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Manga Review: A Kiss, For Real Vol 1

Alternate Names: Sekirara ni Kiss (Japanese), True Kisses (German)
Year: 2015 (ongoing)
Author/Artist: Fumie Akuta
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, School Life

Reviewer’s Note: Each volume of this series includes four chapters. Most of the conflict in the first four chapters are internal rather than external.

Chitose has been living a lie since she was little. She’s convinced that by trying to please everyone that she will be happy. However, she never really feels at ease with revealing certain interests and talents with several of the people that she calls friends. When she is saved from a pervert on a train by a handsome boy named Itsuka, her savour dares her to live the authentic life. Whilst Chitose initially starts art classes in order to get close to Itsuka, his words force her to rethink her motivation and finally chose to do something for herself rather than somebody else.

The first four chapters of this series are really cute. The character growth of Chitose in a small period of time because somebody dared her to herself is refreshing given how a lot of manga series try to hard-sell specific products such as articles of clothing and cosmetics to their female readers. I could go on with a little philosophical debate about how physical things degrade over time but then I would also have to acknowledge how the mind can also degrade over time, which could create a rather boring diversion from this review. In any case, A Kiss, For Real feels a lot less like a big advertisement than a lot of modern series.
One of the important locales for this series is an art school. It provides a good background for Chitose to make new friends and improve her artistic ability. However, it does take a nudge on the part of Itsuka at the beginning for Chitose to genuinely take a genuine interest in art. The romance element is there but we also see Chitose figuring out a lot of stuff for herself by engaging in art. It quickly becomes both a challenge and an outlet for the teenager. We also see Chitose make meaningful connections with some of her fellow students.
As for Itsuka, he is a bit of an interesting character. Whilst there is an ample amount of male protagonists that give zero f*cks, Itsuka has a level of insight, intelligence, and talent which are demonstrated without laying it on thick. We also see his obvious affection for Chitose even though she has some mental obstacles. His encourages her to be someone to contend with rather than a fangirl. I can dig it.
There were a lot of other characters in this series. These figures give us further insight into how both Chitose and Itsuka think. This provides further opportunities for storytelling.
The artwork for this series has neat linework but the character and background designs aren’t exactly special. There are good enough to make the characters easy to discern, as well as help convey locale, action, and emotion.

In conclusion, I like what I’ve seen of this ongoing series so far. The artwork is clean and I like the focus of the story. It is certainly enjoyable enough so far for me to continue reading this series. I look forward to reading more of this series in the future.


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Manga Review: I’m in Love and It’s the End of the World Vol 1

Alternate Names: Chikyuu no Owari wa Koi no Hajimari
Year: 2015-2017
Author/Artist: Taamo
Genre: Shoujo, Romance

Reviewer’s Note: Volume 1 covers the first four chapters of this manga and an extra feature story. My review also covers the Timeless Scans English translation. It is also a short series, going for five volumes of four chapters each, with supplementary special chapters.

Mahiru Yanase is a strong believer that for anything good that happens, something equally bad will happen. As such, she becomes extremely anxious when Aoi Satomi confesses to her. How will Mahiru deal with this new development?

Whilst it is not unusual to see a pessimist female protagonist, I found Mahiru to be a rather interesting character overall. Her superstition is a bit of a hurdle for her. She wants to be happy but is constantly worried that anything good will be met with something equally bad. As such, she keeps a bunch of charms on her at all times. When she meets Aoi years before, she leaves an impression by defending him against the unjust accusation of shoplifting.
Both of these protagonists are looking for happiness but Aoi has his work cut out for him. I quite like this hangup as it is relatable. I think that most of us have that lingering worry in the back of our minds whenever something good happens. The difference is how we deal with that nagging voice. Do we let it inform our actions positively or negatively? And if we’ve let it affect us negatively in the past, can we change that destructive mental habit?
The artwork in this series is nothing to write home about, pretty much standard character and background designs. However, it is sufficient to convey locale, action, and emotion. In this regard, it works.

In conclusion, whilst this series isn’t overly special, the first four chapters were cute and I liked the characters. So far, this series seems to be a good entry-level shoujo romance series. Yes, I will be continuing this series over the coming weeks.

