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

Mangaka: Kotaro Mori

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

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, these characters deserved a better story.

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

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

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

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“Crossing Swords” – Revolutionary Girl Utena (manga) – 8/10 Streamers

 

To love is to place our happiness in the happiness of another. ~ G. Wilhelm Leibniz

Mangaka: Chiho Saito (manga) Be-Papas (story- this is a group of mangaka founded by Kunihiko Ikuhara, and produced the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime, manga, and movie)

Genre: School/Romance/Action/Fantasy/Shoujo/Shoujo-Ai

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US. First it was by Animanga, now by Viz.

Art/Animation: This looks like very traditional shoujo, but it looks very good. There are very large eyes and flowing hair, and flowers everywhere, but the panels are clean and flow well, and the shading is quite well-done.

Summary: One day a little girl learns that her parents have died. The grade-school-age girl wanders the rain-soaked streets of her hometown with no distinct purpose. Drenched in rainwater and tears, she finds herself by a river and thows herself in. Suddenly a man appears- her prince- and he rescues her, banishes her tears, and tells her to grow up strong and noble. From then on she strives to grow up to be a prince just like him! (back cover of the 1st volume of the Animerica edition)

Review: The Revolutionary Girl Utena anime is infamous for being laden with symbolism, screwing with your expectations and often your mind, and being good. The manga that it’s based on also is quite fascinating, presenting a different side to things that the anime either changes or emphasizes. Utena and Anthy are recognizeable characters- Anthy, a gentle and sweet outsider, and Utena takes on a role that’s usually delegated to the men in being cool and daring, someone who would melt girl’s hearts without even realizing it.

Utena’s background is briefly fleshed out, coming to the Academy because her aunt is moving away and the postcards she often recieves pointing the way to where her Prince awaits. The themes of lost love and sacrifice show up early on and begin weaving themselves into the story as Utena discovers the Student Council, and as the days go by, she’s challenged to defeat them one by one.

Each duel highlights the personalities of the members of the Student Council, why they want the power to revolutionize the world. Since their personalities are shallow to begin with though the flaws run deep, the brief time they are given works well- you get a good sense of who they are even through the various other short times they appear. What doesn’t work well is how quickly and deeply Utena’s relationship with Anthy grows. Utena becomes more protective of Anthy as each duel occurs, yet their day to day interactions are skimmed on. The brief glimpses we get of why Anthy starts softening up are good, but not enough to really empathize.

With the growth of their relationship comes the intrusion of another one- the power that’s been controlling the game from the beginning. Utena’s beliefs and love is rocked by someone who could very well be the Prince… but is he? The ending is quite clear on what’s happening, what the origins of the duels are, and why Utena was brought to the school, but there are still various questions that are left lingering afterward. Even so, there are a lot of things made clear that manage to put the events in perspective and give a lot of meaning to the story. There are a number of things that are different from the anime, but it manages to be a solid story in it’s own right.

Overall, while I don’t think this is the best incarnation of the Revolutionary Girl Utena story, this still manages to be engaging and throws a light on the symbolism of the anime.

Recommended: 15+. There is the implication of incest and sex and some sexual symbolism- nothing inappropriate is shown, but it’s clear enough to pick up on. There is also a non-gory death, and some blood is spilled.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Revolutionary Girl Utena (anime and movie)

Maruwaru Penguindrum (anime)

Shigofumi (anime)

Princess Tutu (anime)

After School Nightmare (manga)

“The Song In My Heart” – Voiceful (manga) – 7/10 Streamers

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.  ~Chinese Proverb

Mangaka: Nawoko

Genre: Romance/Shoujo-Ai

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

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

Art: It’s pretty plain in the backgrounds, like most shoujo, but the character designs are adorable, with some good shading, and the art shows a great sense of movement, especially in how the hair and the clothes ‘move’ in the wind.

Summary: Meet Kanae, an introvert about to have her life transformed in the most unusual way- through music. Kanae’s transformation begins when she accidentally bumps into Hina, an independent singer who releases her music via the internet. As the girls become good friends, they quickly find that they’ve become one another’s inspiration- in more ways than one! (back cover)

Review: I admit to picking this up blindly n my local library because I thought it looked adorable. To my great surprise, this followed through on that promise- two girls meet by fate, and through the encouragement of one, they both overcome some of their own issues. If ever there was a story that was light on the romance, this is it. It’s about two girls who have issues, but those issues compliment each other’s. It’s nice, because you can see how one’s stregnths help them reach out and encourage the other, and howa few simple words can reach another person’s heart.

