Tag Archives: josei

Giant Days, vol. 3 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!

As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)

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Frau Faust (Manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki

Status: Ongoing (Currently 3 volumes available in the U.S.)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The old stories tell of a man named Faust who sold his soul to the demon Mephistopheles in order to gain his heart’s desires . . . but what if the stories don’t tell the whole tale? Marion finds himself intrigued when he encounters a mysterious woman by the name of Johanna Faust who first rescues him and then blackmails him into helping her in her search for a piece of, yes, the demon Mephistopheles. It’s impossible, but this vivacious, smart woman claims to actually be the Faust, the one who sparked all the old legends. Only, even if she were, she should have been dead ages ago. Intrigued, Marion finds himself unable to let her go, so he follows her as she continues on her journey to reclaim Mephistopheles from the inquisitors.

I’ve only fairly recently discovered Kore Yamazaki’s work, but this mangaka’s writing is rapidly becoming some of my favorite. It reminds me a lot of the things I love most about Fullmetal Alchemist–great characters, interesting plot, a sense of mystery, vibrant art.  It has a josei flavor, and I like that it’s a bit more mature without being unnecessarily M rated; it’s actually pretty clean. It’s more that Johanna herself is old, like impossibly old–while still appearing young and having an insatiable curiosity about the world–so you get some of that depth that comes from experience playing out in her character. I enjoyed having Marion placed alongside her character, since he is in many ways like a young version of herself; their characters sort of mirror each other and provide some interesting character insights. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the characters that have shown up in this story, and much like Fullmetal Alchemist, it looks like we may end up with a pretty extensive cast. I’m interested to see how that develops, since this series is still in its early stages (I hope, since it certainly has potential to be pretty long). So far, there’s a nice balance of present-day action and flashbacks/explanation of things that happened in Johanna’s past. There’s a lot of mystery involved in said past, which is pretty interesting; I’m very curious to see how that is developed in future volumes. Also kind of random, but I liked the author’s choice of setting for the story–a somewhat medieval Germany (of a country based off of that). European settings just work really well for Yamazaki’s stories, or rather, Yamazaki does European settings quite well. In any case, I’ve enjoyed Frau Faust a lot so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this story goes.

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The Invisible Museum (Manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki

Status: Complete (Oneshot)

My rating: 4 of 5

She’s the daughter who was left, unwanted, with her drunken mother after the divorce while her father took her brother with him. Sometimes she just wants to escape, to disappear. One day, she finds herself in front of a building she’s never seen before, and curious, she enters to find herself in what appears to be a museum, complete with display cases . . . only the cases are completely empty.

The Invisible Museum is a thought-provoking oneshot by the author of the popular The Ancient Magus’ Bride. It’s a strange tale, almost reminiscent in a way to CLAMP’s xxxHOLiC with its strange building that’s not visible to everyone, its enigmatic proprietor, and its strange, mystical creatures. I like it. It deals with a challenging emotional situation in a way that raises good questions without claiming to have all the answers. (Fair warning that it sort-of deals with the topic of suicide/suicidal ideations, but in a generalized, non-graphic sort of way.) I love the back and forth between the girl and the proprietor–even in this short oneshot, their personalities shine through. I could totally see this story being developed into an actual series, and I would be thrilled if it ever came to pass. The art is classic Kore Yamazaki, but in a sense only parts of it (like the butterfly) seem like it at first glance–because it’s really strange to see Yamazaki’s work set in contemporary Japan as opposed to somewhere in Europe, in a highly fantasy-like setting. I really enjoyed The Invisible Museum and would recommend to anyone who likes a solid, slightly fantastic manga.

Note: I read this as an omake in the first volume of Frau Faust. I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere else or not.

 

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride (manga)

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.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Complete (8 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 13 volumes)

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up in an orphanage, believing his parents didn’t want him, Yuki struggles to find meaning in his existence. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he brings kindness and healing to those around him, perhaps even more so as he begins to develop the ability to see a person’s emotions and past when he comes into physical contact with them . . . although not everyone takes his kind intentions well. But as Yuki’s strange ability grows stronger and other odd things being to happen around him, he encounters a beautiful, silver-eyed man calling himself Zess who seems oddly familiar. Then another beautiful man comes to the orphanage claiming to be Yuki’s long-lost older brother. Not only that, but Yuki actually has a large extended family, all of whom are delighted to meet him, and Zess is somehow connected to them all as well. But all is not well for this family as they find themselves trapped in a centuries long war against dark and evil forces, being endlessly reincarnated to fight over and over again. And Yuki himself is a pivotal figure in this was, the reincarnation of their princess, bringing healing and hope to them all . . . if only he could figure out why he doesn’t remember anything about his previous lives. All he wants to do is bring an end to this war and to the hurt felt by these people he has quickly come to love.

