Tag Archives: Japan

Happy Bird (Manga)

Mangaka: Emi Fukasaku

My rating: 4 of 5

Believe it or not, Masato’s friend and classmate, Koto, is actually an android–she just looks like a cute girl. Around exams, it’s easy to get frustrated with how easily she can load the information she needs to know, while he’s busy trying to study. But it’s also all too easy to forget how utterly dopey and forgetful she can be about taking care of herself–getting to school on time, taking in the water that is necessary to fuel her functions and protect her operating system. Her (irresponsible) creator has asked Masato to look after her for just that reason . . . but with all the studying he’s trying to do, he hadn’t realized just how much she needs him until it’s almost too late.

Happy Bird is another super-short oneshot manga from the author of Alpha Minus, and it’s also extremely adorable. The art is just too cute–again, somewhat reminiscent of Kiyohiko Azuma’s work. While reading this story, I was also reminded a lot of Keiichi Arawi’s manga, particularly Nichijou. The blend of a cute slice-of-life school story with just a touch of the surreal, especially with the whole android thing, is what really brings that flavor out. It’s enjoyable and sweet, and the characters are interesting to read. Recommended.

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Alpha Minus (Manga)

Mangaka: Emi Fukasaku

Status: Complete (1 volume)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Because she’s an alien and weird things happen to any texts she sends, Sasamori has just decided not to send text messages at all . . . which is a problem when shy Arimura in her class wants to message her, since it’s the only mode of communication he’s comfortable with. Meanwhile, poor Nishida has extreme trouble with time management, always seeming to have the worst timing for absolutely everything . . . except for the timing that brought her friend Taketoshi into her life.

Alpha Minus is a random little indie two-shot manga that I discovered completely by accident–and I couldn’t be more happy to have found it. It’s cute and fluffy and quirky in the best way. The art is just adorable; it kind of reminds me of Kiyohiko Azuma’s work. The stories themselves are short and simple, but also super cute. Plus, they manage to avoid being too stereotypical and boring–like, they’re both cute school romances, but one’s about an alien (?!) and the other deals with time management. Basically, the characters are actually developed and interesting enough to really carry the story in both of these shorts. Recommended. I’ll definitely be checking out more of this author’s work.

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No Guard Wife (Manga)

Author: Toshinori Yano

Status: Ongoing (currently 2 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Juri has just recently married, and she adores the faces her husband makes when he gets flustered. Cue all sorts of plans to be super romantic and make him blush. Only trouble is, he all to frequently beats her to the punch, being even more romantic and leaving her a blushing disaster . . . which he finds adorable.

No Guard Wife is a doujinshi, in the sense that it’s a self-published manga, not that it’s a fanfic manga based on a popular series. As such, it’s pretty short, with volumes running just over 20 pages each. The upside of this sort of publishing is that it’s a labor of love–without the restrictions of editors requiring certain things in the story, the author’s free to create what they want. In this case, the result is adorable and wholesome and sweet. We get multiple instances of this newlywed couple being sweet to each other and getting embarrassed, because they love each other and they’re in that just-married phase. It’s episodic, slice-of-life romance that would be kind of fanservice-y in other contexts, but seems remarkably wholesome in this particular context. Granted, this sort of manga isn’t for everyone, but most readers rate it 4-5 stars, so it’s generally well received. The story and art are both very cute, and the price is low enough that it doesn’t feel like too much to pay for such a short volume. Recommended.

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Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san, vol. 1 (Manga)

Mangaka: Honda

My rating: 2.5 of 5

With his surreal, skeletal appearance, Honda offers us a first-hand peek into the everyday life of a Japanese bookseller. Along with his equally bizarre coworkers, we see him struggle with stocking issues, foreigner customers, fujoshi, ambiguous customer requests, training seminars, and more.

