Status: Ongoing (currently 3 volumes)
My rating: 2.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience. This is at least a hard T+ with lots of fanservice. Fair warning.
Yata is an average student going to school on scholarship and desperately in need of a cheap place to stay. She finds one, but her five roommates are, well, different. As in, not human. But hey, the rent’s cheap. She’ll make it work, right?
I have so many mixed feelings about Mononoke Sharing. By the same author as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, this story shares the messy-cute art style and the light-hearted slice-of-life comedy with a supernatural element of that manga. But Mononoke Sharing is a lot less serious–not so much the drama and deep backstories and such, more goofy slapstick and waaaay more sexual content and ecchiness and flat-out fanservice. The fanservice aspect is one reason that I didn’t like this so much; it’s just too much. Plus, I’m not so much into that sort of humor. This story has been described as “oddball,” “over-the-top,” and “raunchy,” and yeah, all of those descriptors fit. But at the same time, I love the concept–a human dumped in a house full of yokai, or mononoke as they’re called here, and just doing life with them. As with Miss Kobayashi, the whole otherworldly-beings-interacting-with-normal-life aspect is intriguing and amusing. And the relationships that are developed between these roommates can be quite sweet at times. I also really loved that, while this story included some more commonly seen beings such as a devil and a kitsune, it also included less common ones such as a kappa, a yuki-onna, and even a stretchy-necked rokurokubi. They’re interesting characters, even if some aspects of their character design are so physics-defying as to be frankly annoying and very weird. So yeah, mixed feelings. . . .
Mangaka: Aya Shouto
Status: Ongoing (currently 12 volumes)
My rating: 4.5 of 5
When she turns sixteen, orphan Himari Momochi mysteriously receives a will stating she’s inherited her family’s ancestral home, Momochi House. Not that she thinks to question it much; it’s a true windfall, and she cheerily packs her bags and sets off into the mountains to move in. Only, once she arrives, she finds this mysterious boy Aoi is already living there, claiming to be the house’s guardian, along with a variety of yokai. Because apparently the house is on the border between the human world and the otherworld, a gateway of sorts. Not one to be so easily discouraged, Himari determinedly declares she’s the house’s landlady and tries to get the squatters to leave . . . only to be confronted with the fact that Aoi literally cannot leave the premises since he’s been chosen as the house’s guardian. Well, Himari’s not about to leave either, even if it does mean she has to share her home and deal with whatever weirdness comes through from the otherworld. And believe me, the weirdness is just beginning.
Personally, I find The Demon Prince of Momochi House well worth reading for the gorgeousness of its art alone, especially the color spreads at the beginning of each volume. Absolutely stunning. As for the story itself, well, I’m almost tempted to think of it as xxxHOLiC lite. You’ve got all these encounters with traditional Japanese yokai and suchlike, as well as other traditional folklore, all set in this mysterious house on the border between worlds. Yeah, sound familiar? But instead of this dark josei sort of flavor, you’ve got something much more traditionally shoujo. Bishounen galore–and it’s only Himari’s fixation with Aoi that keeps this from becoming some kind of reverse-harem situation–for one. A tendency for shoujo tropes, gentle romance, and a generally lighter tone in spite of going to some dark places at times. Oh, and Himari is a pretty classic shoujo heroine–innocent, romantic, stubborn, slightly blonde, and a total do-gooder. But she’s pretty likeable for all that. And Aoi’s mysterious dark past (and sometimes present) kind of counterbalances her air-headed sweetness. Shouto-sensei actually does quite a good job at making the characters more nuanced than you’d expect, especially through their facial expressions. I really love Aoi’s variety of expression in particular; well, I love his character in general, so there’s that too. Currently there’s a lot of uncertainty still as far as where the story will go, but it’s shoujo enough that I’m hoping for a sweet, satisfying end. I’m certainly curious where the story will go from here.
Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki/Translator: Adrienne Beck
Status: Ongoing (7 volumes currently)
My rating: 5 of 5
For her entire life, Chise Hatori has been able to see fey and spirits, beings that no one around her was even aware of. You can imagine the troubles she’s had because of it. Now she finds herself orphaned and sold at auction to a strange magus with a rather horrifying skull-like visage. But surprisingly, Elias (the magus) doesn’t want to just use her for her powers–although it turns out she has some rather rare and significant powers indeed. Rather, he invites her to live with him in his home in England and apprentice under him. And gradually, Chise blossoms, going from a sad old woman convinced she brings misfortune to everyone around her to the youthful girl she should be, capable of loving and caring for those around her with a smile. And she’s not the only one who’s changing because of her presence there.
Apologies for the cruddy summary; this has to be one of the weirdest and most difficult to summarize stories I’ve come across to date. One of the reasons I’ve not read this before–most of the summaries I’d read sounded pretty awful. The trouble is that The Ancient Magus’ Bride is different from basically any manga I’ve read before, although there are certainly elements that remind me of other stories. It has a good bit of back story that develops gradually, for one thing. Also, a great deal of the story is a gradually developing drama that reads almost like a slice-of-life story–just with magic, lots and lots of magic. I really love the flavor of the magic that’s used here; it’s heavily tinged with older English folklore, enough so that it’s easy to forget sometimes that this is actually set in contemporary England. I would say that the story’s flavor is equal parts Fullmetal Alchemist (which is totally weird, I know), xxxHOLiC, and English folklore–it sounds crazy, but it’s a really beautiful combination in practice, kind of a josei/seinen magical slice-of-life story. I absolutely love the way the characters grow and develop over the course of the story, as well as the ways their relationships change over time. It’s both heartwarming and dynamic. The art goes along with this well, being unique and attractive in a clean, seinen sort of way. I would highly recommend The Ancient Magus’ Bride, and I look forward to what the mangaka will bring with the remaining volumes.
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
My rating: 5 of 5
The year is 1242, and one dark evening a disconnected group of travelers find themselves together in a small French countryside inn, trading stories to pass the time. Surprisingly, the one evening it seems that all their stories are part of a larger story, a story of three children with seemingly miraculous powers and their faithful dog who is revered as a saint by local peasants. And the tale doesn’t end with the miracles these children have performed, for the very king of France has now declared war against these children. Perhaps, through their interwoven tales, the travelers can puzzle out why such a thing would be.
I was deeply impressed by Gidwitz’s work on The Inquisitor’s Tale. The story is obviously well researched, emulating a storytelling style similar to that of Chaucer’s tales (but in prose), which adds an air of authenticity. It also makes the development of the plot quite interesting, although the pace is slower than that of many tales because of the style. The story draws heavily on both historical research and on the saints tales and folklore of the day, creating a tale that is equal parts historical fiction and fantasy. It’s quite appealing. Also appealing are the characters and the manner in which they develop over the course of the book, particularly after the four of them begin traveling together. Oddly enough, the author does at times choose to use terms which wouldn’t have been common (or even known at all) in 1242–like “allergic” for instance; however, this practice does serve to keep the writing more colloquial, which fits the setting. One of the most powerful and poignant aspects of this story is the way in which it addresses the issues of ignorance and hatred of the alien that were present in that particular place and time, discussing these issues in a way that makes the reader sorely aware of the similarity there is to the discord present in our own day. A painful reminder that we could save so much heartache if we could just learn from history. I also appreciated the way in which complex and difficult theological ideas were incorporated into the story and the way in which the plot tended, ultimately, towards hope and encouraging the reader to be the change we want to see in the world. Demographically, The Inquisitor’s Tale is intended for an upper middle-grade audience, but I think it is an incredible story for anyone that age or older.
