Horror and the ancient world weave in and out of the manga and light novels we’re reviewing this week, with moments that will make you squirm and others that convey a warm familiarity, even when featuring the unknown. Then there are also the human dramas we’re reading, which take place in more contemporary settings while yet dwelling on the past.
To Strip the Flesh
Oto Toda’s collection of one-shots starts off with the titular story, which manages to be both scary and heartfelt. “To Strip the Flesh” features Chiaki, who has been taking hormone treatment to transition into a male but is unwilling to undergo reassignment surgery in deference to his father. The story is heavily metaphorical, and has been noted by other reviews for its powerful imagery, as in the dream sequence of Chiaki’s breasts and uterus being removed. And although the tale does carry some body horror elements, it’s ultimately about parent-child love, and really strikes a strong emotional chord in a number of related scenes. The remaining stories are also excellent reads, and quite a bit lighter for the most part, though many still deal with heartbreak, violence, and death. I especially appreciate the mother-son story, Hot Watermelon, and David in Love, about a miniature figure of Michaelangelo’s David and the little girl that owns him. The collection wraps up with thoughts by Toda and an interview with her that focuses on the title comic, adding further context to that impressive work, which is both timely and significant as well. ~ Twwk
To Strip the Flesh (manga) is published by VIZ Media, and releases on June 21st.
Golden Gold, Vol. 1
Bizarre, disturbing, and very funny, volume one of Golden Gold is every bit the strange and imaginative work you’d expect from Seita Horio, the mangaka who also created Kokkoku. However, at least in these early chapters, Golden Gold exchanges the violence of that series for small-town dynamics, a quasi-religious fable, and peculiar fantasy. Hayasaka, a middle schooler who is standoffish around practically everyone except her crush, Oikawa, and her grandmother, discovers a creepy doll that looks like Buddha where it has washed up on the shores of her home island. She decides to place it in a shrine, which is when the story turns abnormal. The creepy figure—perhaps a god of fortune—comes to life and seems like a normal old man to everyone apart from Hayasaka and visitors staying at her grandmother’s home. While offbeat and funny at first, the fortune this god brings is serious, and the question is asked whether he could also be carrying a curse that is just as impactful? The volume ends with an image that suggests as much—one among many that stand out throughout the work. Indeed, Golden Gold is so compelling in part because of Horio’s artwork, which is a mix of jovial and artificial, and often creates scenes that are highly comical or highly alarming based simply on a look. It’s telling that this volume is memorable for how bizarre it is, while yet also establishing the characters with heart, particularly Hayasaka, whose mixture of kindness, integrity, and sass makes her both endearing and solid as a heroine. What exactly she’ll have to face next is still up in the air—but it could be terrifying. And the way the tone is shifting as the volume ends, I wouldn’t expect anything less. ~ Twwk
Golden Gold (manga) is published by Kodansha.
Satoko and Nada, Vol. 4
I love this beautiful series so much! Yet again I find another paperback series I checked out from my library and want to own for myself! Our two wonderful main leads have been living together as roommates in America as they study at university, but now the final volume is here and our ladies know that their time as roommates is coming to an end. Nada is going to be married soon, and finally the time has come to meet her fiancé. While there was much unease as to whether the arranged marriage would be a good match, when Nada and her future husband meet face-to-face, we see that he is more than worthy of her affections! Their meeting left me feeling all the warm fuzzies, yet, the looming departure of Satoko for Japan and the separation she and Nada face brought with it a certain bittersweetness. (Though thankfully, it is far from a hopeless ending as we see they will always be dear friends regardless of the distance between them!) Both these beautiful ladies are so special and I am deeply thankful I was able to go on this adventure with them and learn from their friendship. It was so, so, so beautiful! I highly recommend this series to those looking for a calm slice-of-life that is also fun and informs the reader about other cultures. I learned quite a bit from this series and will deeply miss reading more about these two ladies. I could keep reading more and more about them both! Fantastic series! ~ Laura A. Grace
Satoko and Nada is published by Seven Seas.
