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Manga Review: Arslan Senki 001 – 005

Year: 2013 (ongoing)
Author: Yoshiki Tanaka
Artist: Hiroumu Arakawa
Version: MangaStream
Online: Wikipedia, MAL, KissManga
Genre: Shounen, Action, Fantasy, Drama

In lieu of my upcoming writing project, I figured it might be worth reading some manga that more closely reflected the aesthetics that I was looking for. I decided to give the newest manga adaptation of the novel Arslan Senki a run. The first adaptation was in 1986 and the second in 1991. Each had their own unique art style that gave a distinctly different feel. I’d also like to point out that there are also several anime adaptations of the various manga adaptations. So… many… adaptations!

Arslan Senki, otherwise known as The Heroic Legend of Arslan, tells the story of a kind-hearted young prince named Arslan. When one of his father’s most trusted generals betrays the unstoppable Parsian army, the defeats of the Parsians leads the way for the capital to be attacked. As Arslan’s first campaign, he loses so much. However, with so much on the line, fate forces the fourteen-year-old to step up. The first step will be finding some allies to take out hundreds of thousands of soldiers motivated by religious zealotry.

To begin with, this series is drawn by the talented Hiroumu Arakawa. Hiroumu Arakawa is the artist for Fullmetal Alchemist, a series that many of you have at least some familiarity with. The art style may not feature that mechanized contraptions of his Fullmetal Alchemist setting, but it does share similar character designs. In this case, the world setting is based on certain areas of the middle east during the crusades. Given the subject matter, the art shows more gore and the audience is quickly made aware that Arslan and his companions have their work cut out for them.
The plot is a very simple one but it does a good job of showing how much trust many of the characters put into their allies. This doesn’t necessarily work out, a major betrayal causes the deaths of thousands of troops, creating a baptism of fire for young Arslan. He isn’t a particularly good warrior but he has Daryun looking out for him.
This focus on working as a group feels like it will continue on in future chapters. I also anticipate Arslan’s martial training to finally pay off. Given the hint at the inclusion of future allies, how will they affect the dynamic of the party of four? I am also curious if Narsus paints nudes. In any case, the first five chapters have my interest perked. 

Will I be continuing this series? Well, I like the artwork and I like the characters so far. The action sequences are cool and the plot is interesting. Whilst there were some goofy moments in chapter five, it was more of a way to contrast the large amounts of bloodshed seen earlier. So, the answer is a resounding yes.

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Manga Review: 18 Diary

Year: 2003
Author + Artist: Akira Shouko
Online: MAL, Kissmanga, Mangafox (MF version is incomplete)
Genre: Shojo, Slice of Life, Romance

18 Diary consists of three one-shots, each focusing on a separate couple. The stories are cute and surprisingly varied, showing the complexities of school and family life from the perspectives of young men and women in different situations. The time constraints still mean that some ideas aren’t explored but I don’t have an issue with that because it was easy to root for the success of these three couples. There are no issues with consent like a lot of modern shojo series, with the characters having agency in their own decisions.

  • Story 1: A young woman is in love with a long-time friend who has had a long-time crush on a childhood friend. When his crush starts dating a college guy, he decides that he wants to do something to impress her. He enlists that aid of his long-time friend to teach him how to swim, leading to him realising that his affections should have been directed elsewhere.
  • Story 2: An angsty girl hooks up with a guy from school at a party. In lieu of leaving her parents stolen divorce papers for some bizarre reason at the hotel where they bumped uglies, the angsty girl and her beau enact a plan that is soon rendered pointless but manages to help them strengthening their growing affections for each other.
  • Story 3: A young woman that looks after her little brother makes the acquaintance of a son of the manager of her school. In spite of her long-term jealousy of this perceived black sheep of his family, she discovers a rather complex young man that wants to become a professional dancer. The two quickly become friends and then smooch buddies.

The characters are allowed to succeed and fail, but some readers will prefer a bit more conflict. The couplings also made sense, each character complementing the other. I suppose that it wouldn’t necessarily be a romance if the couplings weren’t complementary.
The artwork is pretty standard in style for the time that it was written. Whilst certainly not exceptional, it does what it needs to convey the situation and emotions of the character. It may not be as pretty as some of the new manga series, but I still find myself enjoying it a lot more than some of the newer stuff.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable anthology of shojo romance. The pacing for each story was good, it was easy to care about each character and the artwork was good enough to convey the story. I recommend it to long-time fans of the genre. However, it might spoil newcomers to the genre as it is in my personal opinion of higher quality than a lot of manga in this genre.


