Friday, November 30, 2018

Missing our favorite couple in Kiss & White Lily for my Dearest Girl Vol. 6 (manga review)

Amane, Ryou, and Nina
Let's get this out right from the beginning. My favorite couple in Kiss & White Lily for my Dearest Girl, Yurine and Shiramine, appear for only a single page in a side story in Volume 6. So right there, I'm going to have a very skewed response to Volume 6. I want my damn Yurine and Shiramine! :)

Kiss & White Lily volume 6 by Canno (published in the US by Yen Press) centers around my third favorite couple (Izumi and "Forehead-senpai" Chiharu) and their intersection with a group of three girls, Amane, Ryou, and Nina.  Amane's family owns a flower shop and the girls of the school are giving flowers to each other with a ribbon attached symbolizing friendship, apology, etc.., and a red one for love. Through a series of manga-typical confusions this leads to a mistaken understanding by Chiharu which causes Izumi to make a grand gesture of reconciliation.

Hoshino-senpai, who graduated, also comes back to visit prompting complex feelings in Chiharu and a slight reassessment of her feelings for Izumi. This leads to a really sweet that moment I won't give away, but let's say that it's clear that Izumi and Chiharu's relationship is moving ahead in a mutually honest way.

The bulk of the remaining chapters focuse on Amane and her relationship with Ryou and Nina. Amane and Nina room together and Nina feels very strongly about Amane. However, between Amane's sort-of confession to Izumi earlier, her relationship with Nina, and her pursuit of befriending (and more?) Ryou, it is clear that Amane has a different perspective on relationships than many of the other couples we have met.

Amane quite clearly professes that she believes a person can be in love and actively love (ie be in relationships with) many people simultaneously. This presents some serious conflict with Nina, who unfortunately acts in ways that don't seem very believable. However, the resolution at the end of the volume has a somewhat odd-feeling twist that doesn't yet seem authentic. I'm almost, but not quite, interested in what Canno might do with this love(?) triangle in future volumes.

So, the Izumi and Chiharu stuff was cute and okay, but they still aren't given the depth of character development and life stories we have from Yurine and Shiramine or second-favorite couple Moe and Mizuki. There were a couple of good moments, especially where we get insight into Chiharu's feelings for Izumi.

However, I'm really torn about the Amane character. In some senses she provides a very different perspective to look at relationships. This could add some freshness to the series. However, I'm concerned that it will not necessarily be dealt with at the level of honesty that we deserve in an exploration of someone who is polyamorous and the impact of that when trying to find romance with individuals who prefer monogamy. I worry that it will be handled either too simply, forgotten entirely, or some magic-wand-fixes-it-all sort of stuff will happen that could even invalidate Amane as a person or a sensitively handled bit of representation for the polyamorous community.

All that being said, I still wasn't really into those three characters. Six volumes in, I just don't need even more people added. I'd much prefer depth with the existing couples than to keep adding more. I liked how their story intertwined with Izumi and Chiharu's. However, I wasn't grabbed by the new characters, who we know nothing about, and don't have any depth, so I would have been fine with a totally different story in this volume. Izumi and Chiharu's setups could have come about through other means and the results would have been similar.

The art continues to be fine. Overall good depth and shading. Screentones are used for shading more so than expressive moments. The art is still a bit moe for me, but it could be worse. Characters are clearly defined and visually identifiable (although I'd like a listing of them all in each volume - but thankfully the main ones for each volume are identified in accompanying 1-page drawings). The pacing is fairly clear. So no real complaints, and no real thrills, about the art.

I'm giving this volume a 6/10 because it is fine, it's got some romance, hi-jinks, emotions, a kiss, but with our top two most interesting couples not in the volume, I just didn't care about it very much. Oh well, on to volume 7 and then I'll be caught up to the upcoming new releases.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Despite its title, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is actually not awful (Anime Review)

Mai and Sakuta
Can't judge a book by it's cover but you can usually judge an anime by its title. However, the first half of "Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai" breaks the rule. I mean, as a lover of shoujo, josei, yuri, early feminist classic literature, critical theory, equity, etc...just putting the words "Bunny Girl" into any sentence is likely to make me turn my ears off and vomit. Thankfully, I took the internet's suggestion and started watching this show. This is a review of the first 6 episodes, or what I gather is roughly the first two light novels worth of content in animated form.

Basically, it comes across like a cross between "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" and "My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU" but missing much of those two series' charms. We meet Sakuta, a hard luck, but good guy, 2nd year high-schooler as he notices a beautiful girl in a Bunny Girl costume wandering through a library, seemingly unnoticed. She's perplexed when he notices her, believing herself to be invisible.

Turns out she is Mai, a former child actress that left the business and is not only being slowly forgotten, but is being ACTUALLY forgotten (invisible), even when she is physically present. Thus begins a romantic comedy/existential/pseudo science show based around what is translated as "adolescence syndrome" (not nearly as fun as Chunibyo apparently). Sakuta bears strange scars from his own earlier bout with it, and his younger sister even burst into spontaneous cuts due to her own trauma in school (a plot for later in the series apparently).

