Friday, March 22, 2019

Improving Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (cause it wasn't as awful as I thought it would be)

Valerian and Laureline
So I finally watched "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." (Currently free on Amazon Prime) I thought it would be absolutely awful and it actually wasn't, but it wasn't exactly good either. I'm a huge fan of Luc Besson's film "The Fifth Element" and while it wasn't anywhere near that monumental triumph, it also wasn't a burning pile of poo like the Wackowski's "Jupiter Ascending" or James Cameron's over-hyped and nearly unwatchable "Avatar." (Yes, I really really dislike that film)

However, this isn't a review of Valerian. Instead, it's a list of what could have been done to improve it. Because that's more fun to write. Go read someone else's review if you want to know what it's about and whether you might like it. Try this one from Rolling Stone.

So how do we improve a super expensive and mediocre movie:

1) Cast actors who can act. Sounds simple given the planet's overabundance of talented and under-employed actors. However, we're stuck with the two absolute worst actors in the lead roles. While there is no doubting that Cara Delevigne is stunningly beautiful, there is also no doubting that she is a horrific actress. Her face is useless for expressions, she can't deliver a line with any timing, she has zero emotional range, and you absolutely will never feel any connection to her. Pairing her Dane DeHaan, who can best be described as being from the Keanu Reeves school of acting, has zero screen presence at all and no emotional skill. Now I love, I mean LOVE, Keanu Reeves, and he is perfect at all he does, but the man can't act. I mean, I don't know what he's doing on screen, but it just isn't acting. But for him, it works. It works so very well. For Dane...not so much. And unlike the eye candy of Cara Delevigne, Dane DeHaan doesn't even have that going for him. So he can't act and he isn't anything much to look at. What was the casting director going for exactly?

2) Cast diverse actors. There was absolutely no meaningful diversity in this movie. Not only are our two leads incapable of acting, they, and the vast majority of the cast, are as white as they come. Yes, I know there are many aliens and so we can't expect racial diversity as it is meaningful in American society to matter amongst alien species, BUT most of the speaking roles are given to human characters, and most of those are white. Three small exceptions are a shape shifting blue squid that often dons the guise of a black woman and a few moments of black man who we think is the head of the humans as well as a black solider who was killed for trying to hold his commander accountable for genocide. However, the shapeshifting alien/black woman dies saving Valerian who has promised (as the white hero) to save her from a life of human trafficking. The black leader of the humans has three meaningless lines, delivered through a computer screen, in 137 minutes of film time (pure tokenism). As I said, the black solider is killed for trying to hold the white commander accountable but has no meaningful dialogue. So two of the three end up martyred to save either a white lead (who can't act) or a race of VERY white humanoid aliens. There is a token Asian character, but all the rest of the soldiers, generals, commanders, merchants, tourists, etc... are white (and almost exclusively men). Why not cast actors of Indian, Persian, Hispanic, black, Asian, or any background who can act in both the lead and side roles? Why go out of your way to have a very white film made with people who can't act when whiteness serves no story-related purpose? You can't argue they were the best for the roles, because ANYONE on the planet would have been a better actor and being white had nothing to do with the role. Whether it was a conscious choice to cast mostly white actors or evidence of long-standing implicit bias, it was a very very white film.

3) Move your gender roles beyond the 1960s. So where is Laureline's name in the title? Her name is in the French comic it's based on. But no, we're going to give the film an incredibly long title but have no room for the female lead's name in the title, just the man's. Further, although there is a moment that plays off this, Laureline is frequently made to stay back by Valerian in classic chauvinist fashion. But why does Valerian have to be a male chauvinist whose heart changes over the course of the film at all? I haven't read the comics, but I don't care what he's like there. We could do with some sensitive, compassionate leading men who can also still be good space agents. And we could do with the two of them sorting out their feelings as two equals, not as an asshole man being changed by the love of a woman. Laureline is presented as great at what she does and there is no meaningful reason why she couldn't be the focus of the film. But it's Valerian who gets most of the big combat scenes even though Laureline shows that she can handle herself in a fight just fine. And she also is put in the place to get rescued by Valerian for no good reason. In fact, the entire episode that has her get captured and him saving her only exists to show off his skills and ultimately introduces and kills off the black/shape-shifting blue squid. It doesn't actually drive the plot forward and could have been completely left out of the movie. The one time she rescues him, it's not so much a rescue as it is just finding him and then she gets herself into trouble requiring him to rescue her anyway. Let's make them equals and let's make the emotional struggle between them not about her undoing his chauvinism, but about genuinely trying to decide if they are compatible as people who talk and think about interesting things. The Han Solo/Princess Leia thing they try to do just didn't work. We had one of those, it was of the times in 1977, but this is the 20-teens and we deserve a kind and balanced leading man along with a strong, competent, and doesn't-need-to-prove-herself to anyone leading lady who engage in meaningful dialogue not just banter.

