“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.

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“Left In The Past” – MW (manga) – 10/10 Atoms

“Revenge is a dish best served cold” ~Proverb

Mangaka: Osamu Tezuka

Genre: Action/Thriller/Psychological/Drama/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

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

Art: It’s Tezuka, with cartoonish characters, great shading, and fantastic panel work. There’s also some terrific detail in some of his scenes.

Summary: Michio Yuki has it all: looks, intelligence, a pedigree as the scion of a famous Kabuki family, a promising career at a major bank, legions of female admirers. But underneath the sheen of perfection lurks a secret with the power to shake the world to its foundations.

During a boyhood excursion to one of the southern archipelagos near Okinawa, Yuki barely survived exposure to a poison gas stored at a foreign military facility. The leakage annihilated all of the island’s inhabitants but was promptly covered up by the authorities, leaving Yuki as an unacknowledged witness–one whose sense of right and wrong, however, the potent nerve agent managed to obliterate. Now, fifteen years later, Yuki is a social climber of Balzacian proportions, infiltrating the worlds of finance and politics by day while brutally murdering children and women by night–perversely using his Kabuki-honed skills as a female impersonator to pass himself off as the women he’s killed. His drive, however, will not be satiated with a promotion here and a rape there. Michio Yuki has a far more ominous objective: obtaining MW, the ultimate weapon that spared his life but robbed him of all conscience.

There are only two men with any hope of stopping him: one, a brilliant public prosecutor who struggles to build a case against the psychopath; the other, a tormented Catholic priest, Iwao Garai, who shares Yuki’ls past–and frequently his bed. (Amazon.com)

Review: MW is one of the best manga I’ve read. Hands-down. I have to state that at the beginning so we can all be clear on my fangirlism. This was the first ‘serious’ manga I read, as well as the first Tezuka manga I read, and my recent re-read of it only raised my opinion.

MW has many layered themes. Loyalty- whether the priest should betray his lover to the police, or whether he should stick to his vows with the Church to never tell what someone confesses. Love – Does he love Yuki, or is it a horrible lust that drives him to keep Yuki safe? Insanity – Is Yuki’s driving force the insanity caused by the MW, or is it mere revenge and hatred for what he saw that day, a hatred when mixed with the effects of the MW has created a psychotic monster?

Tezuka goes about it with a fascinating cast. Yuki is the most horrific, unfeeling antagonist I’ve come across since Johan in Monster. While Johan still manages to beat him out, I can defintiely see his roots in Yuki. He kills without mercy, but not without a plan, with almost every move cooly calculated to give him the best advantage. He’s out for something simple: Revenge. And he seeks it out with some love and thought for Garai, the man who helped him when they were children, faced with the horrific consequences of military incompetence. Garai is as interesting as Yuki, in his own way, torn by duty to his priesthood and love for Yuki. He tries to do what he can when he can, but the restrictions he holds himself make him powerless in Yuki’s machinations. His growth through the series shows how powerful bonds between people can be, and when love is there, it takes a soul of steel to be able to betray them.

The whole story revolves around the interplay of these two – merciless killer and merciful priest – and the plot drives their interactions. Yuki’s need for revenge drives him into the depths of givernment and ever-closer to his ultimate goal: MW, and the ability to use it as he pleases, to make others suffer as he and Garai did. In turn, Yuki’s plans eventually bring Garai around to the idea that he needs to do something to stop him, breaking free of the guilt that Yuki forces on him and the emotional manipulation that is played around with, and bringing the story to a rather chilling conclusion.

There is no happy ending, no end to the suffering caused by the MW and by Yuki, and things can never be ‘normal’ after all that happens. It’s one of the more brutal endings that I’ve seen, but at the same time, fits the story. Anything else would seem to convenient and fake.

It does occasionally show it’s age, in how rape is treated – though a little more sympathetic than usual since Yuki manipulates her emotionally before and after it happens – and the depiction of the struggle Garai goes through about telling people about Yuki (the Church has since relazed laws and encourages priests to report crimes that have been confessed to them), but still remains a brilliant story.