In this manga, we are presented with the everyday struggles of a Japanese bookstore clerk–through the eyes of the most surreal, bizarre staff ever. The main character is literally a skeleton, and the rest of the store staff are no better. But the truly surreal thing is that no one reacts to that, like, at all. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with this title and may not bother reading the rest of the series. It’s true that the peek into a bookseller’s daily life was interesting, but beyond that, the story really didn’t have much personality. Sure, the art is intriguing in its weirdness, and I enjoyed that, but for all their weird personas, I didn’t feel the characters were fleshed out as individuals much at all. Very disappointing, since the premise has a lot of potential.

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Otherside Picnic, Vol. 2 (Light Novel)

Author: Iori Miyazawa

My rating: 4.5 of 5

It’s been a few months since Sorawo and Toriko started exploring the other side (as they call the mysterious place populated by horrors you’d typically only see in net lore) together, searching for Toriko’s missing friend Satsuki. As summer sets in, they encounter some pretty unbelievable things–they rescue the U. S. Marines stuck at Kisaragi Station, a fun beach trip lands them deep in the other side, and they handle a problem with (of all things) ninja cats! But as complicated and scary as all that is, navigating the complexities of their relationships–with each other and with others–is perhaps an even more complex and challenging endeavor.

The second volume of this light novel series is a solid follow-up of the first volume, keeping a consistent tone and quality of writing. The author continues to delve into the realms of creepypasta and net lore, bringing these stories to life that seem innocuous enough at first then surprise you with how terrifying they become. The characters are consistent from the first volume, but they are also more fully developed, as are the relationships between them. They’re rich individuals with personality flaws that are relatable, while still being interesting and kind of out there. This volume’s a little more shoujo ai than the first volume, but it’s still definitely not the yuri this is advertised as–there are certainly emotions here, but nothing happens. The relationship building between Sorawo and Toriko is cute, complicated, and kind of twisted . . . I’m interested to see where the author goes with that side of the story. In any case, if you’re into and/or curious about the net lore version of horror, this is definitely a story I would recommend.

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A Man and His Cat (Manga)

Mangaka: Umi Sakurai

Status: Ongoing (Currently 1 Volume)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a petshop cubicle, an ugly-cute cat watches as cuter, younger kittens go to happy homes all around him, day after day. That is, until one day, when a sharp, middle-aged man comes in and asks for him specifically! He’s finally found the home he’s longed for . . . and perhaps he’s exactly what his human needs, too.

A Man & His Cat is a super-cute and funny manga that will appeal to cat owners in its insightfulness. Fukumaru the cat is utterly catlike, complete with all the weird, hilarious things cats do that only a cat owner can truly appreciate. It’s definitely amusing, and Sakurai captures this in a way that’s adorable and relatable as well as funny. But while this manga fits well in the ranks of “cute cat manga” like Chi’s Sweet Home and the like, there are aspects of this particular manga that elevate it to something more. There’s a poignance and wistfulness developed here as Kanda deals with his loneliness after his wife’s death that makes this story relatable on a more universal level. I think Kanda’s an interesting character–older gentleman, music teacher, lonely widower, newly-discovered cat lover–and I’m intrigued to see how his character develops over future volumes. This is a really cute, sweet seinen slice-of-life story that I would definitely recommend.

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Otherside Picnic, vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Iori Miyazawa

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The first time Sorawo met Toriko was in the Otherside (well, that’s what she calls it), a strange alternate reality populated with strange, mysterious, and sometimes terrifying things. Somehow, that initial meeting turned into her being roped into exploring the Otherside along with Toriko, searching for Toriko’s lost friend Satsuki. Really, this isn’t the sort of place any reasonable person would go to intentionally. But, well, there’s just something about Toriko that intrigues and appeals to her.