4) Hire a better editor. The editing was terrible at times. Not only was it long, with some scenes that could have been dramatically shortened and whole segments (see above) removed entirely, but the editing on the timing of dialogue quips to end scenes was awful. Lines were delivered just a hair late, making the comedy fall flat. I don't care whether the actor's really had bad timing, or if this occurred in ADR, but the beauty of editing is the ability to remove a little time to make the line hit better. Given that the actor's couldn't act at all, this is the least they could have done. Further, most of those end quips weren't necessary. A little eye roll or facial expression would have done the trick. But sadly, most of these moments are given to Cara Delevigne who clearly can't manage a convincing eye roll anyway so they needed to give her actual dialogue to make the joke. Then they botched it with poor editing. And don't get me started on the poor ADR where entire paragraphs of speech didn't match the lip movements. Yuck. Given that terrible syncing, they could have hired someone else to overdub the two leads and at least improve the acting.

5) Get rid of CGI (or at least reduce its use). Give me some damn space ship models, some matte paintings for backgrounds, and some honest to goodness latex costumes for aliens. It's not that I hate CGI, but there's just too damn much of it. I'll take practical special effects any day. It has a tangibleness that you can't get with CGI; there's no weight to CGI, no gravity. Use CGI to clean it up, use it to supplement, but come on, for someone who used practical effects so well in The Fifth Element, there is just no excuse here. I don't care if some things are un-filmable unless you use CGI, maybe it would make a film better if writers and directors were forced to find meaningful writing, characters, and plot approaches to solve the filmmaking dilemmas rather than just adding more CGI to achieve what's in their heads.

The thing is, all of these problems were avoidable. Who's doing quality control on these $200 million movies? Yes, I know the financing was very different on this one giving Luc Besson a lot of control, but what about those trash heaps I mentioned above like Jupiter Ascending and Avatar (not to mention many many many...most big CGI movies)? Someone needs to ask, "really, these are the BEST two actors you could find? I have two baristas at the Starbucks near Broadway who would love these roles and can actually act!" Same with the diversity, either you find it meaningful to cast the incredible beauty of the human species or you don't. And if you don't, it says a lot about you. There was nothing in this story that needed even a single white actor. So you can't blame it on taking place in the corporate world of the 1960s or at Yale (pretty much any time) as to why there were so many white actors. And for the writing (gender stereotypes), poor editing, and bland special effects, those are production decisions that also show more about the people making the film than the potential of the project itself. In other hands, this could have been a great film. As it was, it wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't what it could have been.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

On Temporary Hiatus

Thank you to all who have been reading and commenting on our manga, anime, book, and odds-and-ends reviews. I am on a temporary hiatus with no set return date.

As some of you know, I am a trans girl who finally come out to my wife and daughter (almost a year and a half-ago now). We have been working the past year and a half as a family on how this will effect us and things are going really well. Taking baby steps every so often and adjusting and getting stronger as a result. Things are great, but, things are also getting really busy.

Between work, family, and my transition-related things (like electrolysis 1-2 times per week), I'm finding myself quite busy. Also, I'm feeling mentally very exhausted with all the changes this is bringing in my life and our lives and processing all that. As a result, I'm just not able to get to this blog several times a week like I would like to. I'm still reading manga, watching anime, reading books, and writing (a bit) of my own stuff. But I need this as a formal hiatus so I don't feel like I'm just leaving this abandoned. I do hope to return shortly.

In the meantime, here are the series I'm currently reading that I would recommend. Please check them out (by buying them legitimately please):

Bloom Into You - a subtly different yuri series focusing on an asexual lead character

Hatsu Haru - a fun typical high-school shoujo with two really likable leads

Ao Haru Ride - one of the greatest shoujo series ever

Kiss & White Lily For My Dearest Girl - a nice yuri series focusing on many highschool pairings, the main couple makes it worth it.

