I was still really pleased with how the relationship between Ghoon-Hahm and Que-Min turned out. She made for an engaging heroine, an atypical character thrown into a storyline that also wasn’t quite the normal shoujo. And the relationship deveopment seemed pretty solid, to boot. Except for some instances of some almost-sexist overprotection when he things Que-Min and Jung-Woo are getting too close, this struck a lot of right chords for me to enjoy it.

Overall, it’s a decently done story about tough guys and girls in love.

Recommended: 16+. There are a few fights where you see some blood, and how bad the injuries are happen to be mentioned in passing. What drives my rating up is how often slurs for homosexuals are used (along with some homophobia by some of the side characters) and some slurs for women as well.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Boy of the Female Wolf (magna)

He Dedicated To Roses (manhwa)

Oresama Teacher (manga)

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan (manga)

“You And I Collide” – Hourou Musuko (anime) – 9/10 Snowballs

Ah, well, do I wish that we lived in a world where gender didn’t figure so prominently? Of course. Do I even think about myself as a woman when I go to make art? Of course not. ~Judy Chicago

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Genderbender/School

Review Status: Complete (11 Episodes/11 Episodes)

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

Art/Animation: This is a pretty unique anime in terms of art, with a lovely watercolor-esque look to everything and bright pastels for color. The animation is very solid and smooth at all times.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub, but the sub is fantastic.

Summary: Nitori Shuichi is a boy who wants to become a girl. He transfers to a new elementary school, and there, meets Takatsuki Yoshino, a tall and attractive young girl. Coincidentally, Yoshino also dreams of becoming the opposite sex. She lets Shuichi in on a secret that she cross dresses from time to time and visits places far from home. Due to the fact that they share the same secret, they become close. The two are now in middle school. In the midst of a crowd full of new people, the two search for their own paths; all the while facing the troubles and concerns that come along with puberty. (Crunchyroll)

Review: Hourou Musuko, or Wandering Son, starts out in the middle of the action and just keeps on running, relying on little tricks through the series in order to flesh out the events that happened before the series started (in the manga) and give insight into the characters. This works out really well, in terms of storyline. This is a crossroads for the characters, a turning point in adolescence as Shuichi makes more definitive moves to define who he is as a person. It also doesn’t take long to establish who the characters are and bring out their own internal conflicts… or, occasionally, the lack of them.

Puberty is a hard time for most people, and this anime highlights something we all deal with, but does so in a vastly different ways. Most girls discover that they want to be women, and go about it by discovering makeup, practicing kissing, and generally behaving in ways that emphasize their feminine qualities. Boys, in turn, discover they want to be men and emphasize their masculinity. Shuichi and Yoshino also have these desires, but for the opposite gender. There is no confusion on their part about wanting to be the other gender- it’s how to go about it that sends them (mostly Shuichi, however) into confusion. Will they cross-dress in public? Will they get surgeries when they are old enough? It’s tough enough dealing with family with these issues, so how can they deal with the public at large?

The story not only deals with questions of how to present their identity, but also touches on gender issues on society at large. The inherent sexism built into issues of clothing comes up when Yoshino has no problem dressing up as a boy, but when Shuichi comes to school as a girl he’s treated as a freak. The hypocrisy of an entire class being able to put on a gender-bender play with no issue, but an individual being excluded for it. The issues of love when one’s own gender identity comes into question.

Love is a big issue in this series, and one of the questions that was on my mind was whether homosexuality factored into this. For Yoshino and Shuichi, there’s no sign of it- they would love each other no matter what their genders were. It’s just love, and it’s only for each other. But others are affected by this, such as a girl who’s in love with Shuichi as he is. *There’s also a transsexual woman who is living with a man. The answer as to whether this makes her gay is ambiguous, to say the least. None of these issues are really explored on a deep level, only as to how they affect the character’s lives, which means I will be checking out the manga as soon as possible.* (As noted in the comments, I have been incorrect in identifying her as homosexual, but do feel that this is something that I’m not alone in being confused by. To my knowledge, I’m not friends with any trenssexuals, or know anyone I could ask about this issue. I’ve been confused by this issue for years because it’s not something that is talked about in my life. So please forgive my ignorance.)

It does show the effects on their lives quite well, though. There’s no clear path for them to follow, no definitive answers as to where this need to be another gender will lead them. The growth and change in their relationships is realistic, at times hard to watch, but at the same time beautiful in its own way. It ended at a good spot, with many things left unsaid, but a lot of room to infer what’s happening between the characters.