Overall, it’s one of the darkest manga I’ve read, and definitely something that lingers in the imagination.

Recommended: 18+. This is for adults! There’s sex (homosexual and heterosexual), and rape. There is the cold-blooded murder of both children and adults, sometimes in implicitly gruesome ways, as well as the depiction of an entire family committing suicide.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Ode to Kirihito (manga)

Monster (manga or anime)

Ayako (manga)

“A Knock At My Door” – Zashiki Onna (manga) – 8/10 Snowballs


Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever. ~Margaret Cho

Mangaka: Minetaro Mochizuki

Genre: Horror/Psychological/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: No, this manga is unlicensed in the US.

Art: This has the more realistic and slightly ugly look a lot of horror manga seem to take. This is appropriate for the stalker, since she seems to be some sort of otherworldly being. Everyone else looks just a little off, face-wise. Dramatic shading and lots of dark tones suit the story well.

Summary: One night, mild-mannered college student, Hiroshi Mori, bumps into a woman visiting his next-door neighbor. A large, creepy woman, she has long hair, wears a coat and carries shopping bags in both hands. He had never seen her before. But then, without warning, the woman starts stalking Hiroshi, shifting her attention from his next-door neighbor whom she had been visiting to Hiroshi himself. Who is she and what is she after? (MAL.net)

Review: The stalker story has been done many times, and with every redo can feel a little more old and tired. This is a throwback to a more recent past, when stalkers just weren’t taken very seriously (seen merely as overzealous admirers) and throws in a dash of paranoia and supernatural into the mix, creating a simple but effectively frightening story.

This is a story that runs on plot and the psychology of the main character. Hiroshi could be any well-meaning person, who sees someone who looks a little down on their luck and offers to help them out. No one expects their well-meaning to backfire on them, and the events that occur really would frighten anybody- the ways she discovers information on him that he wasn’t giving out hit particularly close to home for this reviewer after a similar event happened to her. He has every right to be paranoid with her insistences on being close and the threats she makes, and the worry that no one really is being bothered by her. He’s ultimately a very sympathetic character. Another thing that was nice was that his friend who ended up mildly involved didn’t dismiss him, and took the threat seriously, even if in the end there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

Zashiki Onna gets the plot rolling immediately and never lets up, throwing the reader into the story and meeting Sachiko from the get-go. Hiroshi’s encounters aren’t immediately dangerous, though there’s a tinge of desperation about the woman as she keeps coming, night after night, and the noises he hears from the apartment she’s trying to get into create an ominous atmosphere. The woman isn’t a normal one, and it’s made clear that it will take unusual measures to be rid of her. Like any good horror story, it gets worse and worse, and things never really get any better for our beleaguered main.

While the manga is showing its age a bit in how the incident is handled at the end, blending fact and fiction, turning real facts into a twisted urban legend, this Zashiki Onna still manages to give the right scares at the right time to make this a good read.

Overall, this is something that digs into the fear of strangers and manages to tell that tale well.

Recommended: 13+. There’s some fighting, involving punches and kicks thrown, but only a little blood is shown. Implied death.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ibitsu (manga)

“The Time Is Ours” – The Hour of the Mice (manga) – 8/10 Snowballs


Mangaka: Kei Toume

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Psychological/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (4 Volume/4 Volumes)

Licensed: This manga is not licensed in the US.

Art: While the art does have some distinct manga-style characteristics, this tones it down to a more realistic level, much like Satoshi Kon or Naoki Urasawa’s work does. There is some great symbolic work in some of the scenes (we never see the faces of parents, for instance).

Summary: Maki Takano and his three best friends Ryo, Natsume and Mei are students at a private academy for highly gifted children. Like all the other students of this isolated and heavily guarded school, they have never seen the outside world since they were brought to the school at the young age of three.

When a new female student named Kiriko Hinatsu arrives, Maki has the strange feeling that he has met her before. However, he seems to be the only person who can remember the girl. When he confronts her with his discovery, Kiriko reveals the unbelievable truth about their existence: The school they have been living at all this time is actually an experimental facility and all the students are but guinea pigs who are being used for sophisticated neurological experiments.

