Tag Archives: josei

The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Ongoing (7 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 12 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!

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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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xxxHOLiC

Mangaka: CLAMP

For as long as he can remember, Kimihiro Watanuki has been plagued by being able to see spirits–and worse, by attracting them! It is on a seemingly ordinary day, much like any other, that while he is attempting to evade a particularly nasty and persistent spirit, Watanuki finds himself drawn–physically, by powers unseen–into an eccentric-looking shop. Within this shop, he encounters the even more eccentric shop-keeper, Yūko Ichihara, who claims his coming is hitsuzen, fate. Before long, Watanuki finds himself employed part-time, serving the unusual, selfish, and frequently-drunk Yūko–and the steady stream of customers, human and otherwise, who frequent the shop that fulfills wishes.

XxxHOLiC has got to be one of the best manga out there, period. The characters are first-rate–well developed, unique, and showing immense and fascinating growth over the course of the story–and the relationships between them are subtle and beautiful. In particular, I love Watanuki’s overreaction to Domeki (his best friend, although he won’t admit it) and to Yūko. And the subtle developments in Yūko, going from a completely overbearing and selfish individual to a self-sacrificing and almost motherly one, is absolutely incredible and completely fitting with the story. Because that’s a major factor in the story, the idea that the people we encounter change us and that everything has a purpose. I also really enjoy the inclusion of lots of Japanese legends, especially as CLAMP weaves them into the modern world in a classic urban-fantasy fashion. The main story-line itself is intricate yet wonderfully consistent–and absolutely heart-rending. Finally, the art is beautiful–primarily a classic CLAMP style, but with a more traditional Japanese art flavor that fits the storyline perfectly. I would highly recommend xxxHOLiC to anyone, regardless of usual taste; it supersedes barriers like gender, style, and age in a wonderful manner.

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