Love this manga soooo much! If you can imagine a mashup of Fruits Basket and Black Butler, you probably have a pretty good idea of what The Betrayal Knows My Name is like. You’ve got the gorgeous art (and people), demon contracts, and mystery/fight aspects that you find in Kuroshitsuji. Then you’ve got the super air-headed and kind MC, the oversized cast, the reincarnation aspect, and the dark family history themes that you find in Furuba. Not necessarily an expected combination, but it works. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and mysterious–but there’s a nice mix of cutesy slice-of-life segments filled with sweetness and humor as well. The cast is huuuuge, so it is admittedly hard to keep track of everyone at first, but as you get to know the characters, they become not only unmistakable but beloved. It’s rare for me to find a story in which I love so many of the characters so very much, which is one of the primary reasons that I give this a full five-star rating. As for the plot, there’s currently a lot of mystery and unknowns that could go in a lot of directions, so I’m curious to see whether it ends up some huge shounen-style fight or a hug-it-out shoujo conclusion or something else altogether. (I’m hankering for a very sappily sweet shoujo ending myself, but I’ll be thrilled just to see this story finished, whatever the conclusion. It’s been on hiatus for 4 years, and I had given up hope that it would every be continued. Soooo . . . happy dance that the mangaka has picked this series up again!) Fair warning that the mangaka is fairly well known for writing yaoi stories, but also firm clarification that this particular manga is not yaoi at all–it sits on the verge between shoujo and josei with aspects of shounen and a mild shounen ai flavor, but it never goes beyond that. So honestly, The Betrayal Knows My Name is generally appropriate–and highly recommended–for any T+ audience. Love it and looking forward to reading the rest!

Update 6/29/18 – So this series is officially complete now (data above updated to reflect this). Or at least as complete as it’s going to get. The mangaka got it to a reasonable stopping point, and has declared it done due to health reasons and such. There are still a lot of loose ends and unknowns that I would have loved to see developed more, but we did get some major stuff resolved and at least got to the reasonable conclusion of the current story arc, so I’m glad for that. The story leaves us at a point where things are still uncertain but hopeful, which I can accept. Still definitely a 5 star recommended read.

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Ann Tenna

Author/Illustrator: Marisa Acocella MarchettoAnn Tenna

My rating: 3 of 5

Ann Tenna and her higher self “SuperAnn” are agreed (well, Ann’s mostly forced into agreement): she’s to be reborn on Earth once again, a final chance to get things right. But 39 years later, Ann has completely forgotten her higher self, her mission, everything but her present life. And what a life! She’s made herself something of an internet legend with her brutal hidden-camera show. Not exactly getting it right, but definitely making good . . . until SuperAnn gets involved and reminds her what she’s really there for.

So as you can see, Ann Tenna only got a 3-star rating from me (which is still not bad, I must say). Basically, it was an interesting story, but I also had issues with it. For what it’s worth, I finished the entire graphic novel in less than a whole day, so it clearly wasn’t wholly bad. The concept was interesting, and the pacing worked well, never getting stale or bogged down. I think the graphic novel format definitely helped with that. As for the art itself, if worked for the story, hovering somewhere on the border between classic comics and the more contemporary graphic novel style–although I think for me the style and coloring tended just a bit too much toward the comic-book end of the spectrum. On a positive note, you’ve got a successful upper-thirties woman who is going on a journey of self-awareness and change; I feel like you get that a lot with teenage coming-of-age sorts of stories, but in the context of a more mature woman, I haven’t seen those themes developed much (maybe that’s just because I read a lot of YA, but it was still nice). The negative side of that is that I really don’t like who Ann is as a person–the whole dog-eats-dog mindset is not only foreign but utterly abhorrent to me. And I guess just the whole society she lives in is one I can’t relate to at all, so the story kind of lost me a lot in that regard. Basically, I have really mixed opinions about this graphic novel; I can’t say I strongly recommend reading Ann Tenna, but neither do I discourage reading it. Up to you.

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Embroideries

Author/Illustrator: Marjane Satrapiembroideries

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

After dinner is finished and the men have gone off to nap or whatever, Marji and the other women present settle down over a samovar of tea to gossip. Naturally, in present company, the topic turns to men, sex, and the changing roles of women in Iran as the western world gains more influence on the younger generations. Each woman has her own unique story and perspective, and these nine women are more than ready to share.

Most of you know Marjane Satrapi as the author of the acclaimed PersepolisEmbroideries is a graphic novel that could really be considered a companion volume to Persepolis, being another memoir of the authors, of a sort, and using the same unique but enjoyable art style. It truly is interesting, being invited into an incredibly intimate setting to share in these women’s conversation, and the insight provided into the roles of women in Iran is truly eye-opening. But as I mentioned in the summary, a lot of the talk is about sex, so this is definitely an adult book–I’d say 18+, although most would probably rate it more like 16+. And I’d have to say that the intended audience is primarily female, although I guess some guys might find it interesting–usually probably more like embarrassing, though. I think I’d say that for adult women who enjoyed PersepolisEmbroideries might be an interesting graphic novel to try . . . but I really would limit it to basically that group of individuals.

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Without Within

Created by InvertMousewithout within

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Vinty has always dreamed of making it big as a calligrapher. She’s putting a lot of work into her calligraphy, all the while barely surviving on her foodservice job. There’s a lot of pressure, and it’s hard to stay positive in the midst of it all. Really, why did she even go into calligraphy to begin with?