I stumbled on Otherside Picnic completely by accident, but was very pleased with what I found in this quirky light novel. I suppose in a sense, it’s a riff on the isekai genre, but it really breaks the typical mold quite thoroughly. It’s more of a horror novel pulling from pieces of urban legend, creepypasta, and other net lore. Which, yes, could be pretty stupid, but in this case, it’s actually both quite engaging and surprisingly scary. The author does a great job playing with the unknown and the inexplicable, letting the reader’s imagination run away with them. The tone of the writing is fitting, giving us a first-person account of events from Sorawo’s perspective. I enjoyed the characters, as well; they’re unusual and a bit over the top, but that’s honestly the sort of person that would get dragged into this crazy sort of stuff, so. . . . Also, this is advertised as being yuri, but it’s really not, at least not in this volume. It’s more along the lines of growing friendship with maybe a bit of mild shoujo ai thrown in if you squint. The relationship works for these two characters, though, and was enjoyable to read. I think this was probably originally posted as a serial novel, since each section (focusing on a different phenomenon or legend) is distinct and has a bit of a recap/info download near the beginning; however, it’s not enough to be annoying, and there’s a definite story flow between the sections. Definitely recommended.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends (Manga)

Mangaka: Yuki Midorikawa

Status: Ongoing (currently 22 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

For his entire life, Takashi Natsume has been able to see yokai, and it’s brought him little but trouble–especially since his parents’ death. He’s been shipped between relatives who don’t really want him, who find him odd at best or a liar more often than not. It’s been a life that has led him to be withdrawn, to hide who he really is and what he sees. But when he moves in with an older couple of distant relatives who legitimately seem to want him, things begin to change. Natsume starts making friends at school. What’s more, he inherits an old book from his grandmother, Reiko Natsume, who he finds was also able to see yokai. In fact, possession of this book brings him into contact with even more yokai than before, including one that has gotten itself stuck in the form of a maneki neko who sticks around . . . to protect him and the book (and to raid free food from him). As time goes on, Natsume finds himself building true connections to those around him, both human and yokai, as well as to the memories of his grandmother Reiko.

Natsume’s Book of Friends is such a delightfully different manga that it’s difficult to truly explain. It’s shoujo, even though the main character is a boy, and that combination sets the story up to be very different than it would be if it were shounen (more action-y) or if the main character were female (where it would likely be more of a romance). As it is, it’s perfect, going more into Natsume’s sense of isolation at first and into his growing connections as time goes on. He grows in his understanding of Reiko as well, seeing memories of her through the Book of Friends. It’s also really neat to see him growing in confidence and conviction as the story progresses. I guess just in general there’s a lot of character growth developed in this manga, which I really love. Plus, Natsume just has an interesting personality, kind of blunt, actually–but it works and is enjoyable to read without being too overpowering for the story. The general atmosphere of this story is gentle, tranquil, even in the places where there’s action or peril. Plus, the softness of the illustrations helps to draw out this quality in the manga even more. It makes for a pretty relaxing read. One thing I didn’t care for quite so much in the earlier volumes is that it is extremely episodic–to the point of repeating the whole entry sequence for each chapter and having the chapters not connect at all. I get that this was intentional based on how the manga was originally published, but it’s a bit annoying to read. But this reduces significantly as you get further into the story, to the point that you have multiple-chapter story arcs and such–much more engaging to read at that point. Honestly though, even that episodic nature is a minor distraction to how generally enjoyable and peaceful this story is on the whole, and I would highly recommend this series.

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Gintama (2017 Movie)

Warner Bros. Pictures

My rating: 5 of 5

Edo-period Japan has been invaded by aliens from outer space, and the country looks a bit different now with aliens (known as Amanto) in positions of political and social privilege and samurai bereft of their swords. One such former samurai, Sakata Gintoki, has embraced the challenges of this new life by becoming a sweets-loving odd-jobber along with his young friends, Shinpachi and Kagura. But when rumors of a serial killer begin to arise, Gin finds himself drawn back by his past in order to protect the present that he loves.

