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.
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.
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.
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.
Author: Usata Nonohara
My rating: 3.5 of 5
In what seems to her to be only a short sleep, young alchemist Mariela finds herself 200 years in the future. You see, she put herself in a state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster stampede, but something went wrong and she slept waaaay longer than she was supposed to. Upon waking, Mariela finds that the world around her has changed significantly; the monster stampede destroyed a lot of the town where she lived, alchemy is no longer commonly practiced in the area, and the potions that she once was barely able to subsist by selling are now a premium item. Only, she’s going to have to be careful and keep her abilities secret from all but a select few if she wants to settle into a quiet, everyday life like she wants to.
The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life is a mostly tranquil seinen slice-of-life fantasy light novel. I enjoyed its easygoing pace, the fairly extensive worldbuilding, and the “just ordinary folks” characters that grace its pages. There’s definitely a lot of focus on (what is for Mariela) the mundane–gathering ingredients, going shopping, making business deals, meeting people, making potions. I can see that being boring for some people, but I found the placid pace to be relaxing. There were, however, a few things that I didn’t love about this story. For one (and this is quite possibly just me), I found it a bit hard to get into the story right at the start. Also, the author tends to repeat certain bits of worldbuilding information when concepts crop up in different chapters, making me tend to think the sections may have been originally published separately. In any case, it can get mildly repetitive. Additionally, while Mariela’s perspective in the most common (and best, in my opinion), the author does throw other characters’ perspectives in, sometimes seemingly at random, and it’s sometimes hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. My final issue with this story is that slavery is a part of this world, so much so that characters we’re clearly intended to see as “good people” are actively a part of the slave trade. And that just morally bothers me, even though the author builds up excuses like the only slaves are really bad criminals and such. It still gets under my skin. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed this story–enough so that I went ahead and picked up the second volume to start right away, so. . . . Recommended for fantasy lovers who enjoy a quieter-paced, slice-of-life sort of story.
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
My rating: 3 of 5
Mr. and Mrs. Watson live a very ordinary, quiet life. Some might even say boring. But all that begins to change when a tiny piglet shows up on their doorstep and wiggles her way into their hearts.
A Piglet Named Mercy is, to my understanding, a picture-book prequel to DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series (which I believe are written for a slightly older demographic, although I haven’t read them yet). As such, a certain amount of the story’s appeal is directly linked to its relation to the other books–which, again, I haven’t read. So do please take that bias into consideration while reading this review. The story itself is cute, although extremely simple. I honestly expect more from DiCamillo’s writing, though, even just for a picture book. She typically makes so much magic, regardless of the story or the reading level. Still, though, a cute story about a lonely couple, a couple nosy neighbors, and an adorably spunky piglet. I would expect this to be popular with preschoolers, perhaps even into kindergarten or first grade. And yes, it’s a nice set-up that leaves the reader expecting great things of the actual series; we’ll see how well those expectations are fulfilled. The other aspect of this book that I haven’t really addressed yet–but which plays a significant role, since this is a picture book–is the art. I don’t love it. Yes, it has a fitting country-kitchen sort of feel that works with the story . . . but the edges are too sharp, the colors too brash, the facial expressions too odd. It just doesn’t work for me. Yet for all the negatives mentioned above, I do still rate this a 3/5 (which is a positive rating for me); the story is sweet and funny enough that I would recommend it for younger readers.
Author: Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Illustrator: Goñi Montes
My rating: 4 of 5
Jack is special. Ever since he was little, he’s been able to see shades of those who have died, but things got even weirder when he was in 5th grade. He says it’s like he’s got spikes on his back that ghosts can grab onto and stick around. This is the story of his first three ghosts, the ones who changed his life forever.
Ghost Hedgehog is the first of Hoffman’s stories that I’ve read, and I have to say that it’s whetted my appetite for more. The story is creative and interesting, with a timeless feel that’s broken only by the occasional reference to a cell phone or suchlike. The writing style is accessible and down to earth, very enjoyable to read. It’s told in first person, focusing on a small period of time when Jack was eleven, although the tone of the writing is more mature than that–like maybe he’s looking back as an adult to how he got where he is. This story’s pretty short and could easily be read in one sitting. The ending leaves a promise of so much more, though, whether in the reader’s imagination or in other stories. I would certainly be interested in reading a sequel and definitely plan to try more of Hoffman’s books. Recommended.
Note: This is a Tor.com original story and can be purchased digitally or read only for free at https://www.tor.com/2011/11/16/ghost-hedgehog/.
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.
Mangaka: Satsuki Yoshino
Status: Complete (7 volumes)
My rating: 4 of 5
Misunderstandings abound as Sei Handa weathers through his high school days. You see, Handa-kun (with a little help from his best friend Kawafuji) has managed to convince himself that all the other students at his school hate him–to the point that he misinterprets innocuous, or even positive, interactions in a negative light. Not that he interacts much with anyone at school, since he’s even told Kawafuji not to talk to him, for fear that the hatred will spread to him too! Not that there actually is any hatred at all. Rather, Handa is the most popular student at the school. His reputation as an up and coming calligrapher, combined with his good looks and mysterious aura, have gained him a following of admirers that grows until it extends even to other schools in the area! Not that poor Handa-kun has a clue. And of course, no one dares to actually approach to speak with him and break his misapprehensions.
Handa-kun is a delightfully amusing spinoff of the charming series Barakamon by the same creator. There are some things–like the lovely art style–that carry over from this series. But this is a 6-years-earlier spinoff, and Yoshino makes a strong distinction between the two, so don’t expect Barakamon 2.0 here. Rather, Handa-kun is a lighthearted gag manga, full of tropes, puns, and goofiness of all sorts. It’s charming, but in its own unique way. It’s a slice-of-life school story, with a more shounen style rather than the seinen feel of Barakamon. And it’s really just so completely over-the-top improbable; a lot of the humor actually comes directly from that fact. So yes, it is an interesting look into Sei Handa’s backstory, but it’s kind of fantastic too. Charming and funny, though. I would recommend Handa-kun if you’re interested in comedic school stories, whether you’ve read Barakamon or not.
Illustrations by Kiyohiko Azuma/Photography by Miho Kakuta
My rating: 5 of 5
This gorgeous, adorable artbook features photographs from Japan, mostly of somewhat rural settings and everyday situations. And inserted into each and every photograph is an illustration of the world’s most amusing and cute kiddo ever–Yotsuba! Suddenly, each picture is both beautiful and fun.
Yotsuba&! is one of my absolute favorite stories, manga or otherwise. So naturally, I was delighted to discover there was an artbook available. But wow, FiND YOTSUBA surpassed my expectations. The photos themselves are a fabulous window into everyday Japanese life; they’re lovely. And the way Azuma-sensei fits Yotsuba into the pictures is wonderful. He manages to match color and lighting, use shadows and reflections brilliantly, play with the visual focus points, and even include the photo-blur you get when something moves too quickly to make her place in the pictures seem more natural. Sometimes, you have to pull a real “where’s Waldo” looking for her. And what really pulls everything together is that way that, even without any text or connecting storyline, Yotsuba’s personality, the way she’s so full of life and excitement, carries through so strongly in the pictures. They made me smile–a lot–and even laugh aloud at points. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of the manga, but also just for people who love cute things.