Maki now has to decide: Will he continue his false but sheltered life or will he help Kiriko escape even if that means putting himself and his mental health at risk? (Kotonoha)

Review: The name, Hour of the Mice, will probably give you the impression that this is about mice, or that it’s a frantic escape story. Neither is correct. This is about mice, in the form of students that are experimental subjects, and it is about their escape into a new world, but this is more than the sum of its parts. Taken apart, this manga is fairly shallow and predictable. Kiriko is at the school right from the start, throwing the initial story’s vaguely uneasy tone into one of mystery. The students that follow her down the proverbial rabbit hole are characters that lack any particular depth, filling roles that were assigned them from the beginning, from Mei, the wishy-washy and clingy one, to Maki, the one who goes headstrong into the unknown. They play out these parts as could be expected, in a story that is predictable to a certain point.

It’s the plot that brings out what this story is really about- people. People and the past. These characters play out these themes in an emotionally-charged drama. Everything else is just mere trappings for showing how the past always affects us, how humans can be overcome by it, how weak we are when things truly must change- and how hard that change can be.

Hour of the Mice doesn’t do it this at once. This paces things so that the buildup of suspense is slow, with small things giving way to the bigger things that are going on. The next thing to happen might be obvious, but how it happens isn’t. The ties between characters and events seem obvious in hindsight, are occasionally obvious from the beginning, but the changes in them and the growth (or lack thereof) are often not. There are no grand revelations about life or anything like that, and I appreciated being able to draw my own conclusions from it.

Overall, this is something that might make you think about your own past, and it’s a good read for it.

Recommended: 13+. This deals a lot with drugs: the abuse of pharmaceuticals, the creation of illegal ones, etc. There is implied murder, and one character attempts suicide. There’s no gore, just a natural death, and the image of bandages on the wrist.

Other titles you might enjoy:

After School Nightmare (manga)

Arisa (manga)

Tokarev no Ayaui Shiro (manga)

“The Art of Life” – Gallery Fake (anime) – 9/10 Pumpkin Pies

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Genre: Mystery/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (37 Episodes/37 Episodes)
Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US

Quite good. The color palette made me think that it was a little older than it is, but the animation is excellent, and the art can be breathtaking at times, especially when special attention is paid to the paintings that are featured.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub.

Summary: Reiji Fujita is the proprietor of Gallery Fake, a gallery that specializes in fakes and fraudulent art. However, he’s no ordinary dealer and scalawag- he genuinely loves art, and will do what he can to get his art to those who will enjoy it. As a former worker at the Met, he knows his stuff, and shows it off. With a girl that’s in love with him and a rival curator that would like to shut him down, life is always exciting for him!

Review: Art class is dreaded by many- and I’m not talking about the ones where you actually get to paint and draw. How exciting can a class covering the history and importance of certain works be? This is the anime world’s response to this- very exciting. This manages to weave human drama with the artwork, giving them importance that would otherwise be overlooked and ignored, and mixes it with a touch of adventure and drama. It helps that this has one of the catchiest, classiest openings I’ve heard in a while- an immediate hook for me!

At first, Reiji comes off as a smooth operator. He has little compunction in holding a gun and shooting if necessary, and knows a dozen tips and tricks in order to get what he wants. When he’s going for a piece of art, he is at his finest, knowing exactly what he’s looking for and able to tell the best from the rest. The rest of the time… maaaybe not so much! He’s thrown off-guard and kept on his toes by his young assistant Sara, who also happens to be in love with him.

The further into the anime you get, the more of their relationship is revealed, and the more you root for them to get together. The recurring characters that show up are also interesting in their own right. There’s the jewel thief with a passion for unusual art, and the curator that both respects Fujita’s knowledge and skill but is frustrated by his dabble in illegal activities. Her respect and fondness for him grows over time into a good friendship.

These characters get into all sorts of trouble and events. There’s action, from having to restore a painting during a plane hijacking, a kidnapping of the descendent of a famous subject of a portrait, a race to prevent an art theft, and even the discovery of a lost city in the Amazon. There’s the human drama, from a painting that reveals the love of a father for his estranged and grieving daughter, to the restoration painter that desperately needs to save an inheritance, and even touches on Fujita’s family’s past. There are even episodes that are just fun, like the one about a mechanical crab.