Author: Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Thirteen-year-old Jenny is anything but happy about her mother’s remarriage–to an Englishman, no less!–the acquisition of two new stepbrothers, and their move from New York City across the ocean to an old farm in Dorset, England. Not that she was happy about much at that point in her life, except maybe her beloved cat, Mister Cat. It didn’t help that Evan, Jenny’s new stepfather, was actually a really nice guy, one who tried to get along with her and make things work. And little could any of them expect the things they would encounter in Dorset once they arrived–ghosts and boggarts and the like–and Jenny would encounter more than the rest combined. Because it was at that old farm in Dorset that Jenny met Tamsin, a lonely girl who had been dead for hundreds of years and who would become one of Jenny’s closest friends.
I very much enjoyed Beagle’s classic story, The Last Unicorn, and so I was thrilled to find he had published other works, among them this enchanting story, Tamsin. In some ways, this book is similar to what I had read before–it’s a thoughtful fantasy that looks deeply into the thoughts and motives of its characters. But in that it is set in our own contemporary world, seen through the eyes of a young girl, it is very different. Jenny is a wonderful character, not because she’s so good, but because she’s so real. She says in the story that you forget what it’s like to be thirteen, because you have to in order to survive. It’s true, you know? But she’s so clear a picture of all the raw emotions and unsettledness of that age that you can remember, just for a few minutes. And I think it’s important to remember, just as it’s important to be able to forget and move on–and yes, I know that sentence doesn’t make sense at all, but it’s no less true for all that. The choices Jenny makes, the way she sees things, and the growth that occurs in her throughout the story are all a huge part of what makes this book so good. Added to that, you’ve got an excellent mix of the darker folklore and history of that area, come terrifyingly to life. This book is absolutely dark and scary. And it’s all the better for it. I would warn that this book, while about a thirteen-year-old, is not for thirteen-year-olds; it’s an adult book, that’s for sure. But for adult readers who enjoy a dark, thoughtful, but exciting fantasy, Tamsin is definitely recommended.
Author/Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
My rating: 5 of 5
Leo and Molly have a most interesting neighbor in their new neighborhood: a giant panda named Stillwater who lives across the street. Stillwater gives their cat Moss rides on his bicycle, is fun to play with, and tells interesting stories. Even better, he always seems to know just what to say when Leo or Molly is struggling with something. They’re definitely glad to have met this unusual new friend!
Ever since I first discovered Jon J. Muth’s delightful picture books, I have regarded finding a new one with great enjoyment, and Zen Socks was no exception. What is most immediately striking about this lovely picture book is just that–the pictures. They are charming watercolors that have strong ties back to the old schools of Asian brush painting, yet they incorporate modern and adorable themes seamlessly. Very cute and beautiful both, with great composition and colors. And once you get done gaping over the gorgeous art, there’s the story itself, which is also adorable. Stillwater is a most unusual neighbor indeed, an exceedingly insightful one. This is the sort of book that teaches important life lessons like perseverance, patience, selflessness, and compassion in a way that is both striking and seemingly effortless. The concepts stick without seeming forced, at times through the use of storytelling within the story. I would recommend Zen Socks very highly to all readers, especially to those in the 4-7 age group, although really the themes are valid for all ages (and this would make a gorgeous coffee table book).
It is said that the falling snowflakes are the tears of the snow maidens. But ask a snow maiden, and you might get a different story altogether. In fact, she might tell you stories similar to the ones a young traveler heard when he spoke to a pale, beautiful woman out in the snowy wilderness . . . you might even hear stories to make you weep yourself.
I love the way in which Shirahime-Syo is both very unique for CLAMP and is yet quintessentially theirs. This is a single volume of manga containing three short stories that almost resemble folk tales. This feeling is enhanced by the art style which is, again, both extremely CLAMP and yet different from their norm, evoking a more traditional Japanese painting style. It’s very beautiful, haunting almost. The style fits the stories perfectly. All three tales are of old Japan (or somewhere that looks similar), out in the wilds during the deep snows, and in each story, there is an initial impression of a man-versus-nature sort of story. Yet somehow in the midst of that, the stories get turned back upon man, showing that we are our own worst problem. The stories are poignant and beautiful, tragically lovely. I’m sure not everyone would enjoy them, but I truly think all readers would benefit from reading Shirahime-Syo at least once; it’s a moving experience.