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Manga Review: Atashi No Banbi

Year: 2013
Author: Ozaki Akira
Genre: Shoujo, Comedy, Romance, Drama, Slice of Life, School Life

Atashi no Banbi is a four-chapter series that centres around the peculiar relationship between first-ranked student Haruko Nanase and hoodlum Hachiya. After he tries to extort money from her after she witnesses him fighting on a train, she runs away. Unfortunately, her peaceful world is put in jeopardy when she learns that he is in the same class. This begins a comedic coming-of-age tale about a nerd and her future boyfriend.

To begin with, this series shares a lot of similarities with the shoujo series My Little Monster in regards to the archetypes of the leads and to some small degree the setup. However, that is where the similarities end. As much as I adore MLM, Atashi no Banbi places higher because of how much more relatable the male and female leads of this series are portrayed. They aren’t unnecessarily “broken” and this is where Atashi no Banbi manages to surpass many in the Shoujo rom-com genre. It also manages to do so without a single kiss or “love” scene. Weird, huh?
Hachiya and Haruko are so adorable together but their growing fondness for each other isn’t dragged on beyond what it takes for them to acknowledge and express their mutual feelings for each other. There is the right amount of embarrassment and anxiety especially from Haruko as she comes to realise her feelings for Hachiya. These two characters are really fun to watch because of how well nuance is balanced with the in-your-face silliness of school life. It is easy to root for this pairing because of the way that the self-professed “idiots” complement each other.
Whilst this series uses the backdrop of study sessions to develop Haruko and Hachiya’s relationship, it provides the right amount of shenanigans to make for some entertaining scenes. They are also joined in their efforts by Misawa Akira, a girl from another class who is hoping to win the heart of her long-time crush by getting good grades. We see major character development for Misawa on account of having two friends who support her. Whilst she still remains a flawed character, seeing her view of herself change is compelling to watch. Sometimes, a simple word of encouragement can turn your life around.
It is through these relationships that Horuko realises that she really does need human connections and changes her priorities in order to be happier in her own skin. Whilst Hachiya has his own degree of character growth, it is nowhere near as subtle as that of Haruko. This is okay because people have different issues to contend with. In any case, this makes for a compelling read that I can foresee reading again in the not-so-distant future.

In conclusion, I really liked this short series. I felt that it said what it needed to say and also delivered on the promise made in the first chapter to change the dynamic between two relative strangers that happened to be on a train at the same time. I recommend this series to anyone looking for a coming-of-age rom-com that doesn’t rely on sex or fan service to tell a compelling story. It is sure to entertain those looking for a short but impactful series as well. So, if this sounds like a story that would interest you, then be sure to check it out.


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Manga Review: Mission of Love Vol. 3

Alternate Names: Love Mission, Missions of Love, xx Me!, Watashi Ni Xx Shinasai!
Year: 2009 – 2015
Author/Artist: Ema Toyomo
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Comedy, Drama, Slice of Life

Yes, it has been a while since I read this series. Volume 3 covers chapters ten to fifteen of this series.

After Akira’s decides to finally act on his feelings for Yukina, it is the fully-fledged beginning of a love triangle. The return of Shigure’s girl-pal Mizumo Mami further complicates matters as Yukina misunderstands Shigure’s relationship with her. In lieu of this, Yukina decides that it is better to quit with the silly love missions. However, Shigure gets p*ssed and declares that he wants to continue in order to jerk her around. It is abundantly obvious that he likes her but is in denial, because… shoujo… In any case, Yukino finally manages to create a mission that makes Shigure hilariously uncomfortable… for about ten seconds… A peeping Mizumo decides to crush Yukino because… bitchy and manipulative shoujo love rival… Hmm… She kicks up her attempts to be “friends” with Yukino in order to make it easier to find a weakness and even begins messing with Akira.

Well, this series is a good example of what to expect from the era in which it was published. The time since I last read it allowed me to gain a fresh perspective. Unfortunately, it means that some of the elements that are standard for this series are just plain annoying.
An example of this is in the form of Mizumo. She is so two-dimensional that it hurt reading scenes with her in. We get it, she likes Shigure all to herself. But that is about it for her character. She lacks even a minor amount of depth to the point where she just comes off as a plot device. Akira is better but he doesn’t fare better.