The first episodes deal with trying to get the world to physically see Mai again, while the next few deal with a new problem, a day that keeps repeating endlessly. What makes it like Haruhi Suzumiya is the power of people to alter the world, often unwittingly. What makes it like SNAFU is that it centers around a hard-luck, friendless young man to fix it all, even if he puts himself out to help others.

But it isn't quite weird enough to rival Haruhi Suzumiya or messed up enough lead characters to rival SNAFU. By the end of the first couple episodes, Sakuta's reputation around the school has been restored and now he's not disliked, and he ends up dating Mai who is seen by everyone again. So there's a quick anti-climax to the story before it launches into its repeating day arc. Although the series does manage to do more in three episodes than most do in a whole season.

However, what makes this series work is Mai. At first I was turned off by how she was written, but very quickly she becomes an extraordinarily written character. The banter she has with Sakuta is wonderful. They actually talk like teenagers in love, they tease each other and give each other a hard time but also talk about making out and they both clearly enjoy it. They aren't the overly prude teens we typically get in anime where it takes 3 years to get a single kiss even though they clearly love each other. No, here, they actually date, and actually enjoy being teens.

And she would too!

I'm always up for a good anime slap.

Even better, some of the dialogue is extraordinarily well written. There are scenes between the two of them where Mai's subtle personality, a mix of confidence, shyness, tenderness, aggression, smart-ass-ness, brains, compassion, annoyance, etc... all come out and flow from line to line in the most natural ways possible. Just when you think the writers are going off the cliff with her dialogue, they tie it all back together and she's just wonderful, and more importantly, real. She's an anime character who you can believe might actually (almost) exist and talk that way. Remarkable, really.

OMG so cute! SQUEEEEEEE >_<

Now, I have plenty of problems with this series. There is a definite male fantasy quality. Thankfully there isn't much fan service, but the general sense that the world revolves around this hapless boy and that he's the one that's going to fix it (and the fact that at least the first two, and maybe more, storylines revolve around his romantic life) do suggest a male-centric-bias.

I almost turned it off within seconds when in the first episode he wakes up and his younger sister is sleeping in bed with him. I just don't have any place in me to tolerate the whole sis-con stuff. Thankfully it's not too overdone, and there is a plot reason behind it (even if it doesn't make much sense). And what makes it almost worth it, is that she acts as the Greek chorus and says the exact same snarky responses to him that I'm thinking about how gross the setup is whenever it occurs in an episode. At least there is some self-awareness.

Also, a main side character, someone whom the third arc (not reviewed here) revolves around, is a young, smart woman, with a huge chest and glasses and luscious hair but doesn't think she's attractive. She's just a mess of tropes combined together. However, there may be something to it in the third arc that could redeem it a bit, we'll have to see when those episodes air.

For all the promise of some well written lines and one really great character (Mai), the art is really pretty bad though. The line work on the characters, especially in episode 1, is overly thick, but the backgrounds go between nearly photorealistic to really really simple and pastel washed-out. The characters don't sit in their backgrounds well at all, although I was less bothered as it went on, maybe just getting used to it. However, even with that, the quality of animation was fairly poor. There is minimal detail or shading in the characters, movement is fairly minimal, and it just has an overall indistinct look. If it didn't have killer cute lines between Mai and Sakuta each episode, it might not make the grade.

But thank goodness it does. Their little couple moments are so cute and well done, and the fact that they hint (but don't show) that they actually have a physical relationship that is realistic to teens, make this show worth watching. It'll be interesting to see the next arcs over the whole season (13 episodes?).

But for a show with an awful title, it is thankfully light on offensive stuff, at least compared to many other shows, and has some truly redeeming value. Some people will probably love the actual plots (I didn't really care either way) but if you're like me, you'll love the back and forth relationship between Mai and Sakuta. I'm giving the first 6 episodes a surprising 6/10 and will definitely watch the rest of the series.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Exploring the obvious in The Delinquent Housewife Vol. 2 (Manga Review)

Volume 2 of "The Delinquent Housewife" by Nemu Yoko and published by Vertical Comics arrived at my door this week, just in time to read it instead of spending time with extended family on Thanksgiving (they've gotten used to me pulling aside periodically to read under a warm blanket). But of course, it too is a story of extended family.

Volume 2 picks up right where Volume 1 left us with the fairly obvious setup of Dai falling for Kumugi, his brother's new wife. Komugi is an ex-gang member, hopeless with household tasks, and unemployed - and hiding this all from her new mother-in-law. Her husband, Tohru, has mysteriously left the country on an extended business trip with no definite plans to return. His mom, Komugi's mother-in-law, starts the volume confronting Komugi about her gang jacket. Sensing this is the perfect opportunity to come clean, Komugi confesses everything, except her gang affiliation witch Dai forces her to keep secret. One of the most interesting aspects of this volume is the underlying reason why Dai doesn't want his mom to know. We get a bit of insight into the family and some depth out of Dai's mother.