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Manga Review: Before Daylight Love

Year: 2010
Author + Artist: Mitori Fujii
Version: Dangerous Pleasure Scanlation Group
After Morning Love Online: MyAnimeListMangaFoxKissManga
Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Slice of Life, Romance

Back in June, I reviewed a short-run series called After Morning Love. Before Daylight Love is a follow-on story to the series, focusing on the characters of Tatsumi (Yakusa guy) and Daiki, the guy that is Rin’s boss at the bar. While we did get to see a bit of Daiki in the first series, it barely touched on Tatsumi’s situation.

After years of providing a safe haven for Tatsumi at his bar, Daiki is injured by thugs looking to kill Tatsumi. It leads to the realization that Tatsumi sees him as much more than a protector.

Whilst this series is cute, it wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable as the first series. I would have preferred getting to know the two characters rather than be dropped into the middle of the situation. I like that sort of progression and it was done right in After Morning Love. I suspect that this choice was probably due to the chapter limitation. It also makes the assumption that we know a bit about the characters already. This is not a good idea if you hope to draw in new readers.
I like the characters overall, just as I did in the original series. Whilst Daiki is outgoing, Tatsumi is understandably reserved due to the need for secrecy in his criminal organisation. Their relationship feels right as well, with the two complementing each other well. Yes, there are some naughty bits, more than the previous series. Nothing explicit, mind you, and it certainly doesn’t fall into porn levels seen in some other Yaoi series. It focuses more on storytelling and character development.
Unfortunately, this story suffers from a bit of “telling, not showing”. This made it difficult for me to genuinely feel tied to their plight. It seemed like the characters were constantly trying to convince the reader that the situation was life-threatening rather than giving us a glimpse of the carnage going on when Tatsumi was out and about doing his thing. Much in all as this isn’t an action series, more violence would have shown the genuine threat that Tatsumi was facing.
Before Daylight Love also includes a continuation of the Animal Ears bonus story seen towards the end of the previous series. I would rate it as a “meh”. It was fluff then and this new instalment feels flat as well. For me, the bonus story would have been better omitted from both series altogether.

In conclusion, as much as I like this story, it wasn’t as good as its predecessor. I felt removed from Daiki and Tatsumi. It was a bit of a let-down for a series that had so much promise.


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Manga Review: Atashi wa Sore o Dekinai

Year: 2004 (4 parts, three stories total)
Author + Artist: Maki Enjouji
Version:  Viscans [English translations]
Online: MyAnimeListKissMangaMangaFox
Genre: Josei, Romance, Drama, Smut

Atashi wa Sore o Dekinai is an anthology of three Josei Romance stories. It features sex scenes and the classic “main guy is a jerk” cliche so common in both Josei and Shoujo. Whilst I do have some issues with the characterization in the three stories, the artwork is attractive and the characters are easily defined by Maki Enjouji. I wouldn’t say that it is a bad collection but I wouldn’t say that it is good either. If you are looking for an introduction to Josei Romance, there are certainly better anthologies and long-run series out there.


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Manga Review: Biyaku Café

Year: 2008 – 2011 (34 parts)
Author + Artist: Ayane Ukyou
Version:  Decadence [English translations]
Online: MyAnimeListKissMangaMangaFox
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Drama, Smut

Kaoru Iseya was just fired. After accidentally kicking a can into a door of the only cafe open late that same night, she is accosted by the owner of the establishment. After accepting the offer of a cup of tea, she wakes up naked next to him the following morning. As she is about to leave, he points out that she never paid for the tea or damages to the door and that she must work it off at the Cafe. She agrees. So begins Kaoru’s job at a very unusual host cafe. [The summary at MAL is garbage.]