Overall, while there was an abrupt throw into the story, and a few dangling plot threads at the end, this still manages to come out as a wonderful, sensitive look into the issues of gender identity.

Recommended: 14+. There’s no language that I can recall, no nudity, no violence other than some mentions of a fight… just a solid look at gender confusion during puberty.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I.S. Intersexuality (manga)

Koi Kaze (anime and manga)

“Dream A Little Dream Of Me” – After School Nightmare (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. ~Thomas Szasz

Mangaka: Setona Mizushiro

Genre: Romance/Mystery/Drama/School/Supernatural/Psychological/Gender Bender/Fantasy

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

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

Art: Lovely. The art is reminiscent of CLAMP’s style, with elongated limbs and some gorgeous bishies. The panels are clean and easy to read (the flow is great, too). Some of the choices in

Summary: You have just awakened to find your darkest secret revealed to a group of people who would do anything to destroy you: your classmates! That’s what happens to Ichijo Mashiro, whose elite school education turns into the most horrifying experience of his life when he’s enlisted to participate in an after-hours class. The only way for Mashiro to graduate is to enter into a nightmare world where his body and soul will be at the mercy of his worst enemies. Can Mashiro keep the life-long secret that he is not truly a “he” nor entirely a “she” – or will he finally be “outted” in the most humiliating way possible?

Review: First impressions are everything in the world, and Ichijo does the best to keep his the way he wants it- as a guy. This is harder than it seems when his top half is definitely masculine, but his bottom half is most definitely not! However, when he’s entered into a class where nightmares become reality and he must face the inner selves of himself and his classmates. The thing is, his inner fear/self happens to be himself… but with a girl’s uniform on, making him instantly recognizable to those who cross his path.

His classmates take an immediate interest- a girl that’s been broken by her abusive father and a rapist, a playboy that thinks Ichijo is the prettiest thing that he’s laid his eyes on but has inextricable ties to his sister, others that would use him as they saw fit. They all have their own demons to fight. Others come and go as they ‘graduate’, disappearing from the hearts and minds of their classmates. Some are unable to overcome their issues and merely disappear.

Watching Ichijo desperately try to figure out the feelings he has about his own identity and the romantic struggles and drama that occur while it happens is interesting, if slightly obvious by the third or fourth volume. I think most people will be able to guess what’s going to happen, and while that disappointed me because of how one of the wheels gets shunted aside, the fact that they’re able to overcome that and still be good friends who care for each other is something unique and wonderful in this genre. It also plays into them finding themselves and their inner strength.

The meaning behind needing to discover themselves and their strengths, as well as what’s happening in the school, managed to be a wonderful surprise twist. The inner struggle Ichijo goes through takes on a far greater significance, with the two sides to him perhaps not being as philosophical as suspected, and the need to graduate being more than just graduation. It all snowballs into one of the best romance/mysteries that I’ve come across in quite a while.

Overall, this was a very interesting look at the psyche and had a great twist I hadn’t expected!

Recommended: 18+. There is incest (blatantly stated but the act is merely implied). Sex is mentioned (and occurs. Genitalia is not shown and the few sections it was in were *brief* and I didn’t think it was happening until I read comments that happened later. Kissing and the leadup to sex does occur. There is violence- people get slashed with swords, torn apart, dug into- but there is no gore and it’s not graphic, though blood is shown. There are also a handful of minor swears.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I.S. Intersexuality (manga)
Wandering Son (anime and manga)
Revolutionary Girl Utena (anime)
Hour of the Mice (manga)
Arisa (manga)

“The Good Life” – NG Life (manga) – 10/10 Apples

The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it. ~Wendell Berry

Genre: Comedy/Romance/Spiritual/Drama/School/Gender-bender

Review Status: Complete (9 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Formerly licensed by Tokyopop- has yet to be relicensed

Art: Clean, distinctive, nicely detailed. Expressions are clear, as are actions, and the panel flow is very nice and easily followed.

Summary: Kedai Saeki is a high school student who remembers his past life in Pompeii, living as the Italian warrior Sirix… His friends around him are all also reincarnated- although they don’t quite remember things the way he does. Kedai’s wife from the past? She’s now a middle school boy- while his best male friend is now a cute girl?! Throw in a case of love at first sight, and you have a new look at romance- manga-style!

