“What’s New, Pussycat?” – Nineteen, Twenty-One (manhwa) – 10/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Hye Jin Kim (Art), Na Che (Art), Han Yu (Story)

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: This is unlicensed in the US.

Art: This is done in a fairly typical manhwa style, but in lovely pastels and with a delicate watercolor look.

Summary: Yun-lee is a girl who is carrying a huge emotional scar in her heart. Due to an accident, she lost 2 precious years of her life, the time period between 19 and 21 years old. Her life is empty. She is miserable, but still attending a preparatory school in an attempt to catch up with all the time she has lost. Suddenly, one day on her way to feed some stray cats, she comes across a young man who seems to have what she has lost… the period between 19 and 21 years old. (Easy Going Scans)

Review: What do cats have to do with love? No, this is not a trick question. Sometimes we have an interest that guides a lot of our interactions with people and how we deal with them. For Yun-lee, this happens to be cats. She loves cats. She’ll feed the strays with any spare cash that she has, and does what she can. It’s especially important for her since she’s missed out on a good chunk of her life and feels disconnected from other people her age – she missed out on her 20th birthday, a huge celebration of adulthood.

Where does this leave her? That’s what she’s trying to find out. The only beings she feels any connection with are the stray cats that she feeds every day…and later, a nineteen-year-old boy that she discovers has also been taking care of them. The dialogue between them is loaded with double-meaning. It can be read either as a simple tale of two people falling in love, or as one about these two finding their place in life. With all that going on, I had to read it twice just to catch everything! The use of the cats and metaphor was very subtle and very appreciated since short stories often don’t manage it with the space they have.

Some of the issues it hits tend towards the cliché (dealing with nosy/rude neighbors, trying to find them a home), but tend to be dealt with rather ingeniously. It also never comes off as being shoehorned in for the sake of the story. The ending was also as good as I could hope for. Things aren’t left completely open-ended, instead opting for solid, almost fairly-tale like ‘and they lived happily ever after’, but with a few caveats. They know that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy but are willing to keep trying anyway. It was wonderfully touching.

Overall, I adored this little romance romp for pet-lovers.

Recommended: 9+. The worst thing in here is how one of the cats dies from being hit by a car, but there’s no gore to speak of. It’s clean, clean, clean besides that! Younger readers probably won’t appreciate the finer points of the story, though.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Honey and Clover (anime or manga)

Someday’s Dreamers (manga or anime)

“Easy As Pie” – Antique Bakery (anime) – 7/10 Peeps

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Shoujo/Shounen-ai(?)/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

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

Art/Animation: I can’t say much for the OP, because it’s carboard cut-outs against a dollhouse background, but the actual series looks quite good. It’s a more airy/sketchy look to it, rather along the lines of Honey and Clover, and in light pastels, though the backgrounds are often CG and not quite as nice-looking as the characters. You do get used to it, but it is disconcerting at first. The animation is very good. Since it’s a slice-of-life series, the budget is used to make things look nice, and it works.

Summary: A high school crush, a world-class pastry chef, a former middle-weight boxing champion… and a whole lot of cake!
Ono has come a long way since the agonizing day in high school when he confessed his love to handsome Tachibana. Now, some 14 years later Ono, a world-class pastry chef and gay playboy has it all. No man can resist Ono’s charms (or his cooking skills!) but he has just found a new position under a man named Tachibana. Can this be the only man who resisted his charms, and if so, will the man who once snubbed the “magically gay” Ono get his just deserts? And how in the heck did a former middleweight boxing champion wind up as Ono’s cake boy? (DigitalMangaPublishing)

Review: This has the cutest opening I’ve seen in a while. No, seriously, check it out!

It’s sweet and adorable (instead of looking cheap, like I had worried), and serves as a fantastic intro into a series that has the iffiest premise I’ve ever come across: A man who was kidnapped and forced to eat cake as a child ends up opening a bakery to find the man. It’s terribly strange, and if this wasn’t filled with handsome men baking delicious things, I might have turned this off right then and there. Thankfully, this wasn’t as ridiculous as it seemed to be, even though there are a number of moments that are… less than realistic.