All the while, little bits of information about paintings and painters are sprinkled in. It gives it a feeling of authenticity, and never feels truly boring. I think my own appreciation of art was deepened because it’s given in such a way that it’s hard not to find merit in the paintings and painters they present.

Overall, except for some blatant and terrible emotional manipulation in one episode, this is a fabulous anime.

Recommended: 15+. There only one f-bomb dropped during an episode that features Vietnam and the Vietnam war (due to how this is depicted, it might be wise to watch this away from any relatives with sensitivities to the war) with barely any minor swears during the rest of it. There is some violence- one man gets shot in the arm, a girl is kidnapped, and in the war episode, there are people depicted being attacked and some bodies are shown. Discretion is used in these shots, so no one is actually seen killed, but there are shots of people that are close to photographs taken during that period. Someone gets stabbed in the back, and you see his back covered in blood.

There is one shot of a woman in a bathtub- I didn’t realize what was happening until later in the episode, but apparently she is masturbating, Everything is covered, though, and it’s not obvious. In another episode, the same woman has sex with a boarder, and this is depicted briefly though not pornographically or blatantly. It also seems that she has some sort of S&M relationship with her butler, who’s in love with her. There is one scene of fanservice where Fujita looks at a woman’s bikini-clad behind, and the camera does zoom in on it. Two scenes depict couples in bed together, completely covered by the sheets.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Bartender (anime and manga)
Master Keaton (anime)
Detective Conan (anime and manga)

“Sibling Rivalry” – Ibitsu (manga) – 10/10 Black Cats

Having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of. You know whatever you do, they’ll still be there. ~Amy Li

Mangaka: Haruka Ryou

Genre: Horror, Seinen

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/2 Volumes)

Licensed: No, this manga isn’t licensed in the US

Art: Under normal circumstances they wouldn’t be that memorable- under these ones, you can’t forget them. The Lolita girl herself sticks in the mind long after the story has ended. It’s also very expressive.

Summary: A boy went to take his trash out late one night, and found a strange, creepy, lolita woman sitting amongst the garbage bags. She asked if he had a little sister, and he answered her, hurrying afterwards back to his apartment. When he looked out the window, she was gone. Who is the strange woman, and why does she give him such a bad feeling? (MAL.net)

Review: The reason Urban Legends survive so long is because deep down, there’s a little part of us that thinks that maybe, just maybe, it could be true. Too bad Kazuki hasn’t heard about this particular urban legend until he’s already encountered it- and by then, it’s already far too late. She’s looking for an older brother, and thinks she’s found it in Kazuki. Little Miss Lolita weasles her way into his life in the most horrifying ways possible. Cleaning his room, fooling the landlady, and eventually going after his own little sister, Kazuki discovers that she’s twisted to the core.

Both these characters end up being surprisingly memorable. Lolita Girl is one of the most psychotic creatures to grace the pages of manga. She isn’t afraid to kill anyone who gets in her way of a good sibling relationship, or even anyone who happens to be peripherally involved in her plans. Kazuki finds himself being drawn into the madness that another man she knew succumbed to.

While a few horror clichés grace these pages, this manages to be fresh and twisted, and horrifying for it. Madness and obsession mix in terrible ways.

A special note must be made for the side stories- both manage to be just as terrifying, even though one isn’t as unique or memorable as the other or the main story.

Overall, this is a manga that will leave you awake at night. Remember- don’t talk to strangers!

