Spy Classroom, Vol. 1
Spy Classroom is an oddity among light novels: a spy thriller, one clearly taking inspiration from sources like James Bond and Mission: Impossible. And it’s got the best kind of plot twists: the super satisfying ones that you don’t see coming but that in hindsight make you facepalm and say, “Of course!” A bunch of teenage girls who nearly flunked out of spy school find themselves suddenly recruited to form a team for a mission that was literally declared “impossible.” Their superior is a hyper-competent veteran whose complete lack of teaching ability means there’s no way he can get these near-dropouts into shape in time for the mission. I don’t want to spoil anything, so that’s it for my summary. Beyond the humor, mystery, and action, this story rewards having an eye for detail. If you find yourself thinking “Hmm, that’s odd,” or “Wait, what about [fill in the blank]?” you’ve probably caught on to something significant and will later feel clever for having noticed. At times, Spy Classroom even managed to reminded me of novels by Agatha Christie; and for a mystery story, I can’t imagine how to praise it more highly than saying, “It reminded me of the unrivaled queen of mystery novels.” Finally, shout-out to Sean Gaffney, whose review is what prompted me to pick up this gem I’d overlooked. ~ jeskaiangel
Spy Classroom is published by Yen Press.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Deserted Island Diary), Vol. 1
The first volume of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons manga, subtitled “Deserted Island Fantasy,” is a bit unexpected. Tonally, I assumed it would be like ACNH, with that sweet, humorous, and warm feel, but this manga is a straight up gag series focusing primarily on four human visitors on a deserted island vacation hosted by Tom Nook. When the spotlight turns toward the ACNH characters (I found the chapters involving Gulliver and Raymond especially funny), the manga is covered with a familiarity from the game, but then the story inevitably returns to the new characters, who are a bit too frenetic—above and beyond the “peppy” type—to have much appeal. The last third of of the volume is a beginner’s guide, with each page focusing on one or two aspects of the game. However, this section is saved from boredom by the inclusion of 4-koma-esque paneling, much of which is humorous. Still, I think that only the most diehard ACNH fans, who are willing to wade through the lesser material to see Wisp, Blathers, Lucky, and the rest in manga form, will want to collect this series. ~ Twwk
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is published by Viz.*
If the RPG World Had Social Media, Vol. 1
This story is an affectionate, humorous parody of RPG tropes and internet culture. In an otherwise generic fantasy world, computers, smartphones, and social media exist. The tale begins in tropey fashion, with Hero, an absurdly weak shut-in, getting a wake-up text from Hero’s Mom. Then King of Beginnerland messages him a request to rescue Princess from Demon Lord, and Hero embarks his very, very slow journey (as it happens, Hero has a ton of debilitating curses and would lose a race with a glacier). So Demon Lord sends one of her generals, Mako the catgirl, to escort him. Later other Demon Generals join Hero’s party. (I’m not sure why some characters get only a role or title, while others have proper names; I suspect there is some logic behind it, but I can’t discern what. If nothing else, Hero’s dad, Papatega, seems like a clear allusion to Ortega, father of Dragon Quest III’s protagonist.) Anyway, Hero and Demon Lord develop a sweet long-distance relationship, combat racial prejudice, and get into comical situations along with all the other zany characters. Of special note is that while some parts of this volume use standard prose, many sections consist of pages of faux text messages, visually styled after the screens you’d see reading in LINE or other instant messenger apps. I think the story’s use of this gimmick is clever and fun, but I can imagine some finding it annoying, and on some devices it might even be difficult to read, so heads-up. I definitely plan to read the next volume. ~ jeskaiangel
If the RPG World Had Social Media is published by Yen Press.
Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection
I was on vacation recently and decided to snag some manga from the library. I was thinking single volume material that I could read through when I had down time while at the beach with my family. You know, light fare to relax to, right? Well, this isn’t that. Smashed is a collection of individual, single chapter stories from Junji Ito that feature his signature art style. While some collections of his stories are very grotesque with their imagery and brutal storytelling, Smashed is different. While there are certianly moments of grotesqueness, each of the stories convey a tragic tone more than anything else. A story about a man who lost his parents, wondering if he’ll find them again as he’s lost in the woods. A story about a family overcoming grief after the loss of their loved one, and the ghost of the murderer haunting them. A story about people who are forced to stay still in horrible poses as a penance for their sins by the Earth itself. The chapters focuses less on a disturbed spookiness and overall more on calamity and misfortune. I really appreciated the storytelling Ito was able to wave into each chapter. If you can handle body horror and macabre imagery, it’s worth checking out. ~ MDMRN
Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection is published by Viz Media.
A Bride’s Story/Bride Stories (Otoyomegatari), Vol. 1
In central Asia, two centuries ago, in the colourful yet harsh world of the tribal Turkestan, Amira’s hand is given to Karluk, who is still very young. And with this marriage, three generations will now live under the same roof. Amira comes from the nomadic tribes, while Karluk and his clan are sedentary shepherds. Even if they barely know the other, both of them will do their best to honor their newfound bond. And so begins a powerful, well-researched, well-drawn, realistic story full of nature, art, luscious details, careful observation and slow-burning conflicts. Family bonds are important, even essential. Winters are hard. Illness may strike. And conflicts may very well result in sudden violence. From the patient art of a carver, observed by a child in awe, to a fast-paced, violent hare hunt, we become witnesses of the lives of characters that feel very real—people of their time, yet relatable and compelling. I feel lucky I came across this unusual story, almost by chance. Our writer Claire is reviewing these days Kaoru Mori’s classic, Emma: A Victorian Romance. I can only say that Mori has not lost her touch since. This is a manga for the ages. ~ Gaheret
Star Wars Rebels, Vol. 2
I’m mostly aware of Dave Filoni through The Mandalorian, a creative endeavor that subtly reveals insights about its characters as personal stories are thrust against an intergalatic backdrop. I’m finding that Star Wars Rebels, the series which he executive produced, is much the same. There are flashbacks in both the main stories of volume two, which also introduces a major antagonist in Jedi hunter, The Inquisitor, but mostly we’re treated to more subtle reveals of character through the stories being told, that of Kanan’s worries about teaching Ezra as they seek to save a Jedi master, and the team smuggling a friend of Ezra’s parents away on the boy’s birthday. I was afraid that Rebels might be too childish, with too many shonen-type convention and lacking in smarts, but I was mistaken. Like so many one-offs or other short Star Wars manga series, Rebels is an absolute delight, and seems like it will be the perfect longer-form story from the universe to adapt. ~ Twwk
Star Wars Rebels is published by Yen Press.* Volume releases on September 28th.
Love in Focus, Vol. 1
Some days it’s nice to read a very down-to-earth story that doesn’t require much brainpower and helps you relax after a busy day. That’s the kind of experience I had with Love in Focus. The story centers on a young woman, Mako, who has a passion for photography and is invited to the boarding house her childhood best friend resides at and attends the same school he does (which has a photography program). Mako decides to take the opportunity and as a result, discovers a new way of living life and meets new people along the way. This is the second series I’ve read from Yoko Nogiri and I continue to deeply enjoy her storytelling. She writes such inspiring main characters that choose to look on the bright side, encourage other people, and are genuinely just sweet people. I love it! Probably the highlight of this volume, though, was the focus on photography. I really loved how Mako’s camera was an extension of her arm and how she found beauty in everything. It made me smile on more than one occasion and has me looking forward to reading the next volume! ~ Laura A. Grace
Love in Focus is published by Kodansha.
Reader’s Corner is our way of embracing the wonderful world of manga, light novels, and visual novels, creative works intimately related to anime but with a magic all their own. Each week, our writers provide their thoughts on the works their reading—both those recently released as we keep you informed of newly published works and older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.
*Thank you to Yen Press and Viz for providing review copies.