This is mainly a character-driven story, and gives the impression that it’s shounen-ai off the first episode when Keiichiro ends up asking Yusuke whether he would work for him. Yusuke comes right out and says that Keiichiro used to bully him because he was gay and that he was madly in love with Keiichiro. Keiichiro has absolutely no interest in him however, but Yusuke gives into the pleas because it gives him a chance to show off his baking skills. And because he’s such a player that he can’t work anywhere else. But the staff isn’t complete yet! Chikage, a bodyguard that’s a touch slow, ends up becoming a waiter  (and love interest of Yusuke, but that’s minor). And the cast is rounded out by Eiji, a young man that desperately wants to make sweets and ends up becoming Yusuke’s apprentice.

The majority of this show is really the everyday happenings around the bakery, from developing a new cake, to being featured on televisiton, to sending Eiji away to learn more. And these things really are a lot of fun to see. The parts where it stumbles are on Yusuke’s personal life, because it’s so absolutely full of drama that it’s ridiculous. I suppose there’s something to be said about depicting how terrible abusive relationships are, but it’s still very out of place with the rest of the show. I’m also not fond of the kidnapper sotryline. It really highlights how silly the premise is overall. But… there are parts of it that really made my day, like tracking down people meant delivering cakes in ridiculous costumes as well as being asked to do truly difficult pastries. So while it was far from perfect, at least the kidnapper arc had a number of redeeming things.

For 11 episodes, though, it was too much time wasted and a little too much drama for what really should mostly have been an upbeat show.

Overall, it was fun and a decent series. Rate higher if you’re really fond of drama involving handsome men.

Recommended: 18+. Implied sex between two men, along with some partial nudity. There’s a series of murders of little boys happening (we never see them die, but it’s impied offscreen). Someone gets stabbed, and you do see some blood.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Ristorante Paradiso (anime)

Bartender (anime or manga)

Sommelière (manga)

“Making Life Sweeter” – Honey And Clover, Season 1 (anime) – 10/10 Peeps

Genre: School/Slice of Life/Romance/Drama/Josei

Review Status: Complete (24 Episodes/24 Episodes)

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

Art/Animation: This goes for more sketch-like art and done in pastels. It’s kind of artsy itself. Most everyone and everything looks delicate, and works in so many ways. The chibis are also incredibly cute. The animation is more than adequate as well – it looks great.

Summary: What do you get when you cross creativity with self-discovery and unrequited love? Art school! Yuta Takemoto has no idea what’s in store for his life when he enrolls at a Tokyo art college, but he finds out right away it’ll never be dull! Love triangles form as fast as friendships when both Takemoto and senior classmage Shinobu Morita fall hard for she artistic prodigy Hagumi Hanamo. And while architecture student Takumi Mayama secretly pines for an older woman, dazzling ceraicist Ayumi Yamada pines for him! Confused yet? (back cover of first DVD set)

Review: There aren’t that many Josei anime out there, which makes this a real treasure since it tops most other josei in legnth and depth. This series decides to explore growth against the backdrop of college, which a lot of people can relate to, and in a twist through the eyes of Yuta, a young man who is making his way through it all. He’s living in a run-down apartment building with several other students. He’s worried about his money, focusing on his studies, and just living life as it comes. With the injection of Hagumi into his world, things start changing little by little.

This is slice of life in the most serious of ways. The cast of characters is HUGE, from the old art teacher who’s desperately trying to get Shinobu to graduate to Takumi’s coworkers, and relationship quirks and changes happen over time. It’s astounding to see it flow so naturally and hard to pinpoint how expactly they grow, the little things that you *know* but can’t really say. Everything seems fine on the surface at the beginning between them all. Harumi doesn’t seem to be that big a deal, even if it’s made clear in the beginning that both Shinobu and Yuta have love at first sight.

