manga, Manga reviews

Review: Star-Crossed!! vol. 1

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Story and art: Junko
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Shoujo, Supernatural
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: Has a concert ever changed your life? Azusa adores Chika-kun, the cutest and most popular star in the idol group Prince 4 U, and she’s thrilled to get front-row seats to his latest show. She would do anything for him. So when a stage light falls, Azusa leaps onstage and…fails to save Chika’s life. The two are off to heaven, where God gives them a second chance—except a mixup resurrects Azusa in Chika’s body, and vice versa! What on Earth could be in store for this odd couple of pampered celeb and drooling fangirl?!
Publication date: 16th February 2021

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

High-schooler Asuza is obsessed with idol Chika, star of the band Prince 4 U. Her room is adorned with posters of him, she gets up at 4am to get in line for his concerts, and she makes her family watch television performances.

At the latest Prince 4 U concert, Asuza lucks out and manages to nab herself a front row seat – any fan’s dream come true. Disaster strikes when a light fitting falls on Chika, killing both him and Asuza who has leapt into action to save her idol. In heaven, God reveals this was an error by one of his staff and the pair shouldn’t be dead, so he sends them back to earth where they are accidentally switched into each other’s bodies.

Now, I love a good body swap comedy as much as the next person, but the first volume of Star-Crossed!! felt a bit flat. The body swapping happens really early on in the manga, and I think it would have benefitted from some more characterisation of Asuza and Chika to establish them as individuals before the body swap happened. All we as readers really know about them is that Asuza is a Chika fan-girl and Chika is an idol, we know nothing else. Other characters later comment that they’re acting strangely or addressing them in different ways, but we really only have their say so on this. I think some preamble would have been good so as a reader you could identify that Asuza and Chika were acting out of character without having to have it pointed out.

What sets Star-Crossed!! apart from other body swap stories is that Asuza and Chika swap back and forth several times. It seems God hasn’t quite got his powers down, and the pair are in their own bodies one moment, then each others the next. This makes for a fairly interesting concept, and does help to develop the personalities of each protagonist more and give you an insight into their true character and habits when they are in their own bodies. As mentioned before, I do think some of this sort of content would have been beneficial before the first body swap instance, but it does get into it eventually which is good.

As a first volume, Star-Crossed!! does a good job of setting up the plot for future volumes. It’s not particularly exciting on its own, but it does end on a cliffhanger of sorts which has made me want to continue reading, and I think there’s the potential for the series to be quite amusing and heartfelt. Though I didn’t find it riproaringly funny, I did chuckle along at times, and can definitely see how Asuza and Chika will be put into some funny situations in future which lends itself to some more laughs to be had.

3 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10.

manga, Manga reviews

Review: Haru’s Curse

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Story and art: Asuka Konishi
Genre: Drama, Romance, Slice of Life, Psychological, Josei
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: Natsumi’s little sister Haru was her whole world—and now she’s gone. After the funeral, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo. But as their relationship develops with the passing seasons, Haru’s memory lingers over them like a curse.
Publication date: 16th February 2021

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Haru’s Curse is the story of Natsumi following the death of her sister, Haru. Natsumi believes that she will be cursed by Haru because following her funeral, she has started dating Haru’s fiancé, Togo. Natsumi agrees to date Togo on the condition that she wants him to only take her to places that he took Haru, so she can feel closer to Haru after her passing.

Though the manga starts with Haru’s funeral, there are a lot of flashbacks to events prior to the funeral which really help establish the relationships between Haru, Natsumi and Togo. I really liked the change between past and present day, and I felt it worked especially well to show the contrast between Togo and his relationship with each of the sisters.

Haru’s Curse is a very real and raw portrayal of death and grief. As a reader, you see a lot of Natsumi and Togo struggling with their own feelings about Haru’s death, as well as their extended families. Haru’s Curse doesn’t shy away from a serious subject matter, with many serious and often dark subject matters touched on, but in a very respectful way.

As expected, there are a lot of hurdles throughout Haru’s Curse. Not only do Natsumi and Togo have to wrestle with their own guilt and emotions surrounding Haru’s death, but there are also a lot of outside influences interfering in their relationship and

The characters of Natsumi and Togo feel incredibly nuanced, whilst also feeling very realistic. Natsumi is hardworking, excitable and cheerful, but to Togo she seems the total opposite. Togo, who comes from a prestigious family, has his whole life mapped out for him according to his family traditions and expectations. As Natsumi and Togo’s relationship develops, the reader beings to see the effect they each have on each other and how they each change as a result of their relationship.