Review: The past affects us in more ways than we can ever realize. Sometimes we remember what it was that has changed us, sometimes we don’t. NG Life explores that theme in one of the most literal ways- by Kedai remembering his past life, while almost no one around him does. He clings to the memories where he had a wife who loved him, a friend that was the best, most loyal guy around, and where he abandoned those he loved the most to die as he did his duty to someone he deeply honored.

This is one of the funniest manga I’ve read in a while. There can’t be anything more awkward and uncomfortable than dealing with two genderswitched people that you adore! Sirix loved Serena back when she was a woman… but Kedai isn’t gay in the modern world! His mother used to be his younger sister, and his father was his most hated rival, which bugs him to no end. And though it’s rare, he isn’t the only one who retains his memories of the past.

NG Life isn’t only sunshine and awkward moments, though. Many of his friends don’t remember the past- and when another suddenly forgets her past memories, Kedai is desperate to know why. He carries deep guilt from the destruction of Pompeii. He had abandoned his wife for reasons that are slowly revealed through the story, and the circumstances are as tragic as they are unchangeable. The past weaves in and out of the present seamlessly, tying the people and incidents together in an incredible way.

This is a story about coming to terms with the past. Kedai must forgive himself for what happened, realize that he is no longer Sirix, and find peace with the life that he has. The way that this is told and brought about is slow, steady, unstoppable, and beautifully done. It’s one thing for others to forgive you- it’s another to forgive yourself. Nothing feels out of place, no strings left hanging. And that makes this a manga worth reading.

Overall, this is one of the most touching (and funny) manga I’ve ever read- check it out ASAP!

Recommended: 12+. I don’t remember any swearing. There’s no nudity, though when recalling the past-life of one of his friends one person only recalls big boobs (these are focused on perhaps twice, and no nudity in them). One guy is a bit of a playboy but is only shown flirting. There’s occasional cross-dressing (mostly to psych out Kedai).There is violence, which ranges from comedic exaggeration (a woman standing over Sirix with a whip) to the serious (his friend getting stabbed). Only the comedic is shown on the page. There is death.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Please Save My Earth (manga)

Yukari Zumu (manga)

Oyayubihime Infinity (manga)

Fruits Basket (manga)

Red River (manga)

½ Prince (manga)

“Playing Dress-up” – Princess Jellyfish (anime) – 10/10 Disco Balls

The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this. ~Mark Twain

Genre: Comedy/Josei/Gender-bender

Review Status: Complete (11 Episodes/ 11 Episodes)

Licensed: This anime is licensed in the US by Funimation.

Dub vs Sub: When it first came out, I watched it with sub, and that’s really good. They got all the drag-quuen, geeky and proper voices just right for all the characters! On my recent re-watch with the dub, I discovered that the sub is just as good. Funi did an above-average job getting those voices just right. Good job, Funi! I’m considering both dub and sub equally good!

Art/Animation: Overall this looks very cute. It’s not very stylized, but that works in its favor. The colors are bright and the animation very good.

Summary: The story centers around Tsukimi Kurashita, a huge fan of jellyfish and moves to Tokyo to become an illustrator. She moves into “Amamizukan,” an apartment complex that is full of fujoshi (diehard female otaku) with a no-men-allowed rule. However, one day, Tsukimi invites a stylishly fashionable woman to stay at her room at Amamizukan — only to discover that the guest is not who “she” seems to be. (Source: ANN)

Review: This anime is all about the characters. From the eccentric residents of the apartments, to Kuranosuke and his family, to the various others that become part of the cast, this anime shows how they all act, interact, and influence each other’s lives.

Kuranosuke and Tsukimi’s meeting was a wonderful coincidence- they started bonding over Tsukimi’s love of jellyfish, and Kuranosuke- intrigued by the girl who dressed oddly but had a passionate love for something- quickly makes himself at home in the apartments. Then you start really getting to know the characters.

The great thing is how well they get along together! Mayaya, the ever-enthusiastic lover of Records of the Three Kingdoms and Banba, the afro’d train-crazy gal, are good comedic foils for each other, feeding off of each other’s excitement and generally making things more wacky. Jiji gets pushed to the side and ignored for the most part, but she’s fond of older men. You have the mysterious mangaka living upstairs who passes all edicts of behavior and problems from underneath her door. Chieko, the doll-lover and talented seamstress, keeps order in the day-to-day activities of the girls. All of them work off of eachother’s energy and create an interesting bunch of friends.

