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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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TV Review: Noble, My Love

Year: 2015
Episodes: 20 (English sub of South Korean web drama)
Online: Wikipedia, MDL, DramaFever
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Drama

After finishing up Something About One Percent the other day, I decided to check out the offerings at MDL and stumbled upon the series Noble, My Love. Each episode of this web drama is a little over fifteen minutes in length.

When down on her luck vet Cha Yoon Seo (Kim Jae Kyung) treats a wounded man that she finds near her clinic during a thunderstorm, her life quickly becomes complicated. He is none other than Lee Kang Hoon (Sung Hoon), the CEO for the Korean branch of D.O.L., one of the largest companies in the world.

To begin with, I had no clue what to expect from this series going in but I’d seen it mentioned on a few websites that I frequent. About as much as I knew was that it was a Korean Romantic Drama. That is often enough to give you some idea of the usual cliches but this series turned out to be oddly addictive. I ended up binge-watching the entire series in one day.
The story has a simple premise but manages to do an excellent job of evoking a manhwa aesthetic. It brings all of those cheesy romantic comedy and drama cliches together in a satisfying way. It doesn’t take itself seriously either. The casting worked well, even if some reviewers were critical about the chemistry between Kim Jae Kyung and Sung Hoon’s characters.
I liked the characters in this series. Sure, they are often cliched but this show never presents itself as anything other than a simple romantic comedy with dramatic elements. It is also easy to care about their situation. The characters also stay somewhat consistent throughout the series, making their arcs more realistic and compelling.
Much in all as I loved this show, I still have some issues. The first is the overuse of flashbacks. On average, each episode spends around two minutes on flashbacks and recaps. When the episode is already short then this takes up a noticeable chunk of each episode. It is also unnecessary a lot of the time.
My second issue is more of a complaint about how security is dealt with in a lot of drama series. If it is so easy to kidnap and kill all of these rich people, why aren’t they either dead or tied up in somebody’s basement? This simple attention to detail ups the stakes and makes the situation more exciting for readers and/or viewers. It isn’t like I am asking for The K2 levels of badassery here. I just want the bad guys to work for it, dammit!

In conclusion, I really liked this series. It might have a few flaws but it is still quite addictive. I recommend this series to anyone that enjoys KDrama and romantic comedies. It works well as an entry into KDrama as well. Be sure to check it out!


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Anime Review: Norn9

Year: 2016
Episodes: 12 + recap episode  (English Sub of Japanese series)
Norn9 Online: WikipediaMyAnimeList, IMDB, Hulu
Genre: Shoujo, Science Fiction, Romance, Drama

I came across Norn9 several months ago while trawling Youtube for anime music videos. One of these AMVs featured a handful of scenes from the series, and I decided to track down the anime. I am glad that I did because it turned out to be an epic and beautiful journey.
 
Norn9: Norn & Nonet follows the story of the inhabitants of the high tech ship known as the Norn. The Norn transports the hope of the world, a group of young men and women with special abilities. An attack on the ship by an unknown force follows the arrival of new member Koharu. The crew now have to deal with a figure that wants them dead. As they move closer to Reset, the stakes increase.
 
Norn9: Norn+Nonet is an anime adaptation of an Otome game for PlayStation Vita. It appears that things were different from the game. The anime removes the reverse harem elements of the game. This makes room for more linear romantic storylines and makes more sense. So, if you are a fan of the game (I never played it) don’t expect the adaptation to be a reverse harem.
The plot of Norn9 was compelling. The writing offered enough mystery that I binge-watched the show in two days. I had several theories after the first episode. It turned out that I was way off base with these initial impressions. But there was more than enough clues for it all to make sense. Anime and manga cliches slip into the storyline, but are meaningfully woven into the plot. 
A neat cast of characters made the story even more compelling. It was easy to grow attached to the characters, even the villains. You might not like some of their choices but it was easy to relate to their situation. The special abilities were cool but are second to this focus on characterisation. The art for Norn9 is gorgeous. The characters are attractive, with their own measure of uniqueness. The visually-striking science fiction world setting has its share of strange technology. The visuals for the Norn and The World HQ were especially amazing. Yet, Norn9 is a lot more than attractive bishies and neat-looking technology.
The music was set the right mood. The Japanese voice acting was spot-on. But, the sound effects weren’t special.
 
In conclusion, I have to say that this is close to the best drama anime that I have seen in a long time. Sure, it has romantic elements but they were one part of an epic story. All in all, a must watch for folks looking for an epic science fantasy with romantic elements.


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Manga Review: Gokko

Year: 2003
Author + Artist: Konoko Sakurokoji
Version: Waatame Shoujo Scanlation (1st story) + Haruhime Scanlations (remaining installments) [English translations]
Gokko Online: MyAnimeListMangaFoxKissManga
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Drama

The following review is based on my own personal tastes. It is opinion only and each person should make up their own mind if they decide to read the series.

Gokko is a collection of four Shoujo Romance one-shot stories. The stories are varied though each is based in modern-day where four very different couples develop and accept mutual attraction. The obstacles that each of these couples face is distinctly different because these individuals lead, as I said before, distinctly different lives. Some of these obstacles are related to social status, misunderstanding and “knowing oneself”.

Though this may not be the best one-shot collection of Shoujo Romance that I have read, it was highly enjoyable. I found myself liking each couple which is the first step in keeping me interested in a story. I saw no issues of questionable consent, one of my  big turn-offs for modern romance manga and anime. To me, focusing on sex rather than developing the relationship between two characters seems like a cheap way to avoid telling a story about two people. Konoko Sakurokoji avoided this very modern problem for the genre.
To my actual issues with these stories, I found that the first and fourth story seemed a bit too short. These two stories could have easily been expanded to two parts each in order to give enough room for us to understand the couple in each. Also, I wish that we could have seen more of the thoughts of the male protagonists in each of the stories as this would have allowed us to get more into their heads. But this latter desire would have also created problems for marketing given that the stories were to be marketed as Shoujo Romance. Shoujo tends to focus on the internal workings of the female character due to the demographic being young adult and teenage females.