What I really liked about Haru’s Curse is that characters actually talk to each other. I’ve read a lot of manga where miscommunication is key, or characters bottle things up, but in this there is none of that. This helps all of the characters feel a lot more like the adults they are meant to be, and also a lot more realistic – this is what real people do after all! Well… for the most part anyway.

There’s a lot to like about Haru’s Curse, and it poses really interesting questions about how to honour the dead and how to move on after the death of a loved one. Haru’s Curse does seem to go too far at times – I did feel like it could have been left that Natsumi and Haru’s relationship was just sisterly, but the manga edges slightly further this and Natsumi declares at points that she was in love with Haru. Fortunately, this isn’t really a main area of focus and you can easily move past it and focus on the many great parts of Haru’s Curse. 

4 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10.

 

manga, Manga reviews

Review: Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan vol. 1

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Story and art: Gaku Kuze
Genre: Comedy
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: Uramichi is a 31-year-old host on a kids’ show who leads exercise routines and teaches life lessons colored by one main theme: Adulthood sucks. Alongside mascots played by a couple of bushy-tailed twentysomethings and a singing duo whose music embodies the notion of being kicked while you’re down, Uramichi wades through the misery of working life, one sardonic comment at a time.
Publication date: 8th December 2020

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I’d seen screenshots of panels of Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan floating around the internet for a few months prior to getting my hands on this copy via NetGalley, and it instantly resonated with me. Uramichi Omota is a former gymnast who works as a host on a children’s television show, but he is the total antithesis of what you’d expect from someone in his position. He’s pessimistic and sarcastic, and probably one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever encountered.

What I really loved about Uramichi as a character is how matter of fact he is. He really tells it straight, even to the children appearing on his show. The children themselves are also extremely funny, and they’re like the antidote to Uramichi. They’re also very mature, and hearing the children say things which seem much older than their years is also very amusing.

Uramichi seems totally disillusioned with life, and so do his co-stars. I think this is really good to see and makes a great change from endlessly optimistic shounen protagonists, and as an older person (I’m actually the same age as Uramichi!), it makes the manga much more relatable to see someone who is dealing with everyday things but has become fed up with life – haven’t we all, especially in lockdown!

Uramichi manages to simultaneously be depressing and cynical, but at the same time the way he delivers his message and interacts with his co-stars is also whimsical and hilarious, so the tone of the manga manages to remain positive and upbeat despite the outlook of its characters.

Generally speaking, I’m not much of a fan of manga (or anime!) that are a series of skits or vignettes. I much prefer a good story arc, with a continuous plot. Whilst some chapters do reference back to other events, mostly Uramichi Oniisan spends a chapter on a different skit or event which are reasonably standalone. I feel like had it been more of a developing plot it would have given more chance for the comedy to escalate, but as it stands Uramichi Oniisan is still really funny and has plenty of laugh out loud moments.

By the end of the volume, some jokes do feel a bit well worn – things I was laughing heartily at at the beginning of the manga seemed a bit overdone the more things went on. That said, there are plenty of positive things going on to make Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan a really fun read.

4 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10.

manga, Manga reviews

Review: Orient vol. 1

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Story and art: Shinobu Ohtaka
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Shounen
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: At age 10, best friends Musashi and Kojiro sat in excited silence as Kojiro’s father span tales of evil demons who preyed on the innocent, and the warriors who defeated them. Practicing swordplay, the two swear an oath to become the strongest in the world. But as they grow up, Kojiro turns cynical, and Musashi comes to realise that he can’t turn back 150 years of demon rule on his own. He’s being called a prodigy with a pickaxe, and he’s almost ready to settle for a life of labor. Yet he can’t shake the feeling that he still has a responsibility to act… and, soon, the injustices of his world will force his hand.
Publication date: 26th January 2021

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Musashi and Kojiro are childhood friends who have grown up with a shared dream to become bushi – warriors who are tasked with ridding the world of evil demons. Bonding over their shared dream, and spending all their free time training to achieve their goals, the pair realise that bushi are not the revered warriors that they’ve always imagined, and are actually outcasts in their world.

Musashi begins to train to become a miner; allegedly the most esteemed occupation in their world. Musashi and Kojiro begin to drift apart as their lives move towards separate points, but events cause the two to converge again and their dreams align once more.