Fruits Basket Another (where is volume 3?!?!?!?!) - a fun mini-series about the children of the characters from the original Fruits Basket

Nameless Asterism - a yuri high-school love triangle

Shortcake Cake - a traditional high-school shoujo series with a likable lead

After the Rain - a soft, subtle, understated series about a young girl and a middle aged man, and while that sounds creepy, it isn't in the least. An incredible, and unexpectedly great series.

The Delinquent Housewife! - broad comedy about a young woman, ex-gang member, who marries a business man who ends up leaving her with his family while he's away. Enter the younger brother who pines for his new sister-in-law.

Also, if you are interested in doing guest reviews in my absence, I'd love for you to contact me. The guidelines are simple:

1) You must legally read or watch the manga/anime. No reviewing fan subs, no scanlations. You must buy it, borrow it from a library, rent it, watch it on a LEGAL streaming service (Crunchyroll, HiDive, Amazon, Netflix), etc... No exceptions. We unilaterally and unequivocally support creators.

2) Your review must adhere to the values of this site, most importantly respecting all human life as amazing and important in all its diversity. We also support historically marginalized communities including racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women (and yes, trans women are most definitely women!). We promote loving kindness and compassion in all we do.

3) Your review must be your original work and not owned by another site or publication. You must have full rights to use your work on this site.

4) I reserve the right to make all editorial decisions about what will and will not be posted on this site based on any and all criteria I so chose and may change that criteria and my mind at any point in time. I may revoke publication and remove content at any time for any reason I so chose. I make no promises to you or anyone. No contributor is entitled to any payment or ownership right in this site or its content in any way.

If that all sounds good, send an email to j a i m e l u s t i g @g m a i l .com or by using the contact/email link in the right-hand side bar with a suggested guest review.


I hope to see you all again in the near future as my time and mental energy return. But please know I, and the family, are doing really well. Miss you!
- Jaime

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (Book Review)

Curtis SittenfeldI deeply deeply love "Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld. I really really liked "American Wife." But I've felt very indifferent about her other three books ("Man of My Dreams," "Eligible," and "Sisterland"). They weren't bad by any stretch, but they didn't have the magic of both content and prose that the other two works had.

I went into Ms. Sittenfeld's short story collection, "You Think It, I'll Say It," hopeful that it would have the magic of "Prep." Unfortunately, with only a one small exception, it was more like her other works: fine, but not "for the ages."

I'm not a huge fan of short stories overall, they just have never done much for me. I like to get the depth of a character over time as they change, and by their very nature, short stories typically operate in an abbreviated time-frame. But putting that aside, there is the quality of prose to evaluate and whether there is any emotional connection formed with the reader.

For the most part, I found the prose good but not great, and experienced very little that drew me in to the characters. Many of them weren't very likable or even necessarily relatable. Many seemed like cliched sketches and not actual flesh and blood people, as if each was designed to fulfill the point of the story.

The plots were largely about young and middle-aged women, mostly from middle-class or upper-middle-class backgrounds, exploring jealousy, sexuality, infidelity, regrets, and even some political sentiments; these are all rich and important things to explore. However, there wasn't much new added to the discourse by these stories, no insights. Also, the politics felt tacked on, almost a need by the author to explicitly repudiate President Trump (and believe me, I'm all for repudiating him) simply because the book was published and set in the current time period. Yet, it felt jarring and out of place against the more personal sentiments of the stories.

And so sadly, very little of the plot or character exploration felt new or insightful. Sometimes new isn't needed, sometimes a book can cover the same old ground but create deep emotional resonance with a reader: "Yes, that's me, I felt like that too!" But these stories simply did not do that for me. I can't speak to what others may take away from them, but they felt very by-the-numbers, with predictable outcomes and no real insight into the human condition. With one exception. One very amazing exception.

The third story, "Vox Clamantis in Deserto," tells of two college students, one visiting the hometown of the other. Given that it's a short story, I can't tell you much more, because the plot is brief but important. But the middle of this story is Ms. Sittenfeld at her finest. For a few pages, at the height of the action, the prose sings, the emotions are real, the experience vivid, the connections to our own lives pulled taught.

