Reader’s Corner: Helck (Vol. 3), Honey Lemon Soda (Vol. 2), and Horimiya (Vol. 16, Final)

Does the abstract nature of Yokohama Station SF translate to manga for? Is Chitose in the Ramune Bottle better as a light novel or manga? Is Suzune Magica a worthy addition to PMMM lore? And are these really the final volumes of Spy Classroom and Horimiya? We answer those questions and more as our reviewers dig into manga and light novels aplenty in this week’s Reader’s Corner!

Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian (Vol. 3)Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle (Vol. 3)Earl and Fairy (Vol. 1)Helck (Vol. 3)Honey Lemon Soda (Vol. 2)Horimiya (Vol. 16)How to Win Her Heart on the Nth TryMy Stepmother and Stepsisters Aren’t Wicked (Vol. 1)Puella Magi Suzune MagicaRe:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Ex (Vol. 2)Sasaki and Peeps (Vol. 2)Spy Classroom (Vol. 3)Yokohama Station SF

Yokohama Station SF

Sometime in the future, Yokohama Station has taken over vast stretches of Japan’s main island. Just how much exactly is not yet clear, but we are talking thousands of kilometers, and not just city blocks. It’s stretched as far as Mt. Fuji, spontaneously sprouting levels upon levels of escalators, scaling beyond the peak; it is even attempting to bridge the straight between Honshu and Hokkaido. Yokohama Station SF, which adapts the novel of the same name, presents a fascinating premise for a dystopian sci-fi story. It is equal parts mystery, inscrutable MC, and sheer atmosphere, in a way that recalls Blade Runner—which was clearly an inspiration, given the Philip K. Dick references in the chapter titles. Tying it all together is the stunning draftsmanship of artist Gonbe Shinkawa, whose skillful adaptation of the novel is praised by the original author (always a good sign). The story itself centers on Hiroto, a young man who has grown up outside the Station, where people forgotten by the world struggle to get by on the detritus that is ejected from Yokohama’s concrete expanses and tumbles down its creaking escalators. When he comes into possession of a rare youth rail pass, Hiroto eagerly casts off all he’s known and ventures up the escalator to brave the deadly turnstiles. He has five days before his pass expires, and in that time, he must locate and save a resistance leader who is in hiding, all without arousing the suspicion of those who live inside or the robotic station guards that keep his kind out. Don’t expect any splashy action sequences or explosions here, but if you’re a fan of world-building that is puzzling in a good way (Is Yokohama Station alive? Is it sentient? Is it alien or AI? What do people do all day inside?) and of the kind of atmosphere that would get anyone’s spidey senses tingling, then this is the series for you! The world of Yokohama Station is intriguing and elusive and low-key terrifying, but without the jump scares. In short, we’ve got ourselves another sci-fi winner here folks! ~ claire

Yokohama Station SF (Manga) is published by Yen Press.

Earl and Fairy, Light Novel Vol. 1

There was an Earl and Fairy anime about fifteen years ago, and only now do we finally get the source material translated (is that some kind of record?). In Victorian Britain, seventeen-year-old Lydia is a “fairy doctor,” someone who can see and hear fairies and offers to resolve fairy-related problems. She sets off on ordinary trip to visit her father, but adventure quickly comes calling in the form of Edgar, a roguish young man who claims to be an earl with a demesne in Fairyland. Mysteries and folklore abound as they race to decipher cryptic clues and find a long-lost sword before certain nefarious parties do. Lydia is a strong protagonist, smart yet also not entirely immune to Edgar’s charisma. Along with the adventure and romance elements, there’s quite a bit of humor thanks to Lydia and Edgar’s delightful bickering. Another interesting facet of the story is its discussion of how people don’t believe in fairies because they can’t see them, and even when they do see something supernatural, they are liable to ignore it. The parallels to religious faith are obvious and thought-provoking. I should note that Edgar’s background is quite dark, because that connects to my biggest complaint with the volume: I found it confusing at times (e.g., which statements about Edgar’s backstory are actually true? I still don’t know). Even so, the historical setting and emphasis on UK folklore really set this story apart from the average light novel, and I definitely enjoyed this volume. ~ Jeskai

Earl and Fairy is published by J-Novel Club.

Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Light Novel Vol. 3

Beginning with an unexpected and thoughtful resolution to the climactic victory at the debate for Alya and Masachika that concluded the last release, volume three of Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian immediately feels like this is the novel where the series comes into its own. And certainly, there are passages and entire chapters in volume three that are highly engaging and well-written. The book particularly shines when featuring Masachika’s cheeky sister, Yuki, or when Alya remains firmly in character as she interacts with Masachika and others around her. The series also excels at whirling readers away to the ideal high school life as a student council member surrounded by entertaining and caring friends. But the missteps of this series are also abundant, and they are very much on display in volume three. There are sequences that don’t belong at all—some are briefer, portraying Alya as far more aggressive in her pursuit of Masachika, for instance, than her character should allow; and some are more major, like an entire chapter where the Kujou sisters are hypnotized and strip down to their underwear. No really, that happens, and it’s stupid (and written in a really confusing manner to boot). Worse, though, is that it’s hard to pull for Masachika as a protagonist, and not entirely for reasons that are “his” fault. He’s presented as a genius boy full of courage and character, but we are privy constantly to his thoughts, and there’s nothing there, really, beyond “normal teenage boy of average intelligence.” It kills the buy-in for the series, which is that super beauty Alya is head over heels in love with Masachika. And then there’s his lack of integrity, demonstrated by his frequent deceit toward others, including his beloved Alya. This is most obvious whenever Alya speaks in Russian and we remember that he’s fluent in the language, too, and is hiding that fact from her, even as she whispers her innermost feelings to him in the language over and over again. The natural conclusion should be that when his deceit is revealed, Alya loses trust in him and he must work diligently, possibly over the course of several volumes, to regain it. More likely, though, is that Alya will be mad for about a chapter, just long enough for something silly and out of character to happen and make her “understand” that he’s actually the best guy ever. Too bad we readers aren’t so forgiving. ~ Twwk

Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian is published by Yen Press.

READ: Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian Reviews Vol.1 // Vol. 2

Puella Magi Suzune Magica, Omnibus Manga

Someone is killing magical girls. When transfer student Suzune arrives in town, does she bring answers with her? Will she team up with the local magical girls to solve this crime spree and put a stop to whoever is meeting the hand of friendship with a merciless blade? It’s time for another Puella Magi Madoka Magica spin-off, and things are about to get a whole lot darker! This time, the series is focused on the troubled anti-heroine figure rather than the cheerful MC; on the Homura equivalent, rather than Madoka. Is there a happy ending for Suzune and the new cast? Or will Gen Urobuchi and the rest of the Magica Quartet writing team tear our hearts out and run them through the shredder again? Once you get a taste of the shocking, face-paced opening sequence, I daresay you’ll be racing through this omnibus to find out! This collection, originally penned in 2013 but only now getting an English release, is what I always hoped Magia Record and the various other sequels in the Madoka franchise would be. It takes the lore established in the original anime as its starting point, and rather than burying us in baroque complexity or lazily exploiting fans’ loyalty to the original cast, it instead presses in on the raw emotion that lies at the heart of PMMM, continuing the tradition of confronting young teens with very grown-up, horrifying dilemmas, while retaining just enough of an air of earnestness, kindness, and hope that we can still breathe. The art by Gan is fantastic, capturing Shaft studio’s dynamic, expansive use of space, and featuring several stand-out runs of pages where dialogue is kept to a minimum and the imagery, body language, and expressions are left to speak powerfully for themselves. It’s not every day that you read a manga where a picture truly is worth a thousand words, but this is one of them. In short, this is the best thing to come out of the franchise since Rebellion (2013). If only it had a couple more chapters fleshing out Suzune’s backstory to intensify the emotional impact of her tale, it could make for an excellent anime series, worthy of sitting side by side with the original. ~ claire

PS Keep your eyes peeled for a Kyoko cameo!

Puella Magi Suzune Magica is published by Yen Press.