And, quite frankly, there’s a lot of missteps for both of them. Shinobu has an eternal quest for money, and disappears for days -weeks – months on end with no notice. At school he’s as carefree as anything, but that also makes him a tad insensitive to the feelings and desires of others. Because we see it through Yuta’s eyes, he’s self-aware that he is more interested than normal in Hagumi, but he never makes a move himself. He’s too unsure of himself, and rather intimidated because he notices little things happening around her that build his suspicions that he’s not the only person that’s longing for her, from a wooden badge to a new pair of shoes that Harumi discovers. But when it comes down to the line, neither have the will or words to tell her that they’re in love with her, though Harumi only has eyes for Shinobu, even with Yuta by her side and an ever-constant friend.

At the same time, another love triangle brews. Takumi is in love with an older woman who lost her husband in a car accident. She didn’t go looking for love, but Takumi nonetheless fell for her. But she doesn’t think that Takumi can be with her, and even though he does his best, he is turned away. His best friend Ayumi has always been in love with him, and she doesn’t hide it very well. However, Takumi can’t love her back. It just can’t happen.

Every bit of this happens against the backdrop of school and life. Takumi graduates and finds his way into an architectural company that sends him out into the world. Ayumi graduates, but with her skills she can stick around the campus and make great works of art, establishing herself as a reliable artist and starting to make a living. Between these and the things Shinobu is becoming famous for, it’s a constant cloud reminding them that college life can’t last and that they need to figure out what they will do with their lives and why. Yuta grows more and more frustrated by his own choice, unable to figure out how he’s going to support himself with it. And Harumi grows more and more involved with her own art, but in the back of her mind she worries about her cousin and how she can ever repay him for what he’s done for her.

Overall, this is a fabulous anime. While not complete – there’s a second season to wrap things up – this is a fabulous first half that really manages to be sensitive about love and how complicated relationships can be.

Recommended: 16+. This is mostly clean – almost entirely clean – and while the handfull of swears isn’t really the big concern, the one instance of implied sex is. It’s not graphic, but you do get the strong implications.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Moyashimon (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

Ano Hana (anime)

Kids on the Slope (anime or manga)

Welcome to the NHK (anime or manga)

Genshiken (anime or manga)

Tatami Galaxy (anime)

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

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

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

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Bamboo Blade (anime or manga)

Hikaru no Go (anime or manga)

Girls Und Panzer (anime)

Chihayafuru (anime or manga)

Moshidora (anime)

Big Windup (anime)

“Jazz Hands” – Kids on the Slope (anime) – 9/10 Desks

Genre: School/Romance/Slice of Life/Historical/Josei

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: Yes, it’s licensed by Sentai and available for free viewing on Crunchyroll.

Art/Animation: Fantastic! This has some standard character designs, but the animation is top-notch. The care that they took animating all the music scenes is very evident. I even think that the fingerings and technique for the instruments is correct! Watching this is an absolute treat for the eyes.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime.

Summary: The beginning of summer, 1966. Because of his father’s job situation, freshman high school student Kaoru Nishimi moves by himself from Yokosuka to Kyushu to live with relatives. Until then, Kaoru was an honor roll student who tended to keep to himself, but meeting notorious bad boy Sentaro Kawabuchi starts to change him. Through his devil-may-care classmate, Kaoru learns the attractions of jazz and finds the first person he can call a “friend”. He also discovers how much fun it is to play music with a pal.  Other characters include Sentaro’s kind childhood chum, Ritsuko, who is the daughter of a record shop owner; the mysterious upperclassman, Yurika; and Brother Jun, the much-admired leader among their peers. Set against the backdrop of a seaside town with a scent of American culture, this series is a drama about young people coming into their own, crossing each other’s paths, and finding friendship, love, and music! (Official Website)

Review: What does jazz have to do with anything? At first, nothing. Kaoru, a gifted classical pianist, is living with his relatives and joining a new school. He’s been moving around for most of his life, and because of it has no interest in making friends with anybody. After all, he’d just have to leave them again. However, after a chance encounter with Sentarou, a headstrong drummer, and Ritsuko, the daughter of a local music shop owner, Kaoru is drawn into jazz, and his encounters with the people there change him forever.