YES! 18+. While this has no language that I noted, there is a lot of violence. While nothing is ever done outright, you will see the outlines and some of the implications of what happened will be very clear. There is also a brief scene of almost-fanservice… that is, Kazuki’s little sister wets herself from fear (understandable), and Lolita Girl goes to ‘clean her up’ with an iron. You do see panties in about 4 panels. Kazuki’s friend does give him a porno dvd to watch, but he just throws it in the trash.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Higurashi (anime and manga)
Tomie (manga)
Bizenghast (manga)

“In Memory Of” – Solanin (manga) – 9/10 Black Cats

There is a point in every young person’s life when you realize that the youth that you’ve progressed through and graduate to some sort of adulthood is equally as messed up as where you’re going. ~Jena Malone

Mangaka: Inio Asano

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/ 2 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US

Art: This has fairly simple art, but while the panels are clean, easy to read and easy to follow, there is a very nice amount of detail in the characters and backgrounds.

Summary: When people hit college, they realize that they’re at a turning point in their life. What will they do for the rest of their time on Earth? It’s a time where it’s easy to get lost, lose sight of your dreams, and fall into a general funk. Meiko realizes that she’s fallen into this, and decides to try and figure out what she’s going to do by taking a few months off of work and thinking about it. Her live-in boyfriend supports her decision, and eventually she comes to support him and his friends as they are reinvigorated to follow their own dreams.

Review: Solanin. The name of a love song, a breakup song, a song that was dedicated to Meiko and remains Naruo’s favorite song that he wrote- the one that he and his friends decide to peg their dreams on when they get back together one last time to try and follow their dreams of making it big. It marks the complicated feelings they have toward eachother, but yet they love and support one another nonetheless.

More than anything else, this is a look into these two people’s lives. The trouble they have coming to terms with ‘adulthood’, realizing that we never stop growing up, learning that life is full of twists and turns, and how we love and remember people is one of the most important things in the world.

There is very little to not like about it. The humor is spot-on, the dialogue witty and honest, and considering that there are a billion clichéd movies about this same thing, fails to fall into that territory at every turn. This is a realistic look into life at what, for many, is an awkward age. It will resonate more with some than with others, but this is definitely a fabulous manga that everyone at that stage of life should read.

Overall, this is a manga for all those who feel a little lost in their lives. You are not alone.

Recommended: A mature 16+. There are maybe two swears, a little drinking/drunkenness. You get some brief partial nudity and implied sex.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Oyasumi Punpun (manga)
Beck (manga and anime)
Nana (manga and anime)
Our Happy Time (manga)
Ciguatera (manga)
Pumpkin and Mayonnaise (manga)

"Where The Heart Is” – Hanasaku Iroha (anime) – 7/10 Notebooks

The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keeps you there. ~Ellie Rodriguez

Genre: Slice-of-life/Comedy/Drama/Romance/Seinen

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed for streaming on Crunchyroll.

PA works does a fabulous job. The colors are bright and light with more pastel-oriented colors. The animation is smooth and fluid and looks superb, especially during the opening song, which looks fabulous!

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime. The subs are a little inconsistent on spellings for names.

Summary: Hanasaku Iroha centers around 16-year-old Ohana Matsumae who moves from Tokyo to out in the country to live with her grandmother at an onsen ryokan named Kissuisō. While restarting her life there initially seems daunting, Ohana begins working at the inn, makes friends with the other employees and watches her life take an unexpected twist. (Crunchyroll official description)

Review: Ohana is in a tough spot. Her mom has decided to run off with a man, leaving her with no place to live and nothing to fall back on. While her mom’s thoughtlessness is nothing new, this time it’s above and beyond what she’s had to deal with. She sets out to a distant town, to a grandmother that she never knew about, to stay in the onsen. Little does she know that family ties have been severed, and she’s going to have to earn her keep and fest it up herself!

You get a good feel for the characters right off the bat, which is excellent- this is a show that depends on its characters to move the story forward. Ohana is a bit stubborn but kind, and genuinely wants to do a good job. Her friends seem typical stereotypes, with one a bit of a wilting flower (yay! Breaks out of the mold and has genuine love and talents for stuff!) and the other a tsundere. The rest of the cast are just as lively and interesting, though they exist mostly in the background. Over them looms thesadow of Madame Manager, Ohana’s grandmother, who started Kissuiso with her late husband.