Alice in Borderland, Vol. 2
As Arisu and the others begin a new game, cracks appear in their friendship. Are their connections just a facade? Can they remain loyal to one another? Will this world allow them to? At the same time, the bigger questions of why they’re here and how they might escape persist, though a clue to these mysteries may have been uncovered. Volume one hinted at this series being something beyond a mere revel of violence and nihilism, yet the opening chapters of volume two stick dangerously close to these two themes. But within the context of the crazy world, such heinous violence, terrible ends, pessimism, and depression are authentic to the tale. And while it’s difficult to make it through much of the material—I had to read this volume through multiple sittings—there are moments of brightness and clarity in this dim, painful world, like the reappearance of a now-significant character and Arisu’s growth despite his poor mental state on entering the game world and the suffering he’s going through. Ultimately, it is these bright moments we cling to through the beatings, deaths, anxiety, and fear, because they remind us that there is hope in the worst of situations and times. Indeed, I’ll cling tightly to that, with the fourth or fifth major surprise in this double volume also being a cliffhanger that will have me worried until volume three comes around. ~ Twwk
Alice in Borderland (manga) is published by VIZ Media, and volume two releases on June 21st.
READ: Alice in Borderland Vol. 1 Review
The Ancient Magus Bride, Vol. 3
Volume two of this dreamlike series continues the threeway showdown between the two pairs (Elias and Chise, and Renfred and Alice), and the uber-creepy Cartaphilus. Although the pages are filled with high tension, I wouldn’t say that action is a strong point for The Ancient Magus Bride, and the scene ends very much as expected—without much of anything happening, except for the reveal of a new fae that will partake in the lives of Elias’ household. In fact, that reveal becomes a major part of the remaining two-thirds of the volume, which continue to establish this magical world while forcing Chise toward some end involving her own will rather than others, and deepening the mystery of Elias. These latter chapters are very much welcome, continuing to carry the heartfelt, melancholy, and ruminative tone of the manga. Having previously watched the anime adaptation, it’s interesting to compare the two—both are excellent, though I feel the anime stuck the mythological tone of the British Isles more successfully, while the humor is better balanced in the manga. Either way, both are truly exceptional works. ~ Twwk
The Ancient Magus Bride is published by Seven Seas.
Silver Spoon, Vol. 7
As Hachiken returns to school and recovers from his fainting spell before the Ag Fest, he continues to think about his future career path, as well as his fraught relationships with family, and his romantic interest in Mikage. Meanwhile, Komba is pitching hard as the baseball team inches closer to every high school player’s dream of making it to Koshien, with a most unexpected surprise in store. This turn in the arc (and manga overall) is only teased here, to be more fully explained in volume eight, but it shakes the heart nonetheless. It also recalls the brilliance of Hiromu Arakawa. Silver Spoon is a story about Hachiken’s personal journey toward healing as he discovers what life can and should be, but it’s also a story that never lets us lose sight of people, in all their goodness, grace, pain, and struggle. Hachiken, for all his good qualities, burrows so deeply into his own thoughts, anger, and insecurities, that he often forgets the big picture. He forgets reality. But life will force him to remember—and through this amazing series, Arakawa does the same for us. ~ Twwk
Silver Spoon is published by Yen Press.
Spice and Wolf, Vol. 5
As Lawrence and Holo get nearer and nearer to discovering the location of the Wisewolf’s home village, they happen upon another northern town, this one dealing in furs (a discomforting place for a wolf goddess!). But something further is amiss. The community’s council is meeting about restricting the typically robust selling of the product, and Lawrence—as expected—discovers a chance to make coin, and maybe see his own wish come true. Volume five of Spice and Wolf begins along the same lines as the rest, following what is by now a tried and true formula in which the duo looks for hints about Holo’s origins, but also falls into an opportunity for the merchant to increase his trade, though at perhaps too dangerous and risky a cost. I was struck though at the halfway point by how little the action had progressed. It was still a sterling, captivating read, once again making economics compelling and introducing supporting characters with wit and mystery, but I couldn’t help but wonder this time, to what end? The answer to that is more surprising than in any of the previous volumes in terms of how personal it proved to be, and works so well because it’s at once unexpected and yet, upon reflection, perfectly natural according to the progression of the relationship between the leads. Further, the danger seems to double in this volume, and while it ends on a satisfactory note, for the first time we also receive an obvious continuation into the next volume. As if I needed a cliffhanger to convince me to continue reading this extraordinary series! ~ Twwk
Spice and Wolf is published by Yen Press.
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 they’re 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.
featured illustration by 叁色 (reprinted w/permission)