The focus of volume 2 was heavily on Dai's perspective with little time given to learning about, or seeing the world through the eyes of, Komugi. That's a shame. Komugi has all the makings of a classic character. We get some of her in the form of job hunting, but really this is a volume about Dai and his feelings about Komugi. We spend some time with two of his high-school friends, including Yoshino who clearly loves him and drives the central plot of this volume. But this focus on Dai is my one criticism of volume 2.

I firmly believe that Tohru is an ass. You don't just up and leave your new wife with no definite plans to return. So with Dai having feelings for Komugi, we're supposed to root for him to eventually win her over. However, I want to ask why?

Through two volumes, Dai is not a very well defined character. He's a random high-schooler, with no obvious personality other than general niceness. Even his younger sister is given more nuance in volume 1. Volume 2 doesn't help this much. All we see from Dai is constant (if somewhat amusingly done) perseveration on Komugi (his fantasies, hearing her name everywhere, etc... are well done). This begs the big question, a question that if unresolved will undermine the quality of this series: "why should the audience root for Dai other than because of his greater availability to Komugi compared with her husband Tohru?"

If the only thing  Dai has is that he's available, well, so are millions of other single people in Japan. Why would we want Dai to end up with Komugi? If she isn't going to stay with Tohru, and right now she seems totally devoted, why would we want her with Dai? What does he have to offer her? What uniqueness is there in his personality that makes him a better fit other than undying teen, hormone-driven, adulation? Komugi is a richly depicted and quirky heroine, Dai is random blandness. She deserves more.

As I stated in my review of volume 1. My hope for the series is that Komugi realizes Tohru is an ass, things develop slightly between Komugi and Dai, but that in the end Komugi realizes he's still a child and there is a greater world out there for herself, now that she's learned to stand on her own. Ultimately I want her leaving Tohru AND Dai. A melancholy ending.

While this is still my hope, its value would be undercut if Dai isn't developed more. It would still be my preferred ending, but how much more powerful would it be if Dai was truly a great fit, but also too young (and still Tohru's brother - so complexity!) and so things ultimately couldn't be?

We're only two volumes in, so there is plenty of time for Dai to be developed, but it needs to happen. Otherwise, this volume was a ton of fun. Dai's lack of identity was a huge hole however.

The art is fun and fluid. It's relatively simple, with almost non-existent backgrounds (however, there are two panels done in the negative - white on black that are pretty cool), and this style of fast bold art works with the brisk pace and constant humor of the series. Screentone use is very very simple, most of the art is just black and white line art with solid black coloring if needed. Not my personal favorite art style, but it works really well for this story. Characters are recognizable and there is almost no fan service of any sort, other than when Dai is checking out Komugi and that makes sense given his age.

Basically, both the series and volume 2 are fun and engaging but haven't yet arrived at the potential that exists. If we keep seeing Komugi's growth into adulthood, and get more nuance out of Dai, then this has the ability to be a really solid series. As it stands however, it is still a lot of fun and a bit different than other series out there and a worthy read. Volume 2 ranks a solid 7/10.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Kiss & White Lily For My Dearest Girl Vol. 5 pleasantly breaks the routine (Manga Review)

So I'd been seeing a pattern with Kiss & White Lily for my Dearest Girl (published by Yen Press). The odd volumes were better than the even volumes for the most part, and also paid more attention to the main couple: Ayaka and Yurine.

Volume 5 is a bit different though. While it still continues the trend of the odd numbered volumes being stronger, we get very little of Ayaka and Yurine (although what we do get is very sweet and with some classic back-handed lovey-dovey from Ayaka). Instead, we get a fairly in-depth story about two side characters, Sawa and her kouhai, Itsuki. And more shocking, I liked them! (not as much as side characters Moe and Mizuki, but that's okay).

Sawa is on the newspaper club (or something similar) and is assigned to write an article about a student and chooses to focus on Ayaka and why she apparently skipped school. Ayaka is so shocked at the rumors that she tells Sawa the fairly mundane story about why she skipped.

However, Ayaka doesn't give all the details, but thankfully the reader does get them all. That story is a sweet and revealing glimpse into Ayaka's psychology and home life (with her mom), and a further reaffirmation of her love(?) for Yurine. As always, she pushes Yurine away forcefully, while being sweetly open to spending time with her, only to even more secretly love on Yurine when Yurine isn't aware. If only Ayaka could admit to herself and Yurine how she really feels, although the back-and-forth is cute in its own way.

However, this story makes up only a small portion of the volume. The real story is that of Sawa and her kouhai, Itsuki, who is assigned to help her with the story. Sawa gets the sense that there are two sides to Itsuki. Finally, it is revealed that they used to be friends a decade ago and Sawa has all but forgotten and Itsuki is mad about that. From here, Itsuki's true (and somewhat scary/obsessive) personality is revealed and we end up with a worthy coupling (rather than the somewhat perfunctory coupling of side characters in other volumes).