Things start steamrolling from there. Ohana learns what it’s like to really work, making mistakes but discovering that there can be fun to be found helping people enjoy themselves. She makes friends with the granddaughter of a fellow onsen manager. Bits and pieces of family history fall into place about why she’s there and what the tension between Madame Manager and her son Enishin are. A confession of love from her friend Ko weighs on Ohana’s mind, as she tries to figure out whether she likes him back and whether a relationship can happen between them.

Up to episode 12, this had everything going for it. There was a solid cast, some beautiful episodes with learning to do duties, making friends, finding joy in work, and a suspenseful romance brewing in the background. About this episode, it hits a mid-series drag. Plotlines are conveniently forgotten about for some pointless filler, and the episodes just aren’t very interesting. Minchi goes from being slightly frustrating to downright obnoxious and annoying a number of times, and other characters that could have used the development don’t get it.

Thankfully, about episode 21, things pick up again. A romance that had been hinted at between Enishin and the woman he hired to improve Kisuissho’s image comes into full bloom, and the plotlines are picked back up to be resolved. Tension that’s been building between Minchi and Ohana, over a perceived crush that Tohru has on Ohana, comes to a boil. Ohana makes a decision concerning Ko. And Madame Manager comes to a decision concerning the future of the onsen that changes things for everyone.

Unfortunately, the epilogue could have been really good, but falls just on this side of average because of moments that were added simply to make the series more melodramatic. Everyone comes to decide that Ohana is taking Madame Manager’s side when she never clearly did any such thing. After a halfhearted speech by Enishin, everyone suddenly becomes just hunky-dory with letting the Ryokan go. One of the big plotlines, Ohana’s relationship with Ko, ends up being very badly handled all around.

I am pleased with the majority of the anime. It has wonderful moments, between the girls, between the staff, between family members, between the staff and the onsen itself. The characters are overall very likeable and fun to watch, and the things they have to deal with hit close to home (though some might be slightly exaggerated for anime’s sake). I would definitely watch it again sometime.

Overall, this is far from the worst title out there, and definitely has some wonderful moments in it!

Recommended: 16+. There’s no language that I can remember at all, no violence except for a brief tussle that Ohana and Minchi have (no punches are thrown, just a little wrestling- standing up). There is some slight “fanservice” in how the woman who tried to increase the onsens’ popularity makes the girls wear somewhat skimpy dresses in one episode, while in another the girls go shopping for some clothes and one of the girls is a little… bustier than they thought (as someone who has dealt with that in real life, I actually sympathized and found the situation hilarious).

What drives the rating up is that one of the residents, a writer, writes…. Sketchy material. Unfortunately, this ends up with a lesbian scene between the three girls (purely imagined) that doesn’t go beyond innuendo and a scene in the baths where nothing shows but the shoulders, and Ohana helping him figure out how to tie some S&M knots (fully clothed, since she’s the one who gets tied up!). There are also a few scenes in the baths. The water covers everything, and the rest of the time the shots hide everything else- except in one scene where you see a little butt.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ano Hana (anime)
Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime and manga)
Kobato (anime and manga)
Only Yesterday (anime)
Spirited Away (anime)
Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (anime)

“The Music In Our Hearts” – The Music of Marie (manga) – 9/10 Apples

Genre: Fantasy/Drama/Romance/Seinen

Review Status: Full (2 Volumes/ 2 Volumes)

Licensed: This manga is unlicensed.

Art: It’s reminiscent of Miyazaki’s work in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind- somewhat sketch-like, with dramatic shading and exquisite detail. However, the character designs in Music of Marie are more on the realistic side.

Summary: In just two volumes, the author manages to create an incredibly rich and fascinating world that is full of wonders and enchanting beauties—a world in which men are watched over by the mechanical goddess Marie who at times appears on the sky. Marie’s music brings people happiness and harmony. Their life is free from advanced technology and the longing for progress. The main story centers around Kai, a young man who develops a deep affection for Marie. His quest for enlightenment leads him inside Marie’s mechanical body where he learns the unbelievable truth about her and his own world. (MAL.net)

Review: A world is split into many countries, each with their own specialties. Kai and Pipi live n the mechanized country of Pirit, which specializes in mechanics and mineral resources. Over all the islands floats the figure of Marie, a seemingly mechanical goddess that watches over and keeps the peace, and beneath her a forest that wanders mysteriously about. What’s nice is that as short as this manga is, the little details told about the world show how fully realized it is. None of the details that are told are entirely unrelated to the plot- marriage rituals relate to Pipi’s eventual 18th birthday courtship, to the tales of the history that are shared with the reader. The mangaka goes for the unusual and sometimes absurd, which fits in perfectly with the world that’s been built. It’s an absolute joy to see the care that has been put into this manga.