As melodramatic as that sounds, that is the most basic description of this anime that I can give. There’s school competitions, love quadrangles, family squabbles, all of which play out in Kids on the Slope. The name is no mistake – they go to school on a dreaded hill that they must climb every day. They meet at the top of the hill, almost by accident. Sentarou is a bit of a delinquent and a loner, only really interacting with Ritsuko, his childhood friend. Kaoru would have left him well enough alone if he hadn’t had a passing interest in Ritsuko, and curiosity would drive him to the underground practice room (awesome speakeasy themes going on there!) where Ritsuko’s dad, a family friend, and Sentarou play their hearts out. And what do they play? Jazz.

This is really what brings Kaoru out of his shell. He’s intimidated by their playing, so different from his own classical music, and feels challenged enough to grab a record and try it for himself, practicing until he’s note-perfect. And so he joins the little underground band, and so things begin to change.

I’m both surprised and pleased that Kids on the Slope managed a decently complex plot (relationship-wise, at least) and resolved most of it in 12 episodes. I’ve seen simpler ones that could barely get over and done with in 26! Kaoru is in love with Ritsuko, while she is in love with Sentarou, while he falls for Yurika, and Yurika has the hots for Junichi. It seems like there’s no way for this to end happily, right? Wrong! Yurika is no wilting flower and lets her feelings be known, and while that leaves Sentarou in the dust, the way that this couple managed to get together was one of the most touching and romantic I’ve seen. There were no flowers, there were no melodramatics…it was simplicity in it’s purest form, and it worked.

However, that brought about a whole lot of issues characters had about their families. Sentarou is alone, even with a bajillion siblings to take care of, and that rejection hits him where it hurts. He’s not as carefree as he lets on, and this is where it starts to show. Against a background of jazz competition and tension over Ritsuko, Sentarou becomes the main player and a tragic figure in his own right.

This is where I start having issues with the show. I have no problems with the music, I have no problems with the characters, I have no problems with the plot…except when it starts winding down to the ending. Religion never really played a part in this show, though Sentarou and Ritsuko were shown to be Christian early on, and it was made to seem like it would play a bigger part. However, it’s not until the ending that we get how it plays into Sentarou’s life, and then not very satisfactorily. The same can be said for how Ristuko and Kaoru’s relationship works out. Things are really left hanging, with lots of unanswered questions. I can deal with those – often I’m far more approving than others seem to be – but here it just doesn’t work.

However, I can’t deny that for all that, I really was moved by the ending. Something about seeing them as joyful as when they were teens just brought me to tears. I have no issue about it…just about how things were left hanging in that time gap. It really is a great show, and definitely works on the strength of the characters’ relationships. They don’t feel fake or forced, and work out in a way that really does feel fairly natural and real, something that’s desperately needed in a saturation anime that is utterly teen fantasy.

Overall, this is a fantastic series that might not do everything right, but it does a lot of it great!

Recommended: 13+. At one point, Yurika asks Junichi why he didn’t have sex with her, and there is some child abuse talked about. During one performance a US sailor tells them to not play any (insert slur here) jazz – in keeping with the time it’s placed in, but could throw the unwary off. Other than that, this is a very clean series.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Beck (anime and manga)

NANA (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

“Men In Space” – Saturn Apartments (manga) – 10/10 Desks

The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in. ~ Robert Heinlein

Mangaka: Hisae Iwaoka

Genre: Drama/Sci=fi/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Incomplete (3 Volumes/? Volumes)

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

Art: It has a more light hand to it, with a few more cartoon-ish proportions, but most definitely manga style!