Since their journey is the joy of the chapter, I won't give any more away. But watching Sawa process things is really sweet. What makes this coupling (and volume) even more winning is the bonus mini-stories at the end from Itsuki's perspective each night over the course of the chapters as she thinks about each day's events. Really well done comedy!

The art continues to be average to above-average, but not necessarily a style I really respond to, however, I felt this volume left me happier with the art than the previous ones. There was some nice shading in the evening scenes, and two really really cute moments (and lots of just really cute moments, but only two that were really really cute...) and here they are. Hope they don't spoil anything for you:

"...and it's kind of...not really a problem." SQUEEEEEE!!!!!!

I love the tiptoes kiss!

While Itsuki's personality is a bit scary and not realistic, not much of this series is, so you just have to go with it. But, so far, they are the third strongest couple and story behind our leads (and the too cute Mizuki and Moe).

So I really enjoyed this volume and am looking forward to catching up on the rest to get up to the newest releases. If you've liked the series so far, you won't be disappointed by volume 5. I'm giving it a strong 7/10 (it still isn't pushing into "classic" territory as a series, but that's okay, it's just a really good, overall heart-warming series, and that's plenty fine).


Monday, November 19, 2018

Fruits Basket Another Vol. 2 is for...lovers? (Manga Review)

Natsuki Takaya
No secret my favorite mangaka is Natsuki Takaya. I love her series Fruits Basket (although her series Twinkle Stars is my all-time favorite ever), so we find ourselves in a hell of a good week with both the release of Fruits Basket Another Volume 2 and some sort of announcement about a Fruits Basket anime reboot. (WHAT?!?!?!?!)

Fruits Basket Another Volume 2 (published by Yen Press) is the 2nd of three volumes set years after the original series. It's clearly meant for fans of the original. Much like volume 1, there are almost too many characters to remember, but each of them is linked to a favorite character from the original series, so even when not made explicit, trying to figure out the relationship is fun.

Volume 2 steps things up a notch with lots of time in the Sohma house, including references to Kyo falling through the roof in the original series. We also meet someone, someone who might be Akito's child? Maybe? I'm not good at figuring out the relationships, but I want him to be! His name is Shiki and he's in middle school. And...I think he's in love with our lead heroine, Sawa. And, she might be falling for him too? Or maybe I'm just writing fan fiction in my head as I read this...don't judge me...

What's fascinating is that I thought the central relationship (if there is going to be one) would be between Sawa and Hajime, but he didn't have much presence in this volume, and I don't get any chemistry there. Interesting. We do get a lot of time with Yuki's brother's children with some nice back story on their relationship with their father. It's also really cute to see how Takaya-sensei blends the looks and personalities of their two parents to make the two children.

But Sawa, our heroine: While the first volume was a rush of characters and events and fanservice (of the non-creepy type), we do finally get some background on her relationship with her mom. A very strained relationship. Her mom seems quite manipulative and self-serving, maybe even borderline personality disorder. She's quite like Shiina's step-mom in Twinkle Stars. No one writes an awful parent like Takaya-sensei. Poor thing, I hope her own family is nice to her.

Oh, wait, I didn't even try to summarize the story! There isn't much, other than set-ups for Sawa to meet more Sohmas or get cutely frazzled. Basically, she meets Shiki and they have some sort of thoughts about each other, she helps out in Ayame's shop, she has more awful interactions with her mother, she gets closer to the Sohma family, and maybe starts believing in her self-worth a little (basically a Takaya-sensei-type-story, in a good way!).

Like volume 1, the pace is super fast, big jumps in time, location, plot. We get tons of new characters, again all with relationships to the original series. So reading this, it's hard to imagine really loving it if you aren't already a fan. It's not that it can't be followed, or that the plot (what little of it exists) wouldn't necessarily be enjoyable to someone new, but it really seems highly tailored to fans.

With that, I don't even feel I can comment on volume 2's objective value as a story. The whole point of the series is about being nostalgic and getting some glimpses into the life of our favorite characters from the original series through the adventures of their children.

The art is fantastic! It's everything I could want from Takaya sensei's art. You feel the characters emotions, even with her highly unusual style of eyes. Her use of screen tones for sparkles, and skies, and mood are unparalleled. This is a beautifully drawn story, presented in slightly larger than normal tankobon size by Yen Press. (BTW my spell check wants to change that to "anklebone"!)

Basically, if you loved Fruits Basket, you'll love this (and volume 2 is just as good as volume 1). If you've never read Fruits Basket, you might like this although you won't get as much out of it (so why don't you just read the original already, silly!). My rating here is a fan rating, not an objective rating: 8/10 (the pacing is really fast, and I'd love more depth, but the art is amazing, I could look at it forever - she really is my favorite mangaka). I'm really really intrigued by Shiki and sad that we're only getting one more volume. But I'll treasure every last drop that Takaya-sensei wants to give


Friday, November 16, 2018

Villette by Charlotte Bronte is affecting, heartbreaking, and beautiful (Classic Novel Review)

Charlotte Bronte
I'm a fan of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" (I mean, who isn't?) and intrigued by her sister's novel "Wuthering Heights," so I figured I'd track down a copy of Charlotte Bronte's under-discussed novel "Villette."