In conclusion, this series is a pleasant read for folks looking for Shoujo Romance focusing on people rather than sex. It would also be a great introduction for newcomers to the genre. Be sure to avoid if you are looking for stories focused on sex, but note that there is an abundance of series out there that does meet that particular need.

If you decide to read this series of short stories, feel free to drop me a line to let me know what you thought of it. Also feel free to post any recommendations for short-run, one-shot or longer run manga. I am always looking for something to perk my interest and appreciate folks sharing what they’ve read and enjoyed.


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Manga Review: After Morning Love

Year: 2008
Author + Artist: Mitori Fujii
Version: Dangerous Pleasure Scanlation Group
After Morning Love Online: MyAnimeList, MangaFox, KissManga
Genre: Yaoi, Drama, Slice of Life, Romance

It’s been several months since I last posted a manga review. This time around, I will be reviewing the rather adorable After Morning Love. After Morning Love is a five-part Yaoi miniseries with several one-shots attached. I don’t read a lot of Yaoi series because I usually find myself at frustrated and annoyed at the issues of consent that are rife in this genre. Thankfully, this is not the case with After Morning Love.

Matsuno, a salaryman, wakes up after a night of drinking to find a young man in the bed next to him. Rin is a prostitute that tries to extort money out of Matsuno by implying that they had sex. Matsuno doesn’t remember having sex and it becomes clear that Rin is trying to con him. In spite of this attempted scam, the kind-hearted Matsuno soon finds himself feeling protective of a young man that he learns barely survives from day to day. Although Matsuno is “not gay”, he has to navigate his own growing feelings for Rin. Misunderstanding abounds as the pair try to muddle through their own feelings for each other.

After Morning Love is an odd story. As mentioned before, most of my issue with the genre is the issue of consent, but I would also extend that to a focus on sex rather than building a real relationship and character development. These are also issues that I have with Shoujo though.
Right out of the blocks, I had the sense that this story would be different. The whole con thing gives us a sense of what Rin is willing to do in order to avoid spending a night in the street. Matsuno’s feeling of protectiveness also gives us a sense of how good of a guy that he is. Over time, we also get to meet several other characters and see what Rin is trying to avoid.
As for their relationship. it is easy to see how the pair complements each other. However, they will need to deal with their own personal obstacles first. For Matsuno, it is acknowledging that he is in love with Rin. He will also have to figure out some of the misunderstandings between them because he is unfamiliar with some of the terms used specifically in the gay community. Matsuno is also concerned about the age thing even though Rin is old enough to go to college. Rin will have to deal with his own fear of rejection that plagues much of their courtship. He was kicked out of home by his dad for being gay and feels unloveable.
After Morning Love reminds me of the series Higouhou Junai, otherwise known as Pure Love Outlaw which I last read about five years ago. Pure Love Outlaw is a series that I remember with great fondness for its thoughtful and mature depictions of same-sex relationships. If folks can think of similar Yaoi series, then feel free to post recommendations in the comments section.

In conclusion, After Morning Love is a really adorable, well-paced story with characters that were easy to care about. If you are looking for a mature romance that happens to be between two male characters, then I highly recommend this series.

I am currently looking for a regular manga series to review on a weekly basis. I encourage folks to send in their recommendations from my existing list as well as any other series that they can think of. I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with.


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TV Review: Goblin Episode 02

Year: 2016 – 2017
Episode: 1/16 completed KDrama series (English sub)
Other Names: The Lonely, Shining Goblin; Guardian: The Lonely and Great God; Prince Maker; Mr Sunshine
Online: Wikipedia, MyDramaList,  HanCinema, KoreanDrama, AsianWiki, DramaFever
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Drama, Romance

*waves* I finally got around to watching the second episode of Goblin. Yes, I did take a few weeks to get to it along with some other stuff. Sorry for the delay.

The second episode follows the events after Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) follows Kim Shin the Goblin (Goon Yoo) through the door to Canada. After spending a day in Quebec, Ji Eun Tak is returned to Korea where she has to put up with her crappy relatives. Our resident Grim Reaper (Lee Doon Wook) discusses the task of retrieving several missing souls with another reaper, then gets into a pissing contest with Kim Shin after the Goblin keeps him up all night trying to think of the most trendy way to look when summoned next. Ji Eun Tak gets a job at the least busy Chicken restaurant in the city where she works for the most deliberately disinterested and pretty manager. Our heroine is also watched over by a transformed version of that old spirit-seer that her mother used to know, the one that stood up for the girl during the Grim Reaper’s delayed retrieval of her mother’s soul. After her horrible aunt is visited by nefarious loan sharks, they kidnap the girl for the bankbook for the girl’s insurance money from her mother’s death. In lieu of the young woman being in danger, Kim Shin and Grim Reaper’s telekinetic fight at the dinner table is disrupted and they come to her aid.

Though this show isn’t necessarily a comedy, it had large amounts of funny moments. We still get the feeling that Ji Eun Tak’s aunt’s family are a bit like Harry Potter’s horrible relatives but we also learn how much her family rely on her insurance money. As for the Kim Shin and Grim Reaper, the two show themselves to be more than willing to behave like children when competing with each other. We aren’t given much information about their long-term feud but one gets the feeling that their history will be elaborated on in future episodes. In any case, the episode was highly enjoyable and a good fit for watching in tandem with Dame wa Watashi ni Koshite Kudasai. I will definitely be continuing this highly entertaining series.