Without Within is a cute anime-style visual novel following a young calligrapher who’s at that super-difficult point where she’s just getting started. It’s an honest look at the challenges folks face at this point in life–I’ve been there and can relate. Vinty has a lot of attitude and tongue-in-cheek humor, which definitely adds a lot to the story. The entire visual novel is really short; I finished it in about 20 minutes, even getting sidetracked on several bad endings. But it’s cute and fun. Plus, it’s free to play on Steam. I’d recommend Without Within to those who enjoy a fun slice-of-life visual novel without a lot of frills–just a good story.

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Azumanga Daioh

Mangaka: Kiyohiko Azuma

Yukari-sensei’s class has some interesting characters in it, but the truth is, she might just be the most biggest “character” of them all. She’s not exactly the most responsible teacher in Japan. At least this year she’s got Chiyo in her class, an adorable 10-year-old prodigy who’s jumped up to being a freshman in high school–and who’s bright enough to be a good tutor for the other students. On the other hand, there’s Tomo–she really should think before she acts. Or opens her mouth. Actually, thinking period would be a good start. Ditto with Osaka the transfer student from . . . you guessed it, Osaka. Although with Osaka, it’s not that she doesn’t think so much as that everything she thinks of is really ditzy. Yomi-san is Tomo’s friend from back in grade school, but I still don’t know why she puts up with her; sometimes I think Yomi must be a bit of a masochist although in most other ways she’s pretty smart and capable.  Then of course, there’s Sakaki–tall, athletic, quiet, and generally too cool for words. You’d never guess what a soft spot she has for everything small and cute–especially kittens! Somehow, these girls become friends their freshman year, developing an everyday sort of friendship that’s warm and funny and just as unusual as the girls themselves.

Azumanga Daioh has got to be one of the best manga ever written. Although, is it technically manga, since it’s written in 4-panel vertical comics? Not sure on that one, but I really love the way the panels are each episodic, yet they flow into each other seamlessly to create a cohesive whole spanning the girls’ entire three years of high school (including some wacky summer breaks). This is one of those stories that it’s nearly impossible to explain what makes it so amazing. I mean, the characters are wonderful. That definitely is a big part of it. But I think it’s also that this is just an everyday slice-of-life story. Nothing crazy happens. Nobody dies, gets a rare disease . . . nobody even has a boyfriend! It’s just the normal lives of these girls. Yet somehow Azuma-sensei captures the touching and funny aspects of daily life in just the right light, drawn out by the unusual quirks of the students, so that they are immediately captivating and hilariously funny. I can’t read a chapter of this manga without bursting out into laughter–out loud, which can be embarrassing! Yet the story does deal with real problems that high-schoolers face regularly–weight and self-image, friendship, grades, feeling left out, and more–in a way that gives the story weight, bridging the gap from a flighty shoujo story to a mature josei one. I’ve shared this manga with friends young and old–my dad, a female college friend, and my teenage brother to mention a few–and they’ve all loved it. Truly, Azumanga Daioh comes with my highest recommendations to basically everyone.

Note: I love the randomness of the title, which comes from squishing the author’s name “Azuma” together with the word “manga” and sticking on “Daioh” from the magazine it was originally published in, Dengeki Daioh.

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Seconds

Author/Illustrator: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Katie is a perfect picture of someone in a late-twenties slump: stressed, directionless, boyfriend-less. She’s done fairly well as the chef at the restaurant Seconds, but she’s moving on now to owning a restaurant of her own–which should be super-exciting, but the work isn’t moving forward nearly as quickly as she’d like, and right now she’s in a state of limbo. Still living in the apartment on Seconds’ upper floor, still wandering through the restaurant making a pain of herself, but no longer needed, really. Her life takes a turn, though when she discovers she can change the past. . . . After an accident results in Hazel, one of the servers at Seconds, being badly burned, Katie is given the change to prevent that–as she is shown in a dream by the house spirit of Seconds. It’s supposed to be a one-time alteration, but Katie finds a way to get around the rules and soon has made such a mess of time that she doesn’t know what’s going on!

I absolutely loved Seconds; I read it in one sitting, even though it’s a pretty thick graphic novel. This story is a zany mix-up of contemporary life, ancient lore, science fiction, etc. The result is quirky, for sure, but also very fun and significantly insightful. I think this graphic novel speaks meaningfully into a slice of life that is often ignored–those people who aren’t quite such young adults anymore, but who are still young enough that they’re not settled yet. This is a significant–often lonely–demographic, yet writers seem to shy away from addressing the needs of this age range, in my experience. Not so here–Katie’s issues are laid out in painful honesty. Katie is really a great character–even depressed, she’s full of life, personality, and enough determination to get the world in trouble. Her arguments with the narrator are the best! I think the art style really fits the story as well. As opposed to, say Sandman or FablesSeconds is more a cross between manga and American cartoons–the style is actually similar to that used in Foiled. It really suits the story, plus I personally like this style of graphic novel a lot better than the more classic comic-book style. I would recommend Seconds to anyone who likes American graphic novels, but especially to those who are stuck in that awkward late-twenties slump themselves–if only as a reminder that some people have it even worse than you!

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