Reading it was a fascinating experience, particularly evaluating its style. Much like my first impression of "Jane Eyre," "Villette" was a somewhat tedious and difficult novel to get into, at least at first. In fact, the entire first 150 pages while interestingly written, were almost a slog to get through.

Bronte's writing style is ornate and dense. Entire paragraphs (which are far longer than most author's) might be entirely devoted to a side bar on a single thought before we return to the action of the moment. One can imagine writing an abridged version 1/3rd the length of the original without missing any actual plot. That's not a disparagement, simply an aspect of her style.

What perhaps made the first third so challenging is something that becomes central to the lead character, Lucy Snowe, which is that while she is narrating her story, she quite intentionally underplays her own presence in her very own life. Lucy elaborates with incredible depth and precision on every other element of the environment and everyone in it while almost completely ignoring her own existence. This is particularly true of the opening third.

 Lucy Snowe avows, sometimes through overt reminders to the reader, that she is simply trying to get through life and not very interested in having or desiring or hoping. However, as the novel progresses, we get the distinct impression that she is repressing those very real emotions and feelings due to the circumstances of her life to date. This ultimately spills over into the narrative as she slowly begins to allow herself feelings and the ultimately painful outcomes those feelings produces. It begs the central question, is it better to feel and hurt, or not to feel at all?

In summary, Villette is the story of Lucy Snowe. A young woman from an upper middle-class family in the first half of the 1800s. Unfortunately her family is not able to maintain their lifestyle and she goes out into the world to try and make her way, balancing her former position with her resolute understanding that she has no one and nothing to her name.

She spends considerable time in her youth with her godmother and godmother's son Graham as well as the daughter of a friend of the godmother, Polly. As she ages, she ultimately leaves Britain for France/Belgium and the region of Villette. There, penniless, jobless, but determined to live a prudent and useful life, she finds employment as an English teacher in a boarding school for the uppercrust girls of the region.

While employed there, she is reunited with Graham, now a grown man and prominent doctor in the region. As Graham flirts with a young lady from the school, Lucy and Graham rekindle their friendship. Upon Graham realizing how horrible the young lady truly is, he appears to deepen his friendship with Lucy. This is the beginning of Lucy releasing the bars she has placed over her feelings and desires as she begins wondering if perhaps there could be a future with Graham.

As time progresses, Polly, now a young lady of 17 reenters, her slightly strange ways as a child are replaced with an almost angelic look and personality. Graham is smitten, and despite her own feelings, Lucy feels compelled to acknowledge the incredible match between Graham and Polly, sealing up her feelings (and the letters from Graham) and burying them for all time under a tree in the courtyard of the school.

Throughout her time in the school, we are introduced to many other people, most prominently the owner of the school, Madame Beck, and a cantankerous, brilliant, moody professor of language M. Paul Emanuel.

M Paul Emanuel requires perfection, but he frequently vacillates between bombastic tempers and utter sweetness. We come to understand that he is acutely sensitive and empathetic to others and despite seeming to pick on Lucy, they develop an interesting almost-friendship. As this is developing over the middle of the novel, I kept feeling like there was something very special in Bronte's attention and depiction of M. Paul Emanuel despite his initially appearing as just a side character. I would not be disappointed.

I won't give away the final third of the novel, other than to say that in typical Bronte fashion (take your pick of which one), the journey and the ending are filled with melancholy, fiercely beating hearts, incredible emotion, and pain.

While the writing style and the early set-up were almost arduous, by the time I hit the middle of the novel, I was hooked. There is something so endearing about Lucy Snowe. She doesn't want anything for herself, but we want so much for her. If she is repressed, it is herself doing the repressing, and yet, when given the chance to feel, it often comes at great cost even if there is some small reward.

Like many novels of the time, there is a gothic quality that includes supernatural elements. But those are ultimately resolved in mundane ways that are almost like a Shakespearean comedy. The novel also explores religion with Lucy's Protestantism and M. Paul Emanuel's Catholicism leading to intense exploration and interactions for them and others.

This is not an overwrought novel, in fact it is so underwrought that a reader would be forgiven for giving up on it too soon. But the payoff comes from watching how Bronte uses Lucy's invisibleness in her own story to make her emotional journey that much more intense for the reader, despite the restraint in the actual events that occur in the novel.

While that aspect of the writing is brilliant, there are also spots within the novel that suggest somewhat less refinement than her seminal work "Jane Eyre." I, however, can more than forgive that because the core story is ultimately very affecting. While not a perfect novel, and while the style of the author's voice is one that may not translate well as a guide to contemporary authors looking to explore craft, the skill by which Bronte uses an unconventional narrative approach in the beginning to set up for the emotional weight and payoffs by the end is quite extraordinary.