Though the majority of the story is current time, the manga is peppered with flashbacks to Musashi and Kojiro’s childhood, showing their training and their school lives. It’s really cool to see how their different backgrounds had an impact on the two characters, and how they were both influenced differently by the same events.

Orient does seem like a pretty generic shounen manga at this early stage and ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to shounen tropes. That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Orient does drama well, and the battle scenes are really exciting to read and have you rooting for the characters.

There are some really interesting titbits peppered through the manga, none of which I want to spoil in case it ends up being a bigger point than I anticipate at the moment but it definitely adds a layer of intrigue that makes me want to check out future volumes.

For a first volume, Orient does a fantastic job of world creation and getting the reader invested in the plot and the fates of the characters. It does often feel like too fast-paced and that too much is crammed in and one thing is happening after another in rapid succession without much time to process what has just happened. Though this does feel like an issue at times, it does also work for the manga because as at the end of the volume you do feel fully invested as a reader.

3 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10. 

manga, Manga reviews

Review: Whisper Me a Love Song vol. 1

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Story and art: Eku Takeshima
Genre: Yuri, Romance, Shoujo Ai
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: Bubbly, energetic first-year high school student Himari falls head over heels for her senpai Yori after hearing her band perform on the first day of school. Himari tells Yori she’s fallen in love at first sight, and, to Himari’s surprise, Yori confesses that she has as well! But when Himari realises that she and Yori are feeling two different kinds of love, she begins to ask herself what “love” really means…
Publication date: 20th October 2020

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I’ve never really delved too much into yuri manga or anime before, only having watched one yuri anime and never having read any manga from the genre. When I saw Whisper Me A Love Song on NetGalley, I thought the cover art looked really cute and I was interested in the musical element.

Whisper Me A Love Song follows Himari Kino, a first-year student embarking on her high school journey. At the opening ceremony for the new school year, Himari sees SSGirls, a band comprised of fellow students, with Yori Asanagi filling in on vocals and guitar. When Himari sees Yori, she declares that she has fallen in love at first sight and she is spellbound by Yori’s singing prowess. Bumping into Yori later that day, Himari makes her declaration again, and here is where the misunderstandings begin.

From the early chapter of Whisper Me A Love Song it’s clear that Himari and Yori have different definitions of what ‘love at first sight’ means. Yori, thinking that Himari means she is romantically interested in her, starts to develop matching feelings for Himari – or so she thinks. When Yori and Himari meet later it’s clear Himari meant her declaration as more of an admiration for her senpai rather than anything further. Though slightly put out, Yori rallies and makes her own declaration – she’s going to make Himari “fall in love so hard” with her, and the premise is set.

The characters of Yori and Himari couldn’t be more opposite. The older Yori is reserved, shy and gloomy, where Himari radiates pure sunshine, she’s energetic, cheerful and talks non-stop. Seeing the two interact feels really special and genuine, as they both start to change the more time they spend together.

Whisper Me A Love Song has Yori and Himari spending quality time together, so it’s really nice to see their feelings develop the more time they spend together. Once the girls get past the initial ‘love at first sight’ stage, though both thinking different things, they come to realise they’re interested in each other on a less superficial level and value the time they spend together, which is really wholesome.

What I especially liked about Whisper Me A Love Song is that it doesn’t follow the usual tropes of love stories and misunderstandings. Yori is very straightforward with Himari and tells her often in what way she likes her. Apart from the initial misinterpretation, there’s no time wasted and it gives the story time to focus on the girls’ blossoming relationship and their own character development. Yori takes the time to understand her feelings and then does something about it, which is really refreshing to see.

Volume one of Whisper Me A Love Song was a really great introduction to Yori and Himari, and really got me invested in their relationship. I’m really excited to see where things go for Yori and Himari in future volumes, and whether they’ll finally get on the same page about their feelings.

4 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10. 

manga, Manga reviews

Review: My Dress-Up Darling vol. 1

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Story and art: Shinichi Fukuda
Genre: Ecchi, Romance, Slice of Life
Publisher: Square Enix Manga
Synopsis: A high school boy with a passion for traditional dolls and a talent for sewing gets roped into making cosplay outfits for one of the prettiest, most popular girls in his class! As the odd couple grows ever closer, they find themselves in ever racier situations!

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Whilst browsing for new manga to buy, I stumbled across My Dress-Up Darling. I have a weird thing about not wanting to read too much manga that has been adapted into anime, I can’t even explain this hangup, and My Dress-Up Darling looked really cute from the front cover, and it was a story about a cosplayer! Much more relatable to me than anything else I could have picked.