Interestingly, there are similarities in the plot to "Prep" and I can't discount the impact that those years (teens/college) had in my own life, so there is the very real possibility that I'm responding to "Vox Clamantis in Deserto" in ways others might not. But I am sure that those middle pages, the chief encounter between the young woman and her friend's boyfriend, are written at another level compared to the rest of this collection. The prose there is lucid and visceral in a way the rest of the collection (and even the rest of that story) simply isn't.

However, Ms. Sittenfeld tries to make something out of this story and concludes it in a relatively perfunctory way that ends up reducing and diminishing the power of those few pages in the middle. The wrap-up is indicative of the way all the stories end, with a nice neat bow, almost a lesson, and in that conclusion, we lose the intimacy of the chief experience within the story.

But oh, what a few wonderful pages she gave us. It shows what she is capable of, and given that she has sustained that for entire novels, I will continue to be an avid reader of hers. Even at her most run-of-the-mill, Ms. Sittenfeld's writing is a nice read. But when the magic creeps in, she shows the talent to be remembered. At the very least, she has given us an all-time classic in "Prep." I'll keep holding out hope for another work of that sustained brilliance.

Sadly, "You Think It, I'll Say It" is not that book. While perfectly pleasant, it gets a 6.5/10. Readable, some people might really connect, but overall the prose is adequate, the stories predictable and hardly revealing. Yet there is the middle few pages of "Vox Clamantis in Deserto" which almost single-handedly justifies reading the entire book.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hatsu Haru volume 5 might be one of the strongest so far (Manga Review)

Riko Takanashi Kai Ichinose
Hatsu Haru is becoming one of my favorite series. Volume 5 (Yen Press) continues the strong shoujo story of Kai (the former playboy) and Riko (his childhood frenemy).

Volume 5 picks up with Kai giving up on Riko due to her not understanding his confessions and his belief that she and his friend Taka are in love. Kai knows what a great guy Taka is and believes he can care for Riko. Their friend Ayumi hatches a plan to prove to Kai that Taka and Riko are not together.

During this same time, Riko is confronting her own strange feelings that Kai is going back to his playboy ways and giving up on the girl of his dreams (which she doesn't realize is her). When Taka questions why she's taking it so personally, it starts her spinning, leading to some wonderful comedic moments with her.

No matter Kai's seeming determination to give up on Riko, he just can't shake it, and in fact, when she falls ill due to exhaustion, he goes into hero mode in several ways. This is also evident when he checks up on her during the wedding of her long-time crush and pseudo-older-brother, Suwa. The intense emotions both of them are experiencing come to a head at the wedding...but I won't spoil it for you!

The pacing of the volume is fairly quick (injuries, weddings, beach, school, etc...), but the writing is clear. We still get most of the volume from Kai's perspective, but thankfully we do get some more time with Riko and her experiences. If there were any weakness in the series, it's that it is a bit focused on Kai's perspective. I'd love to see more of a 50/50 balance with Riko's perspective. Minor complaint though.

The art continues to be very strong, with clear character designs. I love the way Fujisawa-sensei does eyes, particularly Riko's. It's somewhat unique and I love it! The screentone use is wonderful, the backgrounds have tons of detail, and the art is overall crisp and inviting.

While in many ways the series is a by-the-numbers opposites attract/childhood friends get together story, it continues to be so well written, with such likable characters, and quality writing/art, that it is simply a joy to read. Sometimes you want a series that gives you exactly what you want, and this is it. A perfect, sweet, funny, high-school romance.

Volume 5 is one of the strongest in a very strong series. I'm giving it an 8/10 because it packs so many wonderful moments in throughout. I'm delighted with this series!


Monday, February 18, 2019

Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms (volume 5) - a much awaited next step (Manga Review)

Kase and Yamada
Finally, a Kase-san volume that came out after I started this blog of reviews. It's been so hard not talking about this series but chronologically, the prior volumes had already come out by the time I was ready to talk about them. With the publication of Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms (essentially volume 5 in the series, published by Seven Seas), I get to gush about one of my favorite couples.

Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms picks up with Yamada studying for entrance exams, and a flashback to her pre-couple days with Kase. The rest of the volume covers the entrance exam and moving to start college. I'm super excited that this series is going beyond high-school romance. To be honest, I hope it continues into their adult lives as well!

The volume is filled with lots of smiles, tears, cute looks, really really sweet kisses, and...oh, I can't reveal it...but OMG...a big step for the couple. Like the volumes before it. This isn't about drama, or really much plot at all. It's just more stories about two people that we like who really really like each other in the simplest, sweetest ways possible.

