We cover two upcoming releases this week: the second volume of romcom Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible and the first volume of the historical manga, The Elusive Samurai. We also dig into witches, bounty hunters, Jedi, and muscular girls with our reviews of recent manga and light novels!
Cowboy Bebop: Making the Netflix Series • The Elusive Samurai (Vol. 1) • Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible (Vol. 2) • The Muscle Girl Next Door • Rapunzel of the Magic Item Shop • Star Wars: The High Republic: The Edge of Balance (Vol. 2)
The Muscle Girl Next Door
I don’t pick up one-shots often, but when I read the blurb for The Muscle Girl Next Door, I knew it was one I didn’t want to miss! And indeed, I am glad I did not miss it! Daria, our male hero, is a college student who is insecure about his body image and his physical weakness, and as a result, he has created an “aloof” exterior to help with his self-confidence. The funny thing is that he incredibly kind and sweet underneath…and has a huge crush on his next-door neighbor, Ruby! Through a friend’s help (or intervention, since Daria can hardly ever hold a conversation with Ruby due to his shyness), he slowly starts to open up to Ruby as they begin to work out together. This is a very cute and wholesome read! It’s a bummer that it is only a one-shot and not a short series though, because seeing these two interact is so delightful and I wanted more of them! The majority of the manga consists of sporadic chapters, but it starts to feel like more of an ongoing story once Daria’s friend gets involved and we see Daria and Ruby grow closer. These later chapters are some of my favorites because Daria is finally able to hold more of a conversation with Ruby. Overall, this is a very easygoing story that I would definitely recommend to those looking for a quick read with very light romance, great characters, and a fun story! ~ Laura A. Grace
The Muscle Girl Next Door (manga) is published by Seven Seas.
Rapunzel of the Magic Item Shop
Taking inspiration from the fairy tale of Rapunzel, this volume begins with a girl imprisoned in a tower since the age of six and forbidden to cut her hair. Lille comes from a kingdom that abhors sorcerers and persecutes anyone who, like her, is discovered to have magic power. Then a talking bird familiar named Ark shows up, busts her out, and takes her far away to live with the mysterious sorcerer Charles and his apprentice Leo. Having spent most of her childhood drugged up and in near-complete isolation, the sixteen-year-old protagonist has a lot to overcome, and a lot to learn about the world and herself as well. A sweet romance ensues as she puzzles out how to relate to her newfound family and unravels the mysteries that surround them. This is a standalone volume, so you get the entire delightful story in this one package. There are some dark moments (e.g., Lille’s abuse), and one of the story’s themes centers on how we deal with death, but overall this is a cute and thoughtful tale that I definitely recommend. ~ jeskaiangel
Rapunzel of the Magic Item Shop (light novel) is published by Cross Infinite World.
Star Wars: The High Republic: The Edge of Balance, Vol. 2
My passion for all things Star Wars clouds my critical evaluation of its media (impossible to see the faults it is). Yet, Disney truly seems to be more particular about its anime, manga, and manga-style works—which are consistently high quality—than it is with its live-action material. The manga series Star Wars: The High Republic: The Edge of Balance is no exception, although I did notice a few cracks appearing in volume two of this otherwise shimmering series. The continuation of the story of Jedi Knight Lily Tora-Asi and her padawan, Keerin Fionn, begins with Lily in such a distracted state, rebuilding Banchii after the Drengir incident, that she cannot foresee a greater coordinated attack by the Nihil. These foes are quite formidable, and their destruction they wreak is immense and profound, yet there’s nothing shown in the manga’s panels—no especially intimidating or wise leader, formidable attack squad, or action scenes indicating their power—that naturally leads me to conclude that they are an enemy on the scale of the Empire. So even though we’re told that the Nihil are strong, it’s quite shocking to see the results of their actions, including one particularly dramatic event that will shake readers, as it does various characters in the story. This climactic moment consequently feels unearned. That said, I love the character designs in The Edge of Balance, as well as its high stakes and those of the “High Republic” series in general. I want to read more about Master Lily and the rest, and to see how The Edge of Balance progresses. Despite its weaknesses, this manga reminds me of how excited I once was to dig into the other “High Republic” works—and I’m bound to turn to them in the meantime as I await the next volume in this exciting series. ~ Twwk
Star Wars: The High Republic: The Edge of Balance (manga) is published by VIZ Media.