I thought I was in for something cute and wholesome, and whilst not entirely wrong, I was quite surprised when the manga arrived and it was wrapped in celophane. Always a dead giveaway. I then spotted the Parental Advisory warning, and wondered what I’d got myself into. Clearly, I have a problem reading product descriptions properly.

Wakana is a boy who is interested in traditional Japanese hina dolls, and having been teased about it as a child, he is very sensitive about his interests which are generally perceived as feminine. His classmate Marin is a popular and beautiful girl, who is unashamedly open about her interests in anime. Marin catches Wakana using a sewing machine at school, making clothes for his hina dolls. It’s not long before she recruits him to making her cosplay for her current obsession; a character from Saint Slippery’s Academy for Girls – The Young Ladies of the Humiliation Club: Debauched Miracle Life 2 (what a title), which is an eroge (an erotic videogame for the uninitiated), so it’s here where the Parental Advisory warning really comes into play.

Wakana and Marin are polar opposites, and it’s so nice to see the beginnings of their relationship. Wakana is a very sweet, innocent boy, and Marin seems pretty worldly, though admittedly we don’t know much about her from the first volume. Marin helps Wakana accept that it’s okay to accept your interests and that there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like, which is really refreshing and I wish I had someone tell me that when I was growing up.

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The basis of Wakana and Marin’s relationship is really interesting, and it does seem on the face of it that Wakana is giving a lot and Marin is taking, so I’m interested to see how it develops and how things balance out.

I also really enjoyed all the cosplay references, naturally. My Dress-Up Darling is actually surprisingly in depth about cosplay, talking a lot about things like patterning outfits, fabric choices and wigs. It’s actually a relief as it would have taken me out of it a lot if it had been inaccurate.

Of all the manga I’ve accidentally bought, My Dress-Up Darling is up there as one of my favourites.

8 stars

manga, Manga reviews

Review: Our Dreams At Dusk

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Story and art: Yuhki Kamatani
Genre: Drama, Psychological, Slice of Life
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Synopsis: Not only is high schooler Tasuku Kaname the new kid in town, he is also terrified that he has been outed as gay. Just as he’s contemplating doing the unthinkable, Tasuku meets a mysterious woman who leads him to a group of people dealing with problems not so different from his own. In this realistic, heartfelt depiction of LGBT+ characters from different backgrounds finding their place in the world, a search for inner peace proves to be the most universal experience of all.

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This review is of the full four volumes, despite image above being for the first volume.

The opening pages of Our Dreams at Dusk are pretty hard to read. Tasuku Kaname’s classmates discover he is gay, and as a result he considers suicide, believing that his life is over now his secret is out. Whilst Tasuku contemplates his fate, he sees a woman who appears to jump over a railing to her own death. Tasuku runs to the location to assist the woman, and finds Someone-san alive and well. Someone-san tells Tasuku to talk about his problems, but she won’t listen if he does.

Following Someone-san to a drop-in centre, Tasuku meets other members of the LGBT+ community and becomes involved in a restoration project rennovating an old house. As Tasuku develops relationships with the other characters, he is brought back from the brink and often remarks that he’s glad he didn’t end his life.

At it’s heart Our Dreams at Dusk has a really endearing story which made me feel a lot of things. For the past couple of years I’ve struggled with my own identity and labels, as have many of the characters in Our Dreams at Dusk. There’s a lot of focus in Our Dreams at Dusk on accepting yourself as who you are, and not getting caught up with labels or opinions of others, and it’s really refreshing to see in a manga, and resonated a lot with me and gave me a lot of food for thought. As Tasuku himself says “I think not knowing is okay. There’s nothing weird about that.”

Tasuku develops really well throughout the manga, and it’s really fulfilling to see how he grows and changes, becoming more confident in himself and about his own feelings. With the help of the supporting cast, Tasuku explores what it is to be a member of the LGBT+ community, and gradually accepts himself.

Sometimes it does feel like Our Dreams At Dusk has a character for every LGBT+ label, almost as if the mangaka used a checklist to make sure everyone was represented, and as a result it does sometimes feel a bit performative, but nonetheless it’s still really encouraging to see minorities represented in a respectful way.

Something to be aware of when reading this manga is that there are a lot of anti-LGBT slurs used. If you’re sensitive to that kind of language, then please go in knowing that. The language isn’t used gratuitously, and ultimately does serve a purpose within the context of the story.

8 stars