One of the things that I think has made this series stand out, and survive despite changes in its publication history, is that it perfectly balances its cute/sweetness and likable characters without giving in to the lustful or salacious moments (the fan service, if you will). Let's compare Hiromi Takashima's work in the Kase-san series with Milk Morinaga's work to highlight the difference. I really like a lot of Milk Morinaga's work (I'm probably one of the few who think "Secret of the Princess" is her best). But, often, her series have some pretty risque moments, especially considering they are about underage girls. The art leaves little to be imagined in those series' most intimate moments.

But with Kase-san, Takashima-sensei, takes the best elements of sweetness and then gives the two lead characters such lovability, that you get so lost in their twinkliness (god this is a terribly written review! >_< ) that you couldn't ask for anything more. In fact, to add any real fan-service would detract so much from the wholesomeness (much better word choice, Jaime!). Sometimes, you need something that reminds you of sunshine, and that's the Kase-san series. This is no criticism of other series, just a highlight of one thing that makes Kase-san unique. It is pure, but pure in a totally unrealistically cute way (sort of like Hello Kitty, really).

This also isn't the self-serious type of yuri, exemplified in the anime Maria Watches Over Us (which BTW is my favorite series of all time, so also not a complaint). That series does have cuteness and sweetness, but in a much more realistic (you're laughing at me for this) depiction - it is more contained in individual personalities than in it's total world-view. In Kase-san, there is never any doubt of their love for each other, never a hint there will be any drama, just waiting for the next way they will get Yamada to blubberingly cry out her love for Kase or Kase blushingly suggesting something slightly lewd to Yamada which Yamada completely, naively, doesn't get which makes Kase sigh in relief as she is always just as nervous about moving forward as her girlfriend is comfortable in Kase's presence. Yamada and Kase are just two rays of sunshine lighting up the pages, which is sometimes exactly what you need.

As with the prior volumes, Volume 5 (Kase-san and Cherry Blossoms) is just as refreshingly simple and lovely as they all have been. The art is consistent, with a good variation in line thickness, decent (but not profound) use of screentones, clear character design, great emotional expression, a mix of standard and comedic character depictions, and clear action. It's a great 8/10. Being as perfect as it is, for what it set out to do, I can't shake the feeling I should be rating it higher. But maybe I'm slightly taking for granted just how hard it is to be this sunny, this consistently.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

My Solo Exchange Diary volume 2 leads Nagata Kabi to new insights (Manga Sort-of-Review)

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is one of the greatest manga/graphic-novels of all time. It was a profound reading experience and I recommend it to everyone.

My Solo Exchange Diary (published by Seven Seas) is the two volume sort-of-sequel to MLEWL. Volume 2 came out this week and I devoured it. However, unlike my normal reviews which are actual critical reviews, I feel that doing a critical review of a work that is part memoir, part personal recovery process, and mostly focused on the devastating impact of mental health would be rude.

So instead, this will be a discussion of volume 2, but please know from the onset just how much I support Kabi-sensei in her personal and artistic journey and as a personal sufferer of extreme mental health challenges (and the parent to a child with the same, and a child of a parent with the same) this is a very powerful story on that level as well.

Where MLEWL was split between mental health and sexual awakening and coming-out, My Solo Exchange Diary volumes 1 and 2 were largely focused on Kabi-sensei's mental health challenges (and essentially exclusively so in volume 2) as she works to emerge into the new found light following the publication of MLEWL. Volume 2 of My Solo Exchange Diary is told in the same minimal, sketchy, doodley art in pink and black ink. It is also episodic in a way that MLEWL wasn't.

Two central, but interrelated experiences dominate the story: Kabi-sensei's work to reconcile and rebuild her relationship with her family and her several inpatient hospitalizations for mental health. One of the most powerful moments comes when Kabi-sensei realizes that all the anger and hate she had for her family (vivid in MLEWL) was completely misplaced. She recognizes her inability to receive the love they were always giving and begins to take it all in. Through this, she begins to spend more time at her parents house and less time in her new apartment.

Sadly, her blooming relationship with her family also plays at least a part in her downward spiral which leads to the hospitalizations. She regresses to a degree, but also starts to see how she's been a burden to her family and perhaps more critically, how she has directly hurt them with her actions and with the way she framed their story in MLEWL.