READ: Star Wars: The High Republic: The Edge of Balance Vol. 1 Review
The Elusive Samurai, Vol. 1
I confess that it has been some time since I’ve wanted to drop a story without finishing it. However, let me clarify what I mean! I picked up The Elusive Samurai because the cover is absolutely gorgeous and I was deeply curious about the premise of an heir who excelled at hide-and-seek with his teachers, and would soon need to put that skill to the test and run away to save his life! Due to a series of slightly graphic events, our main character, Hojo, flees after a massacre and is taken to safety by an interesting ally (Suwa) who may or may not see the future, and who tells our eight-year-old hero that he will one day rule over Japan. In the meantime, Hojo will have to learn a thing or two about fighting and not running away (even if technically that is the one thing that keeps the heir safe). I think The Elusive Samurai was a great historical read, but it was a lot bloodier and more graphic than I expected, and I’ll admit that I was not able to handle it. I definitely think that this story is accurate in its depiction of war, but I didn’t realize how much of the violence would be shown on the page. (I also think the violence here was a little bit harder for me to stomach because the hero is younger.) I did, however, deeply enjoy the quite lengthy section at the end about the history behind elements of the story! I also thought the characters were great, especially Suwa, who is hilarious! So overall, this is a good story, but one that is just not for me because of how the violence was portrayed. I think someone who doesn’t mind that and loves historical fiction would enjoy this! ~ Laura A. Grace
The Elusive Samurai (manga) is published by VIZ Media.
Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, Vol. 2
While our reaction to volume one was unenthusiastic, small adjustments in the second volume of Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible have me feeling warmer about this series centering on the “he’s so background that he’s not even noticed” Shiraishi and the beautiful Kubo, who seems to be the only person who can see him both literally and figuratively. Valentine’s Day and White Day are central to these chapters, though the cutest material may be in the expansive bonus panels at the end of the volume. But the story itself, as standard as it is, isn’t where I saw growth. Instead, I liked the decision of the mangaka to go more down the route of cutesy and flirty, rather than maintaining the sexier imagery of Kubo that muddled the tone in volume one. As a result, volume two makes for a smoother, more enjoyable read. Meanwhile, Kubo and Shiraishi are more consistently presented as well: I’m starting to get who they are. The chapters were cute, funny, and doki-doki, though the artwork is sometimes too simple and other times simply horrible (one panel has Kubo’s eyes not quite in the right place). I was also confused as to who was saying what in a lot of the panels—even rereading them, the wording didn’t quite make sense coming from either Kubo or Shiraishi. Still, I’m encouraged by the direction of the series. There’s growth here. I was fairly certain that I would be dropping Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, but instead, I find myself waiting to see what cute interactions these two will have next. ~ Twwk
Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible (manga) is published by VIZ Media and releases on July 5th.
READ: Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, Vol. 1 Review
Cowboy Bebop: Making the Netflix Series
When I was in grade school, I desperately wanted to watch Ghostbusters II in theaters. My parents wouldn’t take me, so instead, I purchased a “making of” book from our Scholastic Book Fair, and though I enjoyed reading it, I could tell from my purchase that this sequel film wasn’t as good as the original. It kind of feels the same way in reading Cowboy Bebop: Making the Netflix Series. The book goes behind the scenes, often with great depth and insight, delving into the less-than-stellar adaptation of the classic anime. Having reviewed the series and being a fan of the original, I was eager to see if the book would reveal more hints of where it all went wrong, and the early part of this hardcover did indeed confirm my suspicions that the production team didn’t understand why the original anime worked. Instead, they selected Cowboy Bebop as part of a general search for an anime suitable for adaptation that audiences wouldn’t find too weird. Several paragraphs outline the early selection process, and it’s unusually frank, as is much of the book, though it is also clearly meant to persuade fans of the anime that the Netflix team was also comprised of fans (note: Elena Satine, who plays Julia in the series, is unexpectedly identified as a super fan of the anime!), who wanted to honor the original while making the necessary changes. It’s true that an adaption requires a multitude of changes, and often significant ones. The problem with this particular work though, as I explained, was that the writers, directors, and producers weren’t up to the task. The design team, however, largely was (though to my chagrin, they’re often critical of the “realism” of the anime), and the bulk of this work focuses on their efforts to adapt the ships and locales. Fans both of movie-making and the Netflix Cowboy Bebop series may find these deep dives interesting, and I should admit that even though I’m neither, I also found the explanations behind various decisions to be fascinating, especially the extended section about the Bebop itself. The writing is crisp and the book is full of concept art and photos that I hadn’t seen before, making the price tag of about $40 feel legitimate. It does end quite suddenly though, reminding me of how this project, rumored to be developed with a second season in mind (the book also constantly refers to the “first season” of the series), also ended on an inglorious note. Still, whether as a curiosity or for true fans of the adaptation, this work is perhaps worth collecting as one of the few extraneous pieces of an experiment that didn’t quite go as planned. ~ Twwk
Cowboy Bebop: Making the Netflix Series (hardcover) is published by Titan Books.