So, what does this mean going forward? Well, I think I will give the series one or two volumes to see if it improves. If it does, then I will continue. And if not… Well, you guys get the gist anyway. I do not want to waste my time on a series that I feel is subpar to others within the same genres.

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Webtoon Review: The Boy in the All-Girls School

Year: 2018 (ongoing)
Genre: Shounen, Comedy, Ecchi, Harem, Manhua, Romance, School life, Slice of life

I’ve been reading a lot of webtoons of late and came across the title that I will be discussing in this post, The Boy in the All-Girls School. My review of this series is based on the hundred or so chapters that I happened to read before I discontinued reading this title.

After transferring to a former girl’s school notorious for male students getting tortured by several members of the student body, the protagonist is a guinea pig to see if the androphobic females can finally get used to having a male attend. He reluctantly agrees to join the experiment and is forced to navigate the machinations of several students that want nothing more than to have him run crying out of the school gates.

This series had a promising start. The premise was solid and I found myself recognising many of the classic harem cliches that the Chinese creator was trying to emulate. These cliches were done well and I found myself laughing repeatedly at the over-the-top behaviour of the female characters. The male lead is a character that was no pushover either, and many of his reactions showed how strong his character was. The artwork wasn’t anything to write home about but it was good enough to convey the story and show a living, breathing world.
Unfortunately, the story took an odd turn around the hundredth or so chapter. Wherein the series had been a comedic ecchi harem previously, the writer decided out of the blue to make the main character secretly a powerful martial artist that can take on world-renown assassins and they added a bizarre, nonsensical arc relating to a company trying to take over the school. There was no foreshadowing, and it effectively broke the promises made in the first few chapters of this series. It is as if the author wanted to start another series but didn’t want to go through to trouble of starting over. It was a huge disappointment and cast aside the goodwill that had been built up until these changes to the story.

I cannot recommend this series in spite of the promising (and silly) start. I felt let down by the experience. It could have easily been avoided as well by simply using sufficient foreshadowing earlier in the series. On a good note, I have lots of high-quality webtoon series to cleanse the pallet.

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Manga Review: Mamono-tachi Wa Katazuke Rarenai Chapters 1 – 10

Alternate Names: Monsters Can’t Clean
Year: 2019 – ongoing
Author/Artist: Takano Yuya
Genre: Fantasy, Slice of Life, Comedy

There are a lot of weird webcomics and manga being released these days. Whilst we see a lot of clones of more popular series, there is a rare title that is so unique that it is worth discussing. An example of this is the Korean gender-bending science fiction series I Am My Wife, an odd series that has been making the rounds of late. Whilst I will likely post an entry about that series at some point, this post will focus on the first tens chapters of cleaning fantasy Monster’s Can’t Clean. I’ll try not to give too many spoilers in this post.

When the dragon Idoru demands a nearby village provide him with a human to eat, he meets the orphan Kliera, a saintly girl volunteered for the job. After arriving at his cave, she makes the odd suggestion of cleaning up his trash pile of a cave in order to make his food more enjoyable to eat. He reluctantly obliges and this simple move will create a domino effect that will change his life and that of the other monsters living in their forest for the better. So begins the bizarre friendship of a clean freak and a slothful dragon.

If there is one word to describe this series it would have to be “wholesome”. I have come across a few slice-of-life series in my time but none that beautifully made use of the mundane act of cleaning to bring about change in the lives of the cast. As such, the series often reminds me of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime but without the action and occasional ecchi elements.
Characters? Whilst Kliera seems to have a mild mental disorder revolving around cleaning, there is a certain logic to the madness. She is also one of the kindest MCs around, not judging monsters based on their strange and at-times horrific appearances. This allows her to make friends with a hermit alchemist witch, a snake spirit, fairy, and zombie community, whilst at the same time helping bridge the gap between monsters and the humans that fear them. Idoru is a great straight “man” that is constantly stunned at Kliera’s “cleaning magic”. Their bond is so lovely to watch and is understandably commented on by other cast members.
The comedic elements play out wonderfully via amusing dialogue and some situational shenanigans. Tied into this is real-world home cleaning remedies that are utilised by Kliera as she attempts to help others and be clean enough to eat. It is a little odd, but it comes off as both charming and hilarious.
World-building? Whilst there is some world-building, the information that is given stays relevant to the current events and circumstances that the characters find themselves in. For example, we learn about how dragons are perceived by the kingdom due to recent events involving an attack on the capital. So, don’t expect to see any early Terry Brooks style info-dumps. (The early Shannara books were rife with this.)
As for the art in this series, it is in no way to the masterpiece levels one would expect from the likes of Studio Ghibli. However, the cartoonish style perfectly fits with the vibe of the series. Every time that I looked at a panel, I couldn’t help but smile because of how well it conveyed concepts such as accepting people that are different, kindness and love. Takano Yuya conveys these ideas so well between the art and the storytelling.