If you are a fan of similar works and authors, of proto-feminist works, and melancholy and the complex reality of navigating feelings when feelings are not allowed, this is very much a work for you. I hope you give it strong consideration. I am very grateful for having read it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Our Love Has Always Been 10 Centimeters Apart - doesn't close the gap (Anime Review)

Haruki and Miou
Random anime on Crunchyroll time. Flipping through and stumbled across "Our Love Has Always Been 10 Centimeters Apart." The premise looked like something I might like, even though it was a short series at 6 episodes. Sadly, while not unwatchable, it wasn't exactly well written either and had a couple big problems.

The show is about two high-school seniors, Haruki is a budding filmmaker, Miou is an artist. They have always been close friends but never took the next step even though they both clearly had feelings for each other. Let's stop there...

It's freaking high-school. Hormones are raging. NO ONE IS THIS RESERVED when it's clear there is mutual love. I just didn't buy it. It is pathos with no honesty. Anyway, moving on...

It turns out there is a secret link between them, related to the death of Haruki's older brother. The connection, while forced in its execution, is a classic shoujo-type twist (although I think this is a seinen-ish show). However, it's a twist that not only could have been easily resolved with some communication (a failure of most anime characters) but ends up ACTUALLY being resolved with a little communication.

This means the central driving element of the plot ends up being resolved so quickly and non-consequentially that it's a let down. Further, the final episode has a premise which I just don't buy at all. SPOILER ALERT NEXT PARAGRAPHS.

SPOILER ALERT THIS PARAGRAPH: At graduation, they still aren't together (despite almost kissing at a festival and resolving their hidden secret). So he goes off for seven, 7!, years to America and she says she'll wait even though neither one of them has expressed their feelings to each other and she doesn't know how long he'll be gone. She has no idea when he'll be back, if he'll be back, if he is worth waiting for, and that there is anything to wait for at all. She puts her life on hold with no hint of an eventual payoff. This is 1) absurd, 2) a terrible message to send to girls/women about waiting for a boy who promises you nothing and 3) not at all realistic (people change, people meet other people, people have needs...).

STILL SPOILING: So we have a central plot twist that gets resolved in a single conversation and years of a woman waiting for a man who may or may not come back and has never indicated that he would come back or that he even has feelings for her at all.

SPOILERS OVER: Miou is also one of the most passive women in anime that I have come across. Her lines are mostly "because of me" "I'm not good enough" "someone like me" etc... and even though Haruki doesn't like that about her, she doesn't really grow out of it in any meaningful way.  It's an awful trope/presentation of women I'm tired of. You can be strong while also being sensitive, but you don't have to be a door mat. I'm just over anime girls being like that. However, at one point, she does slap the living shit out of Haruki, and it's her best moment in the entire show. She finally has a backbone - you know until (that stuff from the spoiler paragraphs above).

The art is nothing to write home about, fine, but not great. The side characters are pretty much stock characters and all end up dating in the end like it's a dating sim...wait is it?...checking wikipedia...nope, based on a song...oh...shouldn't have expected much then...sigh...

So anyway, it wasn't awful, but it wasn't very engaging, the characters are all drama with no reason, the resolutions suck and are too easily achieved, and there is some real gender stereotypes with women waiting for men who promise nothing, etc... just didn't like it.

I'm sad to say, but this is a 4/10 because it has some real problems to go with its blandness of writing, acting, and art. At 6 episodes it won't kill you, you're not wasting a ton of time, but there is so much better stuff out there, my recommendation is to stay away unless you like really bland tropey high-school romance. If you like great high-school romance, try Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride - whose manga is also coming out now), Kimi Ni Todoke (whose manga is just finishing up), or if you're in the mood for absolute dramatic high-school seinen trash romance, try White Album 2 (it's embarrassed-to-like garbage, but boy does it own what it does, for good or bad!).

Hit me up in the comments if you've seen "Our Love Has Always Been 10 Centimeters Apart" and what you thought of it.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Kiss & White Lily for my Dearest Girl Vol. 4 "kicks the Moe" (Manga Review)

Moe & Mizuki
Working to catch up on Kiss & White Lily so that I can review the newest volumes in a more timely manner. Today, let's talk Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl Volume 4 (published by Yen Press).

To review: I was pleasantly surprised with Volume 1 because I adore the quirky, not-exactly-tropey, back-and-forth of Ayaka and Yurine. Volume 1 also featured another really cute couple in Mizuki and Moe. Volume 2 felt less interesting as we got less of Ayaka and Yurine and instead a lot of another couple that didn't do much for me (but a small story with a middle schooler that I did like). Volume 3 was another winner as we got some great time with Ayaka and Yurine and saw their relationships move a little further. I didn't love the side story, but I did love that Yurine was heavy in it as well and gave her a new hobby to start rounding out her character.

Volume 4 is a blend of volume 1 and 2 in quality (maybe we're doing an even/odd number thing with Yurine and Ayaka). It has very little of Yurine and Ayaka (although they do share a couple cute moments in a bonus chapter). However, it does continue the story of Mizuki and Moe who are so very cute and worth reading. The secondary story felt pretty bland.