We get several instances of self harm in this volume mixed with a birthday party and time with a friend. We see Kabi-sensei at work and struggling to find creative voice amongst her debilitating mental health. Her accidental solo visit with a grandmother is one of the smallest but most beautiful moments in the volume. She also dives further into her alcohol abuse, which appears as a form of self-medication, and leads to some really pitiful moments such as waking up repeatedly in a bed she has wet due to being so inebriated. What it must have taken Kabi-sensei to share so much tragedy and pain and to reflect so much on herself in these three books. Volume 2 is filled with so many moments of profound growth amongst its pain.

By the end of volume 2, Kabi-sensei finds herself out of the hospital, trying to get through each day by doing something for someone else (rather than being so locked in her own head), and questioning how she is portraying people in this very volume prior to publication. While not ending with any real resolution (because there is no resolution in an ongoing life), there is a satisfactory conclusive feel that still leaves the door open for Kabi-sensei to develop future memoirs should she desire to.

If you loved My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, then you will want to follow Kabi-sensei in My Solo Exchange Diary. But if you haven't read either, please go back and read MLEWL. That is essential reading.

My Solo Exchange Diary works as a slightly more subdued continuation without the gripping immediacy and stunning originality of the earlier work. I pray for Kabi-sensei, and am grateful for what these three books have given me. Seeing her journey in print, both as a gay woman discovering herself in adulthood and as someone suffering from debilitating mental health challenges, has helped me to feel less alone, more understood, and hopeful that through her work that society itself can begin to have a place for all of us.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ao Haru Ride v.3 - amazing like the first two volumes (Manga Review)

Yoshioka Futaba
Ao Haru Ride volume 3 (Shojo Beat/Viz) continues the strong start to the series from the first two volumes. Futaba finally acknowledges her feelings for Kou - the current Kou - and no longer pines for the lost Kou from middle-school. However, since Yuri confided in Futaba that she too likes Kou, Futaba must decide whether to stop pursuing him or tell Yuri of her feelings as well.

This sets up the central drama and character growth of the third volume. This is skillfully handled and we get a beautiful middle ground between this interaction between Futaba and Yuri being no big deal and being a huge overly-dramatized situation (what would have happened in most series). Instead, Sakisaka-sensei's deftness for writing nuanced characters and emotionally-sensitive moments comes through so powerfully in this volume.

Not only is the Futuba/Yuri storyline done with delicacy, intimacy, and a touch of sadness, we also start to get greater glimpses into Kou and Shoko (a side character). With Kou, we see him struggling to want to connect, whether it is with Futaba, or with Kaminato (who comes to his defense in a scene that confirms his good-guy qualities). Kou even opens up a bit to Futaba and others, making some significant statements that reveal an inner sadness momentarily before he waves them off as jokes. Also, like the last volume, Kou comes tantalizingly close to acting on what we hope are brewing feelings for Futaba, before ultimately refusing to allow himself to go down that path.

With Shoko, a side story gives us some of her background, but we also see her true (kind) character in the moments after Futaba finally tells Yuri about her feelings for Kou. Without giving anything away, the awareness, empathy, and skill with which Shoko supports both her friends is incredibly touching and well written.

I know I'm gushing, but the truth is, this series so far represents everything I love about the best shoujo. The characters are nuanced, the writing is emotionally astute, the story is complex without being overly-dramatic or using unrealistic situations to create movement. It is one of the best written series out there.

More than great writing, great characters, and a great story so far (as if that isn't enough), it also has extraordinarily beautiful art. The characters are so well defined, the lines are precise but soft, and (my favorite thing of all) there is gorgeous and complex use of screen tones that adds so much depth and grace to each panel. To see an example of this, just look at the intro drawing of Yuri from Chapter 11. The gray screentone around the stars, the way it blends into the shadowing of her left eye, the layers of circular screens at the bottom. And every page is like this!
Ao Haru Ride v3

Really, I don't know what else to tell you. Do you like shoujo manga? Do you like really well written manga? Do you like well written characters, emotionally intelligent writing, plot driven by subtle every-day things? Do you like great art? Do you breathe? If you answered "yes" to any of those, then you will love Ao Haru Ride v. 3. This volume, given how many incredible yet delicate moments there are in each chapter, gets a 9/10! If you've read any of my other manga or anime reviews, you know I don't give a score like that out lightly. This is a must-read series.