In conclusion, this series is really adorable. The story holds to promises given at the beginning of the series, the plot makes sense and the characters are relatable. Mamono-tachi Wa Katazuke Rarenai checked all of these boxes so far, making it worth recommending. If you are looking for a break from more serious and “mature” titles, be sure to check out this series because it is beyond cute.

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Manga Review: After the Rain Volume 1

Alternate Names: Koi wa Amaagari no You ni, Love is Like after the Rain, After the Rain (MAYUZUKI Jun), Koi wa Ameagari no You ni
Year: 2014 – ongoing
Author/Artist: Jun Mayazuki
Genre: Seinen, Romance, Drama, School Life, Slice of Life

Yes, I have finally decided to read this sucker, after circling this title for several weeks. What tipped the scales was learning that the series was recently adapted into an anime. Anyway, I liked the premise of this series and, shock-horror, the first volume was a delight to read.

Akira Tachibana’s life took a turn when she had an ankle injury. This forced the promising runner out of the sport and led to her working at a family restaurant. The seventeen-year-old has developed feelings for her fourty-five-year-old boss, Masami Kondou, a divorcee with a young son. We learn, over the span of the first volume how much his presence has impacted her life.
Masami Kondou is well aware that he is not a young man anymore. Whilst he doesn’t know that the mature young woman is in love with him, he is clearly attracted to Akira and spends a bit of time worrying and thinking about her. We also see Akira trying to decipher the meaning of his actions towards her, the product of her lack of experience in matters of the heart.
How will their mutual attraction for each other fair in the light of day. How will the two move forward?

The organic manner in which the relationship between Tachibana and Kondou develops over the span of the first volume is such a delight to watch. They are such relatable characters, and it is easy to root for them. The age gap is not a big deal because Akira is an adult, with a maturity well-beyond her seventeen years. She sees something in Kondou that others are too blind to see. Kondou has some mild flaws, but he is such a kind fellow that shoulders the burden of the entire restaurant. In this, he shows his sense of self-worth and responsibility.
In the background is Akira’s schoolmate and long-time admirer Takashi Yoshizawa. As adorable as he is, Takashi spends most of his time trying to mold himself into what he believes Akira likes to be in order to get her attention. The poor thing doesn’t stand a chance but I cannot help but wish for his happiness because he is such a good-hearted character. The introduction of several other female characters provides some hope for this energetic little bunneh. (Why on earth does he remind me of Tamaki Suoh?) 
The minimalistic nature of the storytelling so far works as reality isn’t just going from one disaster or drama to another. Those lulls in the chaos can tell us almost as much about one’s character as when they are dealing with family problems or trouble at high school. This is certainly the case with Tachibana, who spends a lot of time reflecting on her life now that she cannot run anymore. Whilst she is sad to see an end to that part of her life, her strong character dictates that she has to move forward rather than live in the past. It also gives her a chance to make sense of her feelings for Kondou.
Artwork? The linework and character designs are gorgeous. A lot of folks have commented on the design of Akira in particular. Whilst I concur that her design is awesome, we can’t overlook the wonderful contrast with that of Kondou. He is a little dorky, but I keep smiling when I see the two characters in a scene together. (so cute!!) In any case, the artwork does an excellent job of showing rather than telling us about the characters and the world that they inhabit.

I could go on with some other points about the series based on the first volume. However, I think that you guys should just dive right in. The first volume is a lovely read, with no “lewds” and some solid character development. My verdict? I am willing to give this sucker a rating of nine out of ten. I look forward to reading more of the series in the weeks and months that follow.

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Manga Review: Mission of Love Vol. 2

Alternate Names: Love Mission, Missions of Love, xx Me!
Year: 2009-2015
Author/Artist: Ema Toyomo
Genre: Shoujo, Romance, Comedy, Drama, Slice of Life

Reviewer’s Note: Volume Two of this manga covers chapters 5-8 of the series. Beware of possible spoilers.

