Reader’s Corner: Frieren (Vol. 5), Penguin & House, and A Silent Voice

While so many manga cross somewhat into the fantasy realm, our reviews this week focus on series firmly set in that genre, with cooking penguins, talking books, and ancient dragons filling these volumes, in addition to the newest release in Frieren, a brilliant series about mage and her parties (past and present).

The Ancient Magus Bride (Vol. 4)Bond and Book: The Long, Long Good-Bye of “The Last Bookstore”Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (Vol. 5)Penguin & House (Vol. 1)A Silent Voice (Vol. 1)

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, Vol. 5

It’s exciting for me when a slow, peaceful, and nostalgic manga like Frieren enters the trope-filled, mile-a-minute territory of team battle royale matches. Will the series be able to carry the same thoughtfulness into an exciting shonen arc? Volume five of Frieren does indeed keep its lovely, wondrous quality, though the arc isn’t terribly exciting since the titular character’s OP-ness mostly cancels out any chance that she and her team of up-and-comers will die or even lose in round one of the mage exams. I think that the mangaka is aware, though, that it’s not about the action (even in an “action section” of the story), and interestingly, the focus is turned away from Frieren and Fern and onto their opponents, who demonstrate the whole gamut of humanity from kind to cruel. By the end of the fights, we’re left rooting for all of them, even those who are the coldest and most violent. Additionally, this volume once again venerates the elderly, their wisdom, and even their eccentricities, in the way it depicts Frieren’s typical oddities, as well as one particular opponent and the great mage pulling the strings in the contest, an elf even older than Frieren herself. The tenderness that readers are encouraged to develop for the combatants, old and young, killers and pacifists, is what gives part one of the exam the tension it needs to work. That said, it is the concluding chapters of this volume, linking the first test with the upcoming second test, that remind readers of what Frieren does best: it creates a sense of warmth and meaning in funny daily exchanges through Frieren’s reflections on how much she learned from her friends in the past. Few series that dwell so much on characters long dead and gone are as humorous and warm as this. Frieren is an absolute treasure. ~ Twwk

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (manga) is published by Viz Media.

Penguin & House, Vol. 1

like penguins but can’t say that I love them—not as much as my husband does, anyway. However, Penguin & House seemed too cute to pass on. Although I originally wanted to get it just for my husband to enjoy, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me too! Not only because the lead penguin, Pen-chan, can and does, in fact, clean and cook for his entirely too lazy owner, Hayakawa, but also because here we have a main character that actually is a penguin. While I found myself annoyed with his owner more often than not (and who wouldn’t be, when Pen-chan just nicely folded his clothes or cleaned the house, only to have his owner bring in a bunch of dirt from a baseball game?!), Pen-chan himself is absolutely adorable! From running to Hayakawa’s university to give him his lunch, to cooking up midnight snacks, and cleaning his bedroom until it’s spotless, it’s hard not to feel warm fuzzies when reading this story. Despite the misgivings I had towards Hayakawa, I still found myself smiling and laughing at the end of every chapter. Pen-chan’s busybody ways and his hopefulness that maybe one day he will be recognized for his hard work make this an endearing, quick read that leaves me wanting to pick up volume two. Definitely recommend! ~ Laura A. Grace

Penguin & House is published by Kodansha.

Bond and Book: The Long, Long Good-Bye of “The Last Bookstore”

No Princess Yonaga? No problem! The Long, Long Goodbye of “The Last Bookstore” is a considerable improvement on the previous “volume” of Bond and Book, which was rather a collection of short stories about Musubu, a high schooler who can talk to books. It’s an improvement in large part because his annoying tsundere book girlfriend, Yonaga, is barely in this one. (Interestingly, the two volumes were released in the opposite order in Japan, with this one actually being the first.) More importantly though, while volume two is presented as a series of stories as well, they are all interconnected and tell the tale of the closure of the final bookstore in a small town, and of its last owner, the amiable and caring Emon. The stories follow patrons as they visit the store in its final week of business and remember how a book from the establishment changed their lives. They are of varying quality, but each is heartwarming in its own way. Some, like the chapter that mirrors Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, are quite engrossing, and each encourages readers to love books as something more than just words on a page, but as works imbued with heart enough to change us. Bond and Book also does well to create the series’ best character in Emon, who you’ll come away wishing was your own grandfather or uncle. Also of note is the vital thread of the Tohoku earthquake, which connects most of the stories and reveals the significance of that event even in the worlds created by light novels. These themes help make volume two (the final volume as of now) worth a read, even if you didn’t catch the first, and especially for those that love bookstores and miss the days when many more dotted the landscape. If you miss Waldenbooks or your local mom-and-pop bookstore, this work is lovingly made for you. ~ Twwk

Bond and Book (hardcover light novel) is published by Yen Press.

The Ancient Magus Bride, Vol. 4

Many avoid The Ancient Magus Bride based on the impression that it’s a love story between a young woman and an inhuman demon-like creature. And true, this is no typical romance story, but less so because of appearances and more because of the unusual way that Chise and Elias connect, as well as the hurts they hide. Continuing this theme, Chise’s visit to the Dragon Aerie not only leads to the crafting of her wand, but also reveals much more of Elias’ backstory, including dark details he would not have told her himself. The visit also opens up a conversation with an old, beloved friend who encourages her to see both herself and her family in a different light. Upon returning home, Chise gets back to the work of being an apprentice, which includes receiving visitors on Elias’ behalf, some of whom are welcome acquaintances, and some who are more sinister. That last bit is unexpected (though this series frequently reminds you to expect the unexpected!), but also fully connects with this volume’s theme of Chise’s growth as a person who is open once again to feeling emotions and perhaps making her own decisions—about both Elias and her future. As Chise begins to come alive, it makes for a captivating few chapters, portraying her almost like a patient waking from a comatose state, more actively thinking and processing her past and present. Meanwhile, Elias seems more and more lost and childlike—quite the juxtaposition, and one that enhances this fine tale. ~ Twwk

The Ancient Magus Bride is published by Seven Seas.

READ: The Ancient Magus Bride Review: Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3

A Silent Voice, Vol. 1

I have never seen or read A Silent Voice and was really excited to finally start the manga recently! Let’s dive in! If I was supposed to hate or strongly dislike Shoya by the end of the first volume, then I would have to say, mission accomplished. Shoya is an elementary school boy who bullies his deaf classmate, Shoko. He develops a fascination with how he can use her as a means to escape his boredom and carries out a variety of mean “pranks” on her that are far from funny and result in Shoko transferring to a different school. In turn, Shoya himself ends up being bullied by his classmates due to his treatment of Shoko. This first volume was very different than what I expected. I knew going in that Shoya bullies Shoko, but I hadn’t realized the full extent of what he does. It was awful and because of this, I wouldn’t say that this was an enjoyable read. The more enjoyment Shoya took from “escaping” his “life of boredom,” the more my stomach turned. Shoko, in contrast, is a pretty amazing character! I have no idea how she is still able to smile with everything that happens to her, and my heart felt so heavy when she kept saying “I’m sorry” to those around her. I definitely plan to continue reading the series, but I’m holding onto the assurances of all those other readers who have said that this series is an incredible redemption story, because if I didn’t know this, I wouldn’t keep reading. ~ Laura A. Grace

A Silent Voice 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 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.

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Featured illustration by 余暇 (reprinted w/permission)

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