The first two chapters with Mizuki and Moe were the strongest and had a really cute sweaty kiss. It starts with a great line: "You have to kick the Moe" as Moe tries to help Mizuki overcome a mental block so she can run her fastest. Mizuki ultimately goes through a fairly tough emotional arc and it's good to see other sides of her to give us a greater sense of her personality.

I loved seeing how much Moe understands Mizuki, especially with how that understanding is balanced with a mis-understanding in a later chapter at the festival where she underestimates just how much Mizuki loves her. This underestimation leads to big growth in their relationship, and a wonderful 2-page spread that makes the volume well worth reading. In fact, we finally get some real genuine relationship happening, and a sign that there could be real adult-world growing in their future (and maybe Canno will even give us stories of them as adults - we can wish for more yuri with adults, can't we?).

But, like volume 2, there is a side couple that doesn't do anything for me. In this case, it's a trio of girls, one of whom has been obsessed with Yurine since middle school and finally tries to befriend her. The other girls assume she's in love with Yurine and ultimately help her out. This girl's obsession with Yurine represents a weird type of fandom, a prevalent trope in many yuri manga, that doesn't make sense to me in its presentation here - although I do understand its historical roots. Unlike the passionate friendships/idol worship in Maria Watches Over Us (which is also a modern reflection on a turn-of-the-20th-century reality for some girls from that period who were devoted to their female classmates as more than friends), the presentation here is too generic and too comedic to have much emotional weight. It's pure trope with no substance.

Ultimately this girl's feelings, and the story itself, fizzles out anyway. My reaction to that "resolution" was like that of her friends: "why'd we waste our time on this if she wasn't serious?" I couldn't remember the character's name or personality if I tried - maybe that's the problem, she really didn't have much of a defined personality outside of her obsessive interest in Yurine.

The Moe and Mizuki chapters are so good, as well as the short bonus with Yurine and Ayaka (but too little of them overall), that I'd rather there just be fewer couples in the series and more time with the ones I'm connecting to.

However, maybe other readers connect with some of the other couples more and so this gives everyone something in each volume. OR, maybe some couples are just better written than others and I'm right about which ones I like :)

Who knows...but I like what I like, and that's what I get to talk about. For me it's Yurine and Ayaka #1 and Mizuki and Moe #2 and everyone else we've met a distant 4th. Who's third you ask? It's Izumi and Forhead-senpai (who get a brief cameo in a bonus chapter).

The art continues to be fine, if not spectacular. Most of the time I can tell the characters apart although there still continues to be so many I have trouble keeping track. Thankfully Canno-sensei tends to provide names, clues, and even character bios between chapters which helps with that. I still wish it "kicked the moe" a little more an embraced a more mature art style (as well as more dynamism in the art - I know you can do it, because of "the slap" from volume 3, and some great full-page/2-page spreads here). But overall the art is more than satisfactory and consistent in quality (and if I haven't mentioned it, I LOVE the uniform design. I'm totally jealous and want those cute navy winter uniform jumpers).

So even though I didn't really care for the secondary story, the Moe/Mizuki story was strong and advanced their relationship, and we got some real MOMENTS! With that in mind, it's a nice 7/10 and worth continuing to read the story. Ordering vol. 5 this week, so look for that review soon.

Also, I want to thank @chrisleblanc79 for his supportive tweets as well as a nice, thoughtful comment on Vol. 3 and some overall counter-points he's provided to my view of the  series.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Kiss & White Lily for My Dearest Girl Vol. 3 rewards readers with some good chapters devoted to the main couple (Manga Review)

Kiss & White Lily Volume 3
I recently joined twitter (like 2 months ago - @yuristargirl) and a reader helped me better understand the structure of Kiss & White Lily. Volume 3 (published by Yen Press) confirms that the series will be based around Yurine and Ayaka but that each volume will also feature a secondary couple. I was relieved to hear we'll always get our main couple.

While I wasn't really feeling the secondary couple in Volume 3, the first two chapters dealt almost exclusively with Yurine and Ayaka who also feature prominently throughout the remaining chapters and their story continues to be highly entertaining and heartwarming.

For those just joining us, Yurine is the lazy genius with photographic memory who struggles to relate to others but secretly does long for a close relationship. She's in love with Ayaka, a work-a-holic perfectionistic natural leader who wants nothing more than to be better than Yurine. Ayaka is developing feelings for Yurine but won't completely abandon herself to them, giving in in fits and starts - and cute ones at that.

The first chapter gives us some tender, funny, cute, and a bit sexy moments where they continue to outline the boundaries of their unique relationship. Yurine is crystal clear with her feelings, but Ayaka rarely reciprocates. However, in addition to a few kisses, we also get a sweet moment in this volume where she admits that she would have liked to see Yurine over spring break. It's one of several times where Ayaka lets down her guard.

I love how imperfect both these leads are, I love how they tease each other and are teased by each other, I love how they are both visually and personally unique from other manga couples. I really wish the whole series was just them, and in more depth, rather than every stinking person at the school being in a couple. But, I'll deal.