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Anime Review: 3D Konojo Real Girl Season 1

Year: 2018
Episodes: 12 (English-subbed version)
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, School Life, Slice of Life, Drama

In stake contrast to the Isekai and ecchi series I have recently reviewed, I decided to give an unfamiliar series a watch. A quick series showed up a few shows with the romance listing that wasn’t another rom-com. In this case, I went for the first season of 3D Konojo: Real Girl. It turned out to be freaking adorable and appealed to some of my own nerdy interests. Be aware of several spoilers below.

When socially-isolated anime and game nerd Hikari Tsutsui defends the attractive but blunt Iroha Igarashi from a pushy ex-boyfriend, he gains her full attention. Their relationship will affect the lives of not two but eight people.

Based on internet chatter about this series, the franchise seems to elicit strong emotions on either side of the spectrum. Simply put, people either love it or hate it. In my case, I loved it. It is a coming-of-age school romance with a ticking clock. It was one of those series that also manages to place importance on individuality rather than collectivism.
I found the characters to be sufficiently complex. They are flawed but deep down none of the six teenagers that are the main focus of this series feel out of the scope of what is possible. Teenagers are brash, weird, and often don’t think of the consequences of their actions. They are also capable of kindness even if their ability to convey how they feel is sometimes a mess.
In the case of Tsutsui, he is in completely unknown waters and it is easy to feel for him when his girlfriend isn’t open with him. It also goes to the idea that Igarashi is somewhat clueless about relationships herself. Whilst their relationship is the central focus of the series, we also three two (legitimate) love triangles (Ayado to Hikari and Yuuto to Ayado) and the relationship of Tsutsui’s younger brother and the younger sister of Mitsuya Takanashi. I won’t even count Mitsuya’s crush on Iroha as a love triangle as this is more of a way for him to meet the rather troublesome Arisa Ishino.
Arisa’s own love life is a complete mess. Her friendship with Hikari and Iroha helps her gain a bit more perspective of what a more-functional relationship should look like. (Notice that I didn’t say that HikIro’s relationship was perfect because they are still figuring things out.) Then she starts harassing Mitsuya to date her. This results in some amusing dialogue between Arisa and Mitsuya. It worked really well overall.
Over time, we see growing friendships for the various cast members, as well as several love triangles. This plays out tastefully, with the case of Mitsuya Takanashi being especially interesting. Whilst he initially comes off as a bit of a douche, we also see pride being a big obstacle for him becoming friends with Tsutsui.
Of all of the characters, my personal favourite is Hikari’s best friend Yuuto Itou. Yuuto is a sensitive young man that shares Hikari’s love of games and anime. His trademark Neko beany reflects his child-like naivety. He is such a treasure and cute as a button. YuuAya FTW!!!
The art design wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but it was easy to discern each character, with appropriate backgrounds. The use of color and visual effect was done well, helping evoke certain emotions.

In conclusion, the first season of this series was a pure joy to watch. It was freaking adorable. However, it did draw things out a bit too much at times. It wasn’t to Dragonball Z levels, mind you, but it was still noticeable. This seemed to lessen my enjoyability of the series itself. That being said, I still enjoyed this series a lot and look forward to binge-watching the second season when it is complete.


Manga Reread: Desire Climax

Year: 2004-2006 (completed)
Installments: 48 chapters and an after story
Author/Artist: Aya Sakyou
Version: Shoujo Magic (English fansub project)
Genre: Drama, Shoujo, Romance, Soap Opera, Smutt, School Life

Several years ago, I decided to give this series a read. It was the first Aya Sakyou series that I ever read but I found myself perpetually scratching my head as I read the entire series. Not long after that, I read Honey X Honey, a series in the same vein but a bit more rapey.