Summary: Far in the future, humankind has evacuated the Earth in order to preserve it. Humans now reside in a gigantic structure that forms a ring around the Earth, thirty-five kilometers up in the sky. The society of the ring is highly stratified: the higher the floor, the greater the status. Mitsu, the lowly son of a window washer, has just graduated junior high. When his father disappears and is assumed dead, Mitsu must take on his father’s occupation. As he struggles with the transition to working life, Mitsu’s job treats him to an outsider’s view into the various living-room dioramas of the Saturn Apartments. (Viz)

Review: I’m fond of sci-fi, I’m fond of slice-of-life, and this manga manages to merge them both with fantastic finesse. This is as much a study of characters in a strange environment as it is a story about living in space. Mitsu, the star of the series, is living in a highly class-driven society. There are few chances to better one’s station, and knowing that he has to earn his way, ends up in the same job his father did many years before… before his safety rope snapped and he hurtled down to the earth. Mitsu has his own reasons for checking out the scene of the crime outside the station; he wonders whether his father was a victim of circumstance or whether he gave into the allure of seeing the Earth first-hand, something that was forbidden long ago due to the damage humans caused it.

His job as window washer puts him in a unique position. Even though he’s of the lowest class, he sees and deals with the windows of the higher class most often, since they’re usually the only ones that can afford the window-washing prices. This provides unique opportunities to sort-of interact with them and even start to make friends. At the same time, the rare opportunity to clean for the lower classes lets him fill dreams. Only about half the series involves his job, though; a solid half involves exploring various parts of the space station, explaining how things work, and dealing with what it means to be a window cleaner on a space station that’s so divided.

The characters play into that a lot. They aren’t particularly deep, but they play an important part in Mitsu’s life. They are a constant commentary on how he’s like his father, each dealing with their own effects of the death. Many of the people he works there were also on the job when his father fell. That doesn’t mean he’s a carbon copy, by any means. He can’t keep his head down like the others – his friendships forged with others make him a target for alienation, both from the people on his own level and those from the higher stations. It goes from just being ignored to later on some outright hostility and prejudice. It’s becoming more obvious that his job and the class conflict will clash more often, but how that will happen and what the trigger will be is still up in the air. However, he’s still slowly becoming a liason between the classes, and his interactions and friendships are wonderful to watch develop.

Overall, this is one of the most laid-back slice of life series I’ve ever read. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions and characters, as well as a fascinating socio-economic dynamic that brings up a lot of interesting questions and ideas. Definitely a great series!

Recommended: 10+. There really isn’t anything objectionable in here except the mention of how the main’s dad died, and a mention that one of the neighbors is dying. It deals with these very sensitively.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Twin Spica (manga)

Planetes (manga and anime)

Aria (anime and manga)

Space Brothers (anime and manga)

Uchuu no Stellvia (anime)

“A Star Above Me” – The Star of Cottonland (Anime) – 9/10 Sunflowers

Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.  ~Albert Einstein

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Fantasy

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

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

Art/Animation: This does look it’s age a bit, with character designs that are more 90’s than anything, but the animation is just fine

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub.

Summary: A kitten is picked up by a young man, and she lives daily life in wonder and love of her new family.

Review: Chi’s Sweet Home, move over! This takes a different, more fantastical look at a cat trying to find a home and family than Chi’s does, but is no less heartwarming or sweet. We see the world through Chibi-neko’s eyes, and to her cats look like smaller versions of people, which makes her think that when she gets older she’ll turn into a human and gives her slightly romantic feelings to the man who takes her in and brings up some interesting conflict in the family she’s adopted into – the son, who’s looking for something to really live for, and his mother, who’s both allergic to and afraid of cats.

This really knows how to tug at your heartstrings from the very beginning, where Chibi-neko is starving, but no one can take her in or even realizes how hungry she is. She’s saved by a boy that has been through troubles that have taken all the fight and spirit out of him. Chibi-neko gives him that, which makes his mother willing to tolerate the cat – wanting to tolerate the cat, even going so far as to beg her husband to let it stay – but unable to love the cat herself.