Which brings us to the secondary couple in Volume 3. Here we have two 3rd years, the president and vice president of the gardening club. They recruit Yurine to join (which leads to some cuteness with Ayaka) in order to keep the club going. Immediately some things start going south with the new member recruitment effort and other challenges which leads to the main plot of the volume.

What I didn't buy was the vice-president's characterization which seemed extreme. Additionally, her actions didn't make logical sense, not even in an irrational teen logic sort of way. That lead to a plot that just didn't really interest me. However, it did give us what is possibly the best manga slap I've ever seen, so way to go Canno-sensei. But as a whole, this volumes side couple didn't feel real or distinct or interesting, especially when compared to the nuance of the main couple.

I think that is ultimately how the series is likely to progress. Some volumes the side couple will be interesting and some it might not be, but I anticipate always loving the parts with Yurine and Ayaka. With that in mind, I'm giving this a 7/10 because the Yurine and Ayaka parts are awesome in this volume.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hatsu*Haru Volume 3 picks up the pace (Manga Review)

Hatsu Haru volume 3 Kai Riko
Hatsu*Haru volume 3 (published by Yen Press) continues the quality of the first two volumes. This is shaping up to be a really quality shoujo series. It's light, it's fun, it's sentimental, it's got two engaging leads. It's nothing revolutionary, it's not earth shattering, but it is one of those wonderful treats that we need in a world run amok.

Volume 3 picks up with Kai dreaming about Riko. He's too shy to actually ask her to the fireworks festival, so when she saddles him with helping her with student council work, he drags his feet so that they finish just in time for the festival, using it as a convenient excuse for them to check it out. It's one of the cutest moments in the series so far.

At the festival, Riko starts getting swallowed by the crowd, so Kai takes her by the hand and leads her around. This starts a chain of events that culminates in some conflict, some tears, and a confession.

The volume moves at a brisk pace which is consistent with the series as a whole so far. The series isn't dragging things out, it's not pissing and moaning, it's giving us the rewarding moments we like, but not endlessly moping about. I love that!

The art continues to be top notch. Great character designs all around, great use of screen tones and layouts. I love that it's more realistic and not moe like so much else right now.

I wish for the sake of the review I had something deep and profound to say, or some complaint, or concern, but truthfully, I'm loving this series. It's exactly what I want from a high-school shoujo romance. Granted, I also like the more complex and deep shoujo/josei series, but it's also nice to have a straight-forward romance with likable characters. That's exactly what Hatsu*Haru is and volume 3 is as strong as the preceding two.

If shoujo is your jam, you can't go wrong. Thank you to Yen Press for bringing this to to us! I'm giving this volume a strong 8/10. It's not higher only because it's not ground-breaking, but that isn't a knock, this is comfort food at its best.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Kiss & White Lily for my Dearest Girl vol. 2 shifts focus and loses focus (but is still intriguing) (Manga Review)

Chiharu and Izumi
I felt mildly enthusiastic about Kiss & White Lily for my Dearest Girl vol. 1 when I reviewed it, finding that I liked how imperfect both lead characters (Ayaka Shiramine and Yurine Kurosawa) were. They each had deep, but endearing flaws, that played against type and trope. It had the makings of a cute, if silly, romance.

Volume 2 (published by Yen Press) takes a detour in that is spends the majority of time on several side characters from the first volume including Chiharu and Uehara, two classmates in the same year as Ayaka and Yurine. The volume centers on their relationship with a third-year, Maya, and her upcoming graduation. It also introduces us to Izumi, a third-year middle-school student.

What I'm beginning to understand about this series is that it will not be centered on a single couple, but instead explore many, many couples in the school. Ayaka and Yurine appear in the volume, and take slight steps forward in their romance, but it really is dedicated to Chiharu and Maya's interactions and ultimately the way Izumi works her way in. I don't want to spoil anything, but some of the characters in this volume actually begin dating, and I'm glad that it's going to actually let some couples become couples rather than staying in "almost" land forever.

I didn't feel the writing was always clear, and the sheer number of characters made it a bit hard for me to follow. I can only imagine this getting worse as I believe we're going to get even more characters/couples in the future. I'm concerned how all these relationships will be balanced over the course of the series and will I be able to keep track without a spreadsheet.

That being said, the Chiharu/Maya relationship didn't really do anything for me but the Chiharu/Izumi friendship was very cutely handled and (SPOILER) there might be some payoff to this...but I'm not telling!

In all, this is meant to be a mixture of fun and romance, nothing too heavy, mostly just cute and sweet, and it is what it is. If you are looking for a series about endless girl/girl couples at an all-girls school then you could do much worse than this innocuous volume/series. To be honest, I liked the leads from volume 1 a bit more than the leads in this volume, so the balance in future volumes will be interesting to see.

It's not great, it's not new, I have a hard time keeping track of everyone (even after rereading volumes 1 and 2) but it's also got its moments. I'm not as high on this volume as the first one, but I'm going to keep reading for now. 6/10 for lack of originality, changing which characters we're focused on, and not really feeling Maya as a character.

I just got volume 3, so I'll try to get that reviewed shortly.