Music of Marie perhaps isn’t for the casual reader. It’s full of religious undertones that are reminiscent of Christianity, changed to fit a strange world, partly because this takes in a post-apocalyptic Earth that was remade by God. The minor quotes and stories that are taken from the religious books of this world punctuate and help the flow of the story. Kai was always a special boy, and Pipi turns out to be a special girl herself, that seem to have a spiritual connection to these beings and legends that are told. A mysterious priest occasionally appears, able to connect with Kai and understanding what’s going on with him and Marie.

It does cross paths with more adult material, though. Part of this story is a romance, which mixes easily with the other things that are happening within the story. Kai’s relationship with Marie may be distant, but there’s definitely a physical component to his feelings for the doll in the sky. Pipi, of course, is heartbroken since her feelings for Kai have been true since she first met him. She becomes almost obsessive of his love, wanting him as much as he wants Marie in turn.

Unless you’re paying attention, this manga is going to throw you for a loop. This works on playing with first-person narrative- the narrator isn’t really the protagonist. If you pay attention at key points, then it becomes clear that things aren’t as they appear with Kai and Pipi. While Kai may be playing an important part, it isn’t all about him. In fact, it isn’t sure that Kai really exists at all. Who-or more accurately, what- Kai is, is left to be determined by the reader. A figment of Pipi’s imagination? That doesn’t explain why the lights go on by themselves. A being on another plane of existence? Possibly, since Kai really did exist, and does appear to have strange powers. A ghost? Perhaps, depending on the reader’s opinion of ghosts and what they are and what they can do.

Whether there was really a grand scheme for everything, if it all is the ravings of a crazed mind, while it can leave a bittersweet taste in the mouth it doesn’t seem to matter, since the sacrifice that seems to happen left the world in peace. What I wish had been addressed more closely was whether that peace was worth the sacrifice given to it- the story takes is in stride that Marie’s existence is natural and expected. The world can’t really function if she doesn’t. The conclusion that’s drawn at the end is that God is necessary, that limits on how far humans can and should go have to be in place or we will destroy ourselves. It’s presented in a very blunt but effective way, considering the overall length of the manga.

This does perhaps require being read once or twice. Statements that are made in the beginning when important events happen take on a new light and make more sense when seen in context of the whole story. And the ideas and questions that fill it take on a new light and can be picked up more easily on the second reading.

Overall, this is a great manga. The story is well-told, even if it’s blunt occasionally, and even if it does take on a message that not everyone will be able to agree with. The plot about a girl who can’t let go of her first love even if she can’t be with him makes up for a lot. However, that same bluntness and conclusion are what leave me unable to give it a 10/10.

Recommended: 18+. I’m only going this high because there is a scene where Kai is discovered masturbating. While his genitalia have been left invisible, what’s happening is unmistakable. When Kai finally “meets” Marie, instead of looking like a Barbie, you do see that she’s a shirtless woman-detail included. If that scene had been left out, I would label this at about 15+ because there is really no language and nothing particularly offensive.

Other titles you might like:
Ano Hana (anime)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (anime and manga)
Omoide Emanon (manga)
5 Centimeters Per Second (anime)
No. 6 (anime)

“Who, What, When, Where, Why”- King Of Thorn (manga) – 10/10 Flowers

Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. ~Anonymous

Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-fi /Psychological

Review Status: Complete (6 Volumes/6 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US. However, as Tokyopop is the licensor, its future status is undetermined.

Art: Crisp, clear, reminiscent of FMA in the angular facial and character designs. Plays heavily with light and shadow, with heavy shading.