In volume two, we see Yukina’s expert manipulation of Shigure after he attempts to use her weakness (the removal of her glasses) to get back at her again. As Shigure grapples with his own growing affections for Yukino, her cousin Akira is dealing with his own jealousy at their growing connection.

This week’s four chapters showcase yet again how focused Yukina is with her writing, especially in lieu of her archnemesis Dolce overtaking her in the cellphone novel popularity ladder. We also see a bit of a eureka moment, wherein she learns the value of the unexpected in developing tension in literature. Whilst we saw her ability to turn the tables on Shigure in the first volume, this time around, we see her growing more and more impatient to figure things out. She wants to understand what love is, something that Shigure points out in the fifth chapter that she has to figure out for herself.
We also see Akira featuring more prominently in volume two. Whilst I like Shigure and Yukina, Akira is becoming a more interesting character to me. He offers a pleasant, innocent contrast to the male and female leads. It is easy to empathise with him as well, given how close he is to Yukina. However, I am well aware of how best friend characters are often treated in shoujo series. They are rarely the focus of the story. Instead, that honor usually goes to bad boys and/or ice queens.

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Manga Review: Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun Chapters 11-15

Year: 2011 (ongoing) [English translation]
Author/Artist: Izumi Tsubaki
Genre: Shounen, Comedy, Romance, School Life, Slice of Life

Reviewer’s Note: Chapters 11-15 covers the first half of the second volume of this manga, which covers material from the anime as well. Please note that I’ve also decided to provide an overview of each chapter read, leading to spoilers.

  • Chapter 11: Chiyo and Nozaki go to a shopping mall. They visit various stores eventually heading to a toy store where they meet and discuss figurines with Mikorin. After going back to his place Nozaki tries to get Chiyo to wear a sailor uniform as a reference for his manga. Yes, he does find it difficult to talk about stuff other than work – thanks for noticing!
  • Chapter 12: Ahead of a meeting with Ken, Nozaki, Chiyo, and Mikorin discuss Maeno’s editorial practices. Nozaki offers his usual scathing review of his former editor, citing examples. We see a flashback to his first meeting with Ken after being transferred to a new editor. At the current day meeting, Nozaki and Ken have a meeting about new installments of Let’s Fall in Love.
  • Chapter 13: It is a Seo and Waka chapter this time around. Nozaki, Chiyo, and Seo discuss the way that people react to Seo’s “alter ego” Lorelai. Waka shares his trauma at being targeted by Seo with Nozaki. On a visit to Nozaki’s place, he falls asleep to the music of Lorelai, not realising it actually Seo singing. Waka volunteers to become a part of Nozaki’s manga team in exchange for Nozaki’s song by Lorelai.
  • Chapter 14: In continuation of the events of the previous chapter, we see Waka discussing how to get back at Seo for her constant bullying. He makes the mistake of using one of Nozaki’s shoujo books for tips, managing to compliment her and give a gift of mittens instead of duel-declaring gloves without realizing the mistake… BECAUSE HE IS A MORON! But hey, he is an adorable moron. As for Seo, she is her usual oblivious self as well, but what can you expect?
  • Chapter 15: This chapter begins with Ken pointing out the lack of depth in Nozaki’s male and female protagonists Mamiko and Suzuki. We see Ken prompt Nozaki to think about Mamiko’s motivations, leading to Nozaki bringing Bento lunches to school, him getting into shenanigans with Kashima.

This week’s five chapters play out as they did in the anime series, but it isn’t an issue because the various moments are, at least for an avid fan like myself, repeatable. Love it! Love it! Love it! Time to let out a fangirl squeal of approval… *squee*
I’ll soon be coming to the end of the material adapted for the anime series. It feels a little bit weird but I am also oddly excited to meet some of the other characters, such as Chiyo’s younger brother and Nozaki’s younger sister. I want to see what other silliness this series can provide as well. I am really looking forward to it.

As a side note, I am considering changing my ratings for comedy categories to Aguris or Mikorins based on who the lead is now. I believe it is fitting given that these two idiots exemplify a spirit of whimsy and silliness. In any case, enjoy this adorable gif of Mikorin.