Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! Serendipitously, this week’s light novel and manga reviews mostly all center on romance, with a few digging into a deeper kind of love as well. Are they enough to get your hearts stirring? Do they hint at an even greater quality of love? Read on to find out!
Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian (Vol. 2) • Boss Bride Days (Vol. 1) • Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle (Vol. 3) • A Condition Called Love (Vol. 1) • Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand • Unnamed Memory (Vol. 2)
Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand, Light Novel (2-Part Standalone)
“Everyone has a place inside of them that others can’t see. A deep, dark, lonely place.” For 6th grader Tokiko, that void is symbolized by the ocean in the seaside village she and her dad have moved to after her mother left the family. But the beach is also a place of hope, as Tokiko remembers her visit there as a child when a merman saved her from drowning. This sets the stage for one of the loveliest coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read, a two-volume omnibus release which follows Tokiko as she adjusts to life in a new school with new friends and a “new” family (comprised of her father changing roles and beginning a different job, as well as her grandmother). The story plays out peacefully and beautifully with Tokiko navigating this unfamiliar life with courage. New friendships play a key role, including that with Yosuke, who delivers the quote on loneliness above and harbors his own pain. He’s a special character, but so is Tokiko, who possesses a kindness that affects those around her. She’s also developed with the sensitivity, naivete, and fantastical thinking of a girl her age. The simple style of the character designs is fitting and supports the manga’s nostalgic and fantastic feel. The writing is also masterful—there’s humor, tension, and innocence in every corner of the story—most appropriate for a tale of an optimistic adolescent dealing with such upheaval in her life. Originally released in Japan a decade ago, Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand has been given new life with VIZ Media’s English-language release. What a gift that we’re able to read this tale which, like its heroine, is clever, beautiful, and encouraging. ~ Twwk
Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand is published by VIZ Media. It releases on February 21st.
Unnamed Memory, Manga Vol. 2
Unnamed Memory has thus far followed the pattern of a “mystery of the week” series. Though perhaps unusual for a fantasy setting, it works well for this manga because the two leads carry what could be a mediocre procedural so well. Oscar and Tinasha are full of personality and demonstrate admirable character. They’re extremely likeable. But they’re even better together, with banter that shows the kind of chemistry you’d see in the best buddy detective series, particularly those with leads of opposite sexes, like in Castle or The X-Files. The two play off each other so well that they make the mystery more compelling than it should be, while also creating a desire within the readers to see the two romance each other. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a bigger plot involved. There is, and this volume gets us closer to the central story of the show. But at this point, we still don’t know exactly what the deal is with those attempting to hurt Oscar or what Tinasha’s past is all about. We don’t know if those stories will be compelling, either. For now, though, it doesn’t matter. I’m happy to just sit back and enjoying the Oscar and Tinasha show. ~ Twwk
Unnamed Memory is published by Yen Press. It releases on February 21st.
A Condition Called Love, Manga Vol. 1
When I read titles like A Condition Called Love, more and more I realize that I absolutely loveeeeee shojo manga. In this new romance series, the sixteen-year-old heroine, Hotaru, has an ambivalent view of love and feels she probably will never have her own love story. When she witnesses an ugly breakup between a girl and the male lead, Hananoi, and sees him sitting alone in the snow, she shares her umbrella with him and some encouraging words. Much to her surprise, the next day he approaches her in class and asks if she will date him! This first volume completely swept me off my feet, and I could not stop reading once I started! Hotaru is a very compelling character and one I easily—and quickly—found myself cheering for. I found it refreshing to once again follow a heroine who really has no idea what she should do as a girlfriend—similar to Satomi in Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love—and thought it amazing how Hananoi encouraged her to just be herself. She doesn’t need to change who she is to be more “girlfriendy,” and he doesn’t expect her to change herself for him. And speaking of Hananoi, I am very intrigued by his character! I feel there is some very sad trauma he has experienced, making some of the things he says…alarming and concerning. I am definitely wanting to see this young man find healing and have already preordered the next two volumes in hopes of seeing that come to pass—as well as seeing this love story continue to unfold. ~ Laura A. Grace
A Condition Called Love is published by Kodansha.
Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle, Light Novel Vol. 3
The first half of Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle, Vol. 3, took me two weeks to get through; the last half, two hours. This is fitting with the pattern in all three volumes of the series so far, each of which starts out nearly unreadable before finishing well. While I’ve given a variety of reasons for the poor starts, I’ve now concluded that generally it’s because each volume begins with the more superficial “fun” aspects of the story before digging into emotional material and “getting real,” with author Hiromu excelling in the latter while failing in the former. Take volume three, for instance. Asuka (who?—we’ll get to that momentarily) takes center stage here, as she must decide whether to challenge her father and pursue her dream of college in Tokyo after graduation or to continue to be the obedient daughter she always has been and stay in Fukui. The banter and characterization are terrible in the first half. It’s superficial, not particularly humorous, and just plain forgettable. The characters aren’t memorable either, with Chitose’s harem devolving into this blob of girls; on the surface, each has some characteristic telling them apart, but they really aren’t distinct enough to be anything more than “faceless popular girls.” Among the few characters that are distinctive are Chitose and Asuka, but she loses her distinction in this volume. The unique characteristics given her in her small appearances in volumes one and two disappear as she folds into this one “girl character” the author has created, having the same basic personality as all the rest once you peek beneath the surface. Thankfully, that “one” character is a compelling one, which helps make her physical and metaphorical journey in the second half of the volume interesting, even with (and somewhat because of) the author just throwing in stock event after stock event from romcoms past. Chitose is also easy to root for—the real Chitose, that is, who narrates most of the events, not the one the author explains him to be. Because this much is clear: Chitose is a good dude, but there’s no way he should have five beautiful girls fawning after him. I’d rather it be a harem that doesn’t make sense, like in almost every other harem series, then as a reader be told that yes, this harem does make sense because Chitose is actually Mr. Perfect, when he’s just written as a really nice guy and that’s all. There’s nothing in his characterization that would compel an entire student body to hate him and for all the beautiful girls to flock to him to be his “sidepieces.” But when I get lost in the novel and am able to forget that setup, I can just focus on the heart of the tale, which is heartwarming and romantic—so much so that I’m anticipating volume four. Well, at least the second half of it. ~ Twwk
Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle is published by Yen Press. It releases on February 21st.
Boss Bride Days, Manga Vol. 1
Excuse me while I shout this, but… I HAVE FINALLY FOUND A YAKUZA ROMANCE MANGA I LOVE!!! I have tried at least three different yakuza romance titles, and I have dropped all of them either halfway through volume one or at the end of volume one. Why is this one different? Because our heroine, Sakura, is a shut-in otaku who would rather stay home and play the otome game, Yakuza Boys. Her life turns upside down though when, on the one day she decides to go to school, she ends up saving an old man who happens to be the boss of a yakuza gang! Touched by her courage to help him, he tells his three grandsons that whichever wins her heart will succeed him as leader of the gang. Now Sakura finds herself in her own real-life yakuza “otome game”! While I will be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of reverse harems, the otome game feel made this story amazing! A lot of the elements are over the top (such as three guys suddenly wanting her affections) and remind me of some otome manga titles I’ve read in the past, like Kenka Bancho Otome: Love’s Battle Royale, and these definitely aren’t lost on our main heroine, Sakura, either. Speaking of which, she is such a great heroine because while she knows she is “weak,” the inspiration and courage she takes from her favorite character in the game is deeply relatable. Fictional characters inspire me all the time, and I was glad to see a cool heroine live out brave decisions because of that inspiration. I definitely highly recommend Bride Boss Days if you love yakuza romances (or want to try one!), otome games, and a story that will make you laugh! ~ Laura A. Grace
Boss Bride Days is published by Kodansha.
Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Light Novel Vol. 2
It’s not easy to write a great romcom light novel. As simple as they may sometimes seem, they’re more than just tropey moments thrown together, building up to a romantic climax. Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, which hits the hallmarks of good romcom without actually being one, demonstrates as much. Volume two, which continues the story of Masachika supporting Russian transfer student Alya in her bid for the student council presidency, doesn’t earn its “big” moments, whether romantic (the scenes fall flat when Alya shows her affection physically in both this volume and the last) or dramatic (a speech that brought an entire audience to its feet is in reality rather short and mediocre). And the titular character herself isn’t developed enough to elicit the protective emotion we’re meant to feel as readers and which should match the protagonist’s. But not all is lost. There are facets to the story that are done well. Masachika, for instance, is more than a bland character; he occasionally demonstrates a self-malice that feels both out of place and genuine, making him sympathetic. In fact, he’s more compelling than any of the volume’s (many) girls, though a few of them are interesting, too—particularly Masachika’s kind, fujoshi sister and Alya’s similarly kind and older one. And the scenes of regular school and student council activities, where the stakes are no greater than one day in the life of a high schooler, are cute and fun. There’s enough good writing in these sorts of fundamental parts of the volume to make me hope that future releases will improve in the other aspects as well, creating a more cohesive story and one that I can recommend. But for now, Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian is much like its heroine: flawed, basic, and forgettable. ~ Twwk
Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian is published by Yen Press. It releases on February 21st.
“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 those older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.
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