Summary: Two twins, separated by fatal illness and a selective cure. Kasumi and her sister, Shizuku, were infected with the Medusa virus, which slowly turns the victim to stone. There is no cure, but of the two only Kasumi is selected to go into a sort of cryogenically frozen state along with 159 others until a cure is found. At some point in the undetermined future, Kasumi awakens to find herself and others who were in suspended animation in an unfamiliar world with violent monsters. Resolving to unlock the mysteries of her current situation and the fate of her twin sister, Kasumi struggles to survive in a treacherous world. (Tokyopop)

Review: What do you do when the world you know is gone? When Kasumi awakens from her sleep, she discovers that they haven’t awakened in a world with a cure for the Medusa virus- oh, no. They are in a world that’s who-knows-how-many years into the future, where nightmarish monsters roam the halls of a crumbling castle that they were encapsulated in, thorns grow everywhere they look, and the virus still spreads through their veins.

This manga wastes no time getting to the meat of the story. With everyone in a panic to discover what has happened, most end up getting killed off the bat, leaving us with our band of heroes: six people from all walks of life, that must now discover what happened and why the world is like what it is.

This manga is full of heart-pounding action and twists that are startling. To discover the answers, they travel all over the castle, to various labs and stations. They must face giant salamanders that spark electricity, a frog-monster that spits acid and hallucinogens, creatures like dinosaurs, and human defense systems that have managed to stay running. Along the way they discover things about each other and themselves. Marcus isn’t all he appears to be. Kasumi and her twin have a backstory that might be key to all the things that are happening. Tim and Katherine, a boy who was chosen but not his mother, and a mother that lost her child and regrets it deeply, find inner strength and courage as they face the trials that the castle holds. The other two, Ron and Peter, have the character development of minor characters, yet still manage to play decently important parts. Then you have the mysterious girl and an equally dangerous opponent.

They all are sympathetic to a degree, and seeing what they went through, how they became who they are and why they are behaving the way they are, is absolutely fascinating. It was nice to see solid character development alongside the main storyline.

Not everything is as it appears to be in this manga, and seeing all the plot threads come together is simply fantastic. The virus itself is more than what they originally thought, and becomes a key element in the story itself at a certain point. There is very little in this manga that goes unanswered- the story is tightly-written, the characters interesting and believable, the art clear and the action scenes done well. You can’t ask for more in this type of story, especially when it manages to put so much into so few volumes.

Overall, this is a great post-apocalyptic action story.

Recommended: 16+. This has the worst of FMA-level violence, all the time. People are shown dying- this usually involves limbs flying. There is very little actual gore- it’s mostly blood-spatter shown, even for the worst of wounds (including the aftermath of someone who committed suicide with a bullet through the mouth). This manga isn’t afraid to show bodies, though they are not fresh and, indeed, look more like mummies than anything. You do see a character attempt suicide, though her twin sister stops her in time. And in one scene, you do realize that a character committed suicide (again, gore-less but there is blood spatter).

Fanservice is incredibly low- the one sure instance of it is in an extras page in the back where the author says that it’s hard to draw nice boobs and prefers butts. A few instances where you get full-on cleavage is after a character transforms using the Medusa. However, this is about as fanservice-y as any classical painting. She has been acting as a mother to a young boy the entire time, nearly sacrificed herself for him once, and when she transforms it’s clear that her cleavage isn’t for kicks- it’s symbolic of her motherly instincts towards him, which is born out when she nearly dies protecting the boy. Any other possible nudity (which is virtually nonexistent), is Barbie-doll, or covered up by water/shadow/what-have-you.

The language level is a little high. Though the majority swears are usually not thrown around casually, you do have about 8 f-bombs, 6 g—d—s, and a handful of other more minor swears. It usually levels out between 5-7 instances per volume, with each volume getting a little more intense with the language and more frequent.

Other titles you might enjoy:
Ergo Proxy (anime)
20th Century Boys (manga)
Full Metal Alchemist (anime, Brotherhood, or manga)
Bokurano (anime or manga)
King of Thorn (anime)
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (anime)

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