Biyaku Café is a collection of stories set in a very unusual cafe called Aphrodisiac Cafe that intersect with the main arc of Kaoru (the girl that has bishounen-like qualities) and Kagetsu’s amusing developing relationship. Sure, the premise of having to pay off a debt is nothing new to manga, but it plays out in Biyaku Café in a unique and interesting way. This premise is used to tell not just one story but is a way to also introduce us to several others. This is somewhat charming even if a little cheesy at times. However, be prepared for the occasional sad story in amongst the silly fun that is Biyaku Café.
I was familiar with Ayane Ukyou’s work on the Yaoi series Kuroneko Kareshi series going in. Though I found this other work flawed, it still had a character and a story arc that suggested that Ayane was capable of something beyond smut. Oddly enough, I only found out that it was the same author and artist after looking at a few frames. The art style is very similar to Ukyou’s work on Kuroneko Kareshi but focuses a lot less on the intimate relationship of the characters. My one criticism of the artwork of Biyaku Café is that some of the characters were very similar in appearance making it periodically difficult to differentiate them. However, the linework was still neat and the settings were pleasing on the eye.
Whilst Biyaku Café does have some non-explicit sex scenes, these scenes are used to push the story of Kaoru and Kagetsu forward.  Whilst the romance in Biyaku Café predominantly focuses on hetero couples, we also see the complication of one of Kagetsu’s male admirers. Each of these arcs is addressed in a satisfying and meaningful way over the span of the series. Instead of judgement, it offers a voyeuristic look into the relationships of the various characters. It is so gratifying to see each of these characters find happiness. Whilst not all characters find love, we do see some well-needed closure that allows them to move on with their life.
As a side, there does appear to be some discussion in the manga reading community over favourite couples of the series. Each relationship plays out in an entertaining fashion. If I had to choose a favourite couple in Biyaku Café, then it is definitely Kaoru and Kagetsu followed closely by Omi and Tomomi. Why? Because there is less resistance to their attractions showing these four characters to be a lot more in touch with their own emotions and willing to act upon it as adults.

I really enjoyed this odd little series. It might be a little cheesy and some of the character art needs further differentiation but it was a really fun and unique series. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a mature Shoujo romance series.


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Manga Review: 16 Life

Year: 2009 – 2010 (12-parts)
Author + Artist: Saki Aikawa
Version:  Chibi Manga [English translations]
Online: MyAnimeListKissMangaMangaFox
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Slice of Life

16 Life is a short run, full arc series about Saya Kajiura, a 16-year-old student that is discovered by young music producer Yazuki Takase while singing at a Karaoke restaurant. This chance meeting will have a lasting effect on their life and happiness.

The story is short but manages to pack a lot of story into those twelve instalments. I don’t come across short-run series and it was a real joy to come across one that manages to tie everything together as meaningfully as 16 Life does. Each scene also allowed us to learn something about each character as well. Saki Aikawa cut down on scenes that offered little or nothing of value to the story, allowing readers a story rather than pointless filler.
It is so easy to like the characters as well, even if you feel compelled to slap or scream at their visage. There were a few annoying moments but we often see Naoto Hiiragi helping push the story forward with his regular poking of Saya and Takase as well as pointing out when they do something idiotic or contrary to logic. Simply put, this awesome supporting character is the glue that holds the story together.
The relationship between Saya and Yazuki plays out in a logical yet understandably chaotic fashion. It doesn’t drag on with silly drama either, allowing it to resolve in a satisfying fashion. It was easy to root for them because we understood where each was coming from. We also see that putting away of secrets necessary for the pair to move on as a couple. Add to this the lack of reliance upon sex scenes in order to develop their relationship and I consider it a winner.
The artwork of this manga did a good job of conveying the story. The linework was crisp, with backgrounds depicting a living, breathing world. Saki Aikawa decided to give figures without dialogue a face as well. Whilst this is done well in 16 Life, the same cannot be said for other stories where that focus on art often takes away from good storytelling.

In conclusion, I really liked this series. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a short-run Shoujo to get stuck into. It is also a good introduction to the genre and is suitable for anyone that is looking for story over sex scenes.


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Manga Review: 1/3 Romantica

Year: 2008
Author + Artist: Yuka Shibano
Version:  Tenchi-Tachi [English translations]
1/3 Romantica Online: MyAnimeListKissMangaMangaFox
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Slice of Life

1/3 Romantica is a five-part slice of life romance anthology consisting of three stories. Each story is distinct, with the first being told in a longer arc of three parts. Given that it is a tough act to follow, the second story feels flat comparatively. However, the third picks up with a coming-of-age tale about a teenager finding her place in the world.
Though not as entertaining as some anthologies, 1/3 Romantica still manages to be an enjoying read. It also avoided a focus on physical intimacy without demonising sex. This worked for me as I find that writers and artists often use sex scenes to avoid fixing problems such as plot holes.
The artwork is attractive even if the style is dated. The settings and characters complement the stories giving the reader a sense of a living, breathing world. It also had the feel of the artist using just the right amount of linework to convey the story.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this manga to folks with an appreciation for “clean” shoujo romance. So, if you are looking for some raunchy sex scenes then steer clear of this title. I’d also recommend this title to anyone new to the genre because of the focus on storyline and character development.