The rest of the cast is equally engaging, which makes it a joy to watch as they are all confronted with life choices and bits of the past that still affect them. The other thing that makes it interesting is that, while the characters and their characteristics are somewhat exaggerated, the situations they are in aren’t. It never failed to be amusing to watch these girls try to deal with everyday occurrences, such as trying to keep their home from being torn down. This manages to keep about three plots and sub-plots going at once, but never gets confusing, which is amazing and makes it all more interesting.

It was easy to cheer for them and fun to watch them engage life. And the ending, while it didn’t tie up all the story ends, still managed to go out on a high note. I don’t think I could have asked for better.

Overall, this was a sweet, fun show that gave me warm fuzzies. I will for sure be picking up the manga after this!

Recommended: YES! 15+, though. In one episode someone is given what’s apparently a date-rape drug. While they pass out, even though no sex occurs, pictures that imply such are taken and used as blackmail. One of the character’s outfits are a bit slinky, but no nudity occurs- bathing suit amount of skin is shown. One of the guy characters acts very girly for a full-grown man, which is sometimes a bit disturbing. And one of the main characters is a cross-dresser, though he’s heterosexual.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Paradise Kiss (manga and anime)
Ouran Host Club (anime and manga)
Wallflower (manga and anime)
Tatami Galaxy (anime)
Mishounen Produce (manga)
½ Prince (manga)
High School Debut (manga)
Kimi ni Todoke(anime and manga)

"What Are We Again?"- Your And My Secret- 1/10 Sugar Cubes

Women get the last word in every argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument. ~Author Unknown

Genre: Gender-bender/Romance/Comedy

Licensed: Licensed in the US

Review Status: Incomplete (2 Volumes/? Volumes – still in publication)

Art: Ugly. Most of it is drawn in ugly chibi characters, and whatever isn’t is drawn in ugly, badly-proportioned regular characters. And it seems like the mangaka couldn’t figure out when to lighten the pen off the page, so the lines are very heavy and dark, sometimes making it hard to see what’s what in a panel, or just ruining the aesthetic.

Summary: High schooler Nanako Momoi may be petite and adorable, but she is far from sweet, she is obnoxious, violent and has the table manners of a wild boar. Akira Uehara, a dainty, feminine boy has, for some mysterious reason, developed quite a crush on her. One day, Akira stumbles upon Nanako’s grandfather, a man best described as a mad scientist. He is performing an experiment on Nanako, but Akira manages to get in the way and suddenly finds that he and Nanako have switched bodies. Akira, the now dainty and feminine female, is desperate to get back into his old body, especially after one of his long-time friends starts flirting with him. Switching back may prove difficult, though. It looks like Nanako is starting to enjoy life as a guy. (From ANN.com)

Review: When I saw this at the local bookstore and read the back, I figured it couldn’t be too bad. It actually has a surprising twist and decently original storyline. However, when I cracked open the covers I was shocked and horrified at how very bad this was.

The first thing that hit me was how very bad it looked. But hey, sometimes it’s just an inexperienced artist. As I kept reading, I discovered that this was full of sexism and sexual harassment that did a poor job of writing itself off as comedy! Momoi is a pig- she has to be one of the most singularly disgusting characters I have ever come across. When she and poor Akira change bodies, she akes full advantage of the situation, masturbating, exploring, even having sex in order to “fully experience” what it’s like to be a male.

And then does the most horrifically sexist, if not outright misogynist things to Akira! While she can do whatever she’s in the mood for, she threatens him with pain and embarrassment should he even catch a glimpse of her (now his) body. So that means he must bathe blindfolded, and heaven forbid if he touches anywhere private! What only makes this worse is when he must fend off the over-amorous attentions of his “best friend” (read: His best friend when he was in his guy body tries to rape him in the female body). And this is supposed to be read as a romantic development!

At that point I had to stop. There was nothing funny or interesting in this manga- only things that made me want to hurl it at the mangaka’s head.

Overall, this is an awful manga. I’m ashamed to say I read as much as I did.

Recommended: Never. If you happen to pick it up by accident, put it back down gently and back slowly away. But 15+ for attempted rape (doesn’t get very ar), implied molestation of the guy;s body when they switch, and some pretty heavy language.

Other series you might like instead:
Ouran Host Club (anime and manga),
Wallflower (manga)
1/2 Prince (manga)
Tokyo Crazy Paradise (manga)… It doesn’t matter! Just don’t read this!