The Omori family have been serving the rich Jinnai family faithfully for generations. When Mio and Hinata’s father dies, their life is made even more difficult in lieu of their mother’s medical issues. Being a good big sister, Mio is working numerous jobs to give them a roof over their heads. However, it doesn’t give her a social life.
After an argument with a delinquent that is fighting on top of a car, he throws money at her and forcefully kisses her. She later meets him at the hostess club where she works one of her jobs, although she doesn’t realize it is him because… glasses. When he acts like a complete asshole towards her, she promptly pours a drink on him. A day or so, she learns that she is none other than the Jinnai heir Shoei Jinnai that she goes to school with. After being asked to help out as a maid, she arrives at the Jinnai clan residence and is sexually assaulted by Shoei who for some bizarre reason thinks that sexual assault might help her remember a time when they were childhood friends. So begins a tale of love, sexual assault and the power of friendship. And brotherly love? *scratches head*

To begin with, I was highly amused by this trashy manga series. However, the use of sexual assault was a bit of an odd choice given the quality of writing in Aya Sakyou’s series Biyaku Cafe. But, as I said before, I somehow managed to enjoy Desire Climax because it was complete trash. It was over-the-top and bitchy, to the point where one might expect Linda Evans and Joan Collins to pop up at any moment to start slapping each other.
Whilst I generally prefer to read stories where I can relate to the characters, there is a place for bitchy stories and tales of betrayal. These bad stories can be a guilty pleasure because they don’t even attempt to be realistic. These are the stories you read late at night when you have a bad day and simply wish to laugh at something. “Laugh?” you say. Yes. These sorts of stories are purely for the sake of amusement rather than trying to provide insight into human nature or convey some sort of moral.
Another thing of note is that the choices in this manga seem deliberate rather than random. That is not unusual for Sakyou’s writing. She also knows how to elicit emotions in the reader regardless of the genre. Whilst it is not necessarily a method that I would personally find myself using, the more that I read her work, the more that I can appreciate how she forms a story.

In conclusion, I really liked Desire Complex. However, I can’t really recommend it as an entry-level manga or to anyone that has difficulty with scenes of sexual violence, as mild as the situations in Desire Complex may be compared to other series. If these don’t apply, it might be worth you picking up.

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Manga Review: Getsuyoubi Kara Kataomoi

Year: 2015 (completed)
Installments: 5 and an after story
Author/Artist: Hisa Kyoumachi
Version: Chbi Manga (English fansub project)
Genre: Drama, Shoujo, Romance, School Life

This series revolves around a “prince” of the high school trying to take a girl away from her boyfriend. It was weak, annoying and I cared so little about the story that I couldn’t even be bothered learning the name of the characters. I mainly continued reading because some part of me hoped that the story would get better. Sadly, I was wrong. Sometimes your first impressions upon reading the first chapter of a story are correct, which is very much the case with Getsuyoubi Kara Kataomoi. The only thing going for it is the artwork which was passable. I really cannot recommend it as either an entry shoujo or otherwise.

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Anime Review: Kamisama Kiss Season 2

Year: 2015
Episodes: 12 (English dub version) 
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Drama, Supernatural 

At the end of Kamisama Kiss season 1, we saw a mysterious figure take an interest in Nanami’s shrine festival. Season 2 begins with Nanami getting an invitation to a periodic meeting of the gods. Whilst a large section of the second season revolves around this arc, we also see Nanami coming into her own, as well as Nanami and Tomoe beginning to acknowledge their romantic feelings for each a lot more. This is affected by the two looking into each other’s past. This played out with sufficient subtlety and facilitated character development as a whole.
The second season also introduced a lot of new characters, expanding the cast dramatically. There is a stark contrast in personality for some of the gods, ranging from the lazy to the aggressive and downright murderous. Nanami manages to gain respect and develop friendships in the process. We also saw the return of Hamemiko of Swamp and her human beloved Kataro, which in a sense offered a contrast to Nanami and Tomoe’s relationship.  
We saw more of the world as well, which Nanami is forced to navigate. For instance, there is an arc revolving Kurama, our resident Crow Tengu. Whilst many of these perils are related to the new characters that she comes into contact with, our resident shrine goddess must also deal with the dangerous environment of the spirit world. Whilst we saw a bit of this in the first season, the second season Nanami’s kind and often gullible nature continues to place her in several dangerous situations.

Kamisama Kiss continues to be one of my favorite Shoujo series, just as it is for many of the shoujo fans that I am acquainted with. Whilst it never received a third season, I will have to read the manga and watch the several available OVAs to get my fix. That is, however, after I have finished a sizable backlog of anime and manga.

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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.