Watching their relationship grow is really sweet and innocent- there isn’t even a kiss. They act like sisters, like friends, but little interactions let you know that their feelings are a little more- like showing up for a big event. And when one decides to make a big change, the other comes and gives all her support, even with some of the doubts she has. That’s a relationship, and I was so happy to see that instead of romantic drama that usually is drawn out to make a story longer than it needs to be. Voiceful doesn’t waste a page, with tight storytelling and a sweet story to boot.

Overall, even though this was short, it was a sincere (and sincerely) good love story.

Recommended: 10+. It’s mentioned that there was abuse in Hina’s home, and you see the entirely covered body of her sister.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Strawberry Shake Sweet (manga)

“Someone Watching Over Me” – Maria Watches Over Us, Season 1 (anime) – 8/10 Snowballs

 

The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson. ~Tom Bodett

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama/School/Shoujo Ai

Review Status: Complete (13 Episodes/13 Episodes)

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

Art/Animation: This has some very nice character designs, all of the girls looking very distinctive and unique. Little details make their way into each episode that really make it stand out, like how Yumi’s hair bows are a different color every day- that show that the artists and animators were really caring about how this looked, since it’s so easy to make all the characters look the same when they’re in the same uniform 90% of the time. The background work is lovely, to boot, with a good amount of detail and color.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub.

Summary: When Yumi Fukuzawa entered the Lillian Girls’ Academy, a prestigious all-girls Catholic school in Tokyo, she never imagined she would catch the eye of beautiful and demure Sachiko Ogasawara, one of the school’s most popular students. Now Sachiko has offered to be Yumi’s soeur, her “sister” and guide for all her years at the academy. The whole idea has Yumi completely flustered – after all, they hardly know each other!

The entire campus is abuzz with rumors about the two of them, but Yumi is conflicted over accepting Sachiko’s offer. While she admires Sachiko, being her soeur would also mean constantly being at the center of the entire school’s attention! (RightStuf)

Review: Catholic schools are things of mystery and wonder to many. What exactly goes on behind those walls? Are they hotbeds of sin? Places of arcane Christian tradition? Add the idea of being single-sex and you’ve got something that could be one wild ride! Maria Watches Over Us answers many of these questions very simply- they are regular schools, where regular students go to, with the sexual politics that come with being girls-only.

Within the walls of this particular school, you have the addition of Japanese sensibilities of rank and honor to contend with, the apprenticeship of younger girls to learn how to be proper students and women to the older students. The members of the student council must be the greatest examples of them all. Maria Watches Over Us follows Yumi as she explores those relationships, discovering the different types of relationships that they have, from those that are sisterly, to those like close friends, to the ones that are almost purely mentorship. Each pair of Soeurs brings something different to the Student Council, creating an interesting and ever-changing dynamic as the characters grow and change and graduate.

The plot revolves around said relationships, and what changes them and the people in them are various events in the school that create drama and tension for the characters. While the timeline in the first season is quite out of order- creating an issue since in later seasons time is shown to pass quite normally,  and making little sense because of how the relationships change through the year- the relationships progress naturally as Yumi gets to know her peers better through council events and being in the same class as one. The school play, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and a scandal that rocks the school all provide a look into the lives and personalities of the members, bringing to light that they’re all quite unique characters and stand out in their own ways.

Watching Yumi try to deal with them is cause for comedy and drama. Friends with the (not so) gentle Yoshino, intimidated by the aloof Sachiko, fodder for the nonconformist Sei, her life among the girls is never quite peaceful! There’s a reason why Maria Watches Over Us is considered one of the best Shoujo-Ai anime out there, though, since there are only vague undertones and occasional jokes made about it, never made light of when one of the girls is revealed to definitely be a lesbian, the sorrow and tragedy of her story played out with respect. This show manages to make the stories and drama work, set to lovely classical music illustrated by the change of seasons.

Overall, this is a quiet piece that manages to make the dramatic (and sometimes melodramatic) work.

Recommended: 13+. If you’re not okay with Shoujo-Ai, then this anime is not for you.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Maria Watches Over US (seasons 2, 3, 4)

Aoi Hana (anime and manga)

Aria (anime and manga)