Okay, first of all, confession: I totally started watching this live-action remake of Gintama just because I love Shun Oguri’s work; never mind the fact that I also love the anime/manga on which this movie is based. Having said that, Oguri did a fabulous job with the role of Gin, but there was a ton of other things that I loved about Gintama. First of all, the casting in general was very well done, and everyone did a great job portraying their characters. And, even though the particular story arc they chose involves a lot of characters, they didn’t go chopping people out left and right, so fair warning, there are a lot of people to keep track of. But I appreciated that they went to the trouble of not chopping . . . either characters or plot, actually. Plot context: at the start, we do get the cafe scene where Gin and Shinpachi first meet–but after that, there’s this big plot gap, and the majority of the movie is the Benizakura arc. I wasn’t expecting them to jump headlong into the story like that, but I think it was a smart choice. It’s one of my favorite parts of the anime/manga for a lot of the reasons that make it a great choice for the movie as well. It captures the absurdity and general silliness that makes Gintama (whatever the medium) such a  fun, funny story; I confess to laughing out loud for a great portion of the movie. You’ve got fourth-wall breaking, references galore, plus just plain ridiculousness (like the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi’s beetle-hunting madness). But this arc also has a lot of heart. It pulls from both Gin’s and Katsura’s childhood days as well as from their resistance-fighter exploits, incorporating that into the present-day plot. And of course, said plot allows for some great action sequences and sword fights–it’s one of the few points in the series where Gin gets a chance to truly look cool for a moment . . . before he ruins it by picking his nose or something. As far as the sets and makeup/CGI, it’s honestly not the greatest. I mean, a lot of the aliens are obviously just folks in animal suits or wearing body paint. But that fits the story–the absurdity and fourth-wall breaking and such–so well that I honestly prefer that over awesome, convincing CG for everything. It just works. So yes, I really loved the Gintama live-action movie, although I would caution that if you haven’t either read the manga or watched the anime at least a bit, you’ll likely be a bit confused; even with two-and-a-half hours of film, there’s still a lot that isn’t explained in a lot of detail. But for fans . . . absolutely recommended; it captures not just the story itself, but the heart of Gintama.

Written & Directed by Yūichi Fukuda/Based on Gintama by Hideaki Sorachi/Starring Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yūya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada, Nakamura Kankurō VI, & Tsuyoshi Dōmoto

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Elma’s Office Lady Diary (Manga)

Mangaka: Ayami Kazama

Spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyoushinja

Status: Ongoing (currently 1 volume)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Lady Elma is a powerful Harmony Dragon who thrives on keeping peace and order back in her own world. But she’s traveled to the human world now, disguised as a human herself, in order to bring her frenemy–the dragon Tohru–back home with her. Only, Tohru is being stubborn about going back, and Elma’s not going without her, and well . . . looks like she may be staying for a while. And all the food in this world is soooo delicious–but also expensive. And thus, it’s time for Elma to get a job. She ends up with an office job in the same company as Tohru’s Miss Kobayashi, and surprisingly enough, gets on swimmingly despite her numerous quirks. Maybe people just find them endearing?

On the one hand, having both an original manga series and a spinoff series (Kanna’s Daily Life) already, adding another spinoff to the same series almost seems like a bit much. And yet, I found the first volume of this manga to be enjoyable, enough so that I will probably continue reading the series. It definitely fits with the series–actually, kudos to the mangaka for how well it meshes both with the original and the other spinoff series. Yet this manga also fills a unique niche in this particular universe. It carries on the absurdity, the humor, the over-the-top characters, and the contrast between dragons and normal people in a way that is just as amusing as either of the other series. But because the focus is on Elma, who we don’t see that much of in the others, and because it’s focusing on her time at work to a large extent, the flavor of the story is different. You’ve got a lot of coworker interactions, conversations with people who don’t have a clue that she’s a dragon, plus Kobayashi’s reactions to said interactions. The author also gives us more of a picture of Kobayashi’s own workday when she’s away from all the craziness at home, which is fun. Also, speaking of the story’s flavor, there is so much delicious-looking food in here; seriously, Elma loves her food, and it rapidly becomes a story focus, in an amusing sense. I also liked the chapter setup–sets of 4-koma manga grouped around a central theme or story. In all, I would primarily recommend Elma’s Office Lady Diary to those who are already fans of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, but for those people, I think this manga provides a good (funny) rounding out of the world and story already presented in the other two series.

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