Chibi-neko’s life becomes full of everyday adventures, from going to the park, to meeting other cats, to shennanigans in trying to become human. It’s charming, low-key, and sometimes outright laugh-out-loud worthy! But things can’t stay the same forever. She still remembers her old owners, and the attention and affection of her owner is taken by a lovely young lady. To boot, a mysterious Persian cat is being pursued by a local cat collector, and that Persian wants her to go away with him and travel Japan. A mix of conflicted feelings over her owner’s new girlfriend and a desire to know who she is leads her on an adventure to find Persia, and in turn, herself. She finally comes to peace with the fact that she’ll never be human, and becomes content over her life. And in turn, the turmoil in the home comes to a head – and one of the most touching scenes happens between Chibi-neko and the mother.

The dark part to this stoy is that mortality is dealt with in order to show her how misguided her feelings toward her owner. The mysterious Persian shows her the dessicated corpse of another cat to show her what happens to cats when they get old enough. She is brought into a confrontation over her own desires to be with her family – how she can be with her family – and later, the Persian disappears (dies. It’s pretty firmly given that he’s dead though it’s never stated). But even though it’s direct and blunt about this, it isn’t done in a gruesome or obnoxious way. It’s very sensitive to how shocking and terrifying facing mortality can be, and there is comfort found later in the series.

Overall, this is an adorable but rather deep story of a cat finding herself.

Recommended: 10+. There is a minor scene where Chibi-neko is taken to see the dessicated corpse of another cat, but it’s not a graphic, gorey scene though it could make younger viewers anxious. There’s another scene where she’s gotten out of the house and doesn’t know where to go to the bathroom, and she’s directed to a nearby bush. This is not poop-joke fodder, nor do you see her going or anything like that – it’s simply taken as a fact of life. Some parents might also be put off by how an older cat takes an interest in Chibi-neko when she looks like a child, but it does bear in mind that animals age differently than humans, and you see the difference between her (at 2 months) and another cat who’s 5 months old, and he clearly is a teen verging on adulthood. She’d age similarly quickly, and it’s made clear the older cat is interested in her as an adult.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Chi’s Sweet Home (anime and manga)

“H2O and H2SO4” – Perfect Chemistry (Visual Novel) – 9/10 Sunflowers

Genre: School/Romance

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: This is available for free download on Ren’Py

Art: I definitely was a fan of the character designs. They aren’t quite professional-level, but they are cute! While the backgrounds are nothing to write home about, they’re perfectly fine for the story.

Summary: Sara’s chemistry partner has recently had ex-girlfriend issues. Could Sara’s involvement be the start of their relationship?

Review: This is one of the VNs that make me take hope in homemade ones. Honestly, this has a lot of things going for it – the story is very fleshed-out, taking place over the course of a few weeks, there are a number of different paths and endings, the writing is pretty good, and it looks and runs well. I was pretty impressed with how they managed to make a screen with text messages pop up, and the story flow? Thumbs-up! It was interesting to note how the answers to get the ‘good ending’ weren’t always obvious, which I thought was pretty neat.

I don’t have that many complaints. The story was interesting – I thought Sara was very relatable and utterly charming, while her love interest seemed pretty realistic. None of the situations seem very out-there, and honestly? This is one of the most slice-of-life stories I’ve come across in the slice-of-life genre. It really does seem like something that could happen in real life! There are pop quizzes, text messages, a nosy brother, and ex-girlfriend drama! But none of it is overplayed. That being said, in a few places the dialogue dd drag a little. There were a few places where there was a lot of dialogue with little to no plot advancement, which made me a little bored. This is probably personal preference, since this could easily be a very fine, solid fleshing out to other players.

I did enjoy the endings, and seeing how making a different choice in one part could give me an entirely different ending. I enjoyed that there were a number of different endings possible, though getting them all was an… interesting adventure! Sometimes all it took was one different choice in one of the last menu screens to change everything. But I feel that all the different endings were good, and realistic, very much in-keeping with the setting and characters.

Overall, if you’re looking for a sweet slice-of-life VN, this is the one to go for!

Recommended: 10+. There’s nothing shocking or inappropriate going on here.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Kimi ni Todoke (anime)

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

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

Mangaka: Mitsuru Adachi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Touch (manga)

H2 (manga)

“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)

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