Sasaki and Peeps, Manga Vol. 2

AKA That Time I Got Dragged into a Psychic Battle in Modern Times While Trying to Enjoy a Relaxing Life in Another World ~Looks Like Magical Girls Are On Deck~! Two volumes in and I’m still waiting for those magical girls to step up on deck. So far, they exist as clickbait only. The Psychic Battle, on the other hand, is more palpable this time, as Sasaki gets wrapped up in a conflict at home and is implicated in rising tensions in the other world. He ends up getting fitted out like a member of the bomb squad while also initiating his career as a military tech supplier in the other world. And all of it inadvertently, kind of. It all begins with a back alley encounter and a woman wielding icicles to deadly effect. Sasaki takes her to be a mage like himself with otherworldly powers, but she proves, upon discussion, to be very much of this world and a member of a secret demographic of psychics who wield a single power each. She comes from an organization that at first Sasaki takes to be the police, then the mafia, but which is ultimately revealed to be far more fantastical than either: a government agency that pays well. It seems that the woman, Hoshizaki, is a bit of a loose cannon in an agency comprised of loose cannons, so she’s basically nuts. She’s also a recruiter, and before he knows it, Sasaki has changed employment. His new colleagues wish him luck, partnering up with Hoshizaki, and it sounds a little like they’re offering him last rites. But it turns out that a whole lot of magical training in the other world, where time moves more slowly (a few days over there equates to mere hours in our world), is just as good as luck, and Sasaki manages to avoid peril pretty easily. End of volume. Now, I was on the fence about the first installment of this series, which had some interesting ideas but was pretty scattered overall, with some worrying details circling around an underage neighbor girl. That thread gets picked up throughout this volume too, and woven together into a clear pattern regarding how women are represented in the series—that is, as pretty disturbed and somewhat off their rockers, even the young girl, who gets the yandere “crazy eye” treatment a few times. Not just Sasaki, but all the male characters have their heads on their shoulders and feet firmly on the ground, but the two girls and one woman? Crazy town. I’m not a fan of such lazy characterization, and the hints of Sasaki’s “romantic” interest in the neighbor girl are disconcerting. To top it off, the bonus short story in this volume is…weird, taking as its theme the acquisition of portable bidets and the magicking of strong streams of water on one’s bottom. No thanks. That’s me signing off from this series. It’s just spinning its wheels in the mud as far as I can tell. ~ claire

Sasaki and Peeps is published by Yen Press.

READ: Sasaki and Peeps Vol.1 Review

Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle, Manga Vol. 3

Chitose in the Ramune Bottle gets major points for propping up a cast that’s egocentric, prideful, and occasionally cruel as the protagonists. But the same makes the series a sometimes challenging read. Set in the fluffy world of high school romcoms and cute anime girls, but purporting to be something more—a humanization of popular kids and an examination of their inner lives—Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle sounds like a great series. Sometimes it is, though to be perfectly honest, the more engaging parts of volume three are those that are more typically romcom, such as when Chitose has a doki-doki conversation with one of the girls; or the power of friendship kicks into high gear near the heart-stirring conclusion (though a preview of the next volume gives too many details of this cliffhanger scene away!). The problem with the more challenging parts is that the manga doesn’t seem to know if its characters are that “fake flawed” that shonen loves to emphasize (“He’s arrogant but later you find out he’s actually the most humble and loving character of all!”) or if they’re genuine people. Take, for instance, when Chitose and one of the girls rag on their pet project, the nerdy shut-in Kenta, behind his back. The bespectacled otaku, who was listening in, blames himself for erupting at them about it because the duo was just “teasing” him. But they don’t seem to be teasing at all; their words are pretty cruel and belittling. The novel seems to side with them above Kenta. Go figure. Another flaw is the characterization of much of the cast. You may have picked up on (and even been aggravated by) me referring to “girls” in the series rather than by the characters’ names. That’s because they’re basically all the same character, just in different varieties. One big personality split into different traits: one girl is a little more sporty (though there are actually 3-4 sporty girls, two of which are even in the same club!), another is a little shyer, etc. I seriously can’t tell them apart, and the same goes for the pair of boys that join Chitose in his group. This is the same problem as in the original light novels, though Chitose explains that some in the group are like 80% talent and 20% hard work and the others are more like 75% talent and 25% hard work. Yeah. Very different. The manga also provides some profiles to try to help you distinguish characters. It doesn’t work. There’s still enough here to keep me engaged, and the Kenta arc is pretty fun, but I’m left to wonder: Will I continue with the series after that story concludes early in volume four? Maybe, but I’ll need to know more about the characters and learn to care about them to do so. ~ Twwk

Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle is published by Yen Press.

READ: Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2

My Stepmother and Stepsisters Aren’t Wicked, Manga Vol. 1

While I’m always up for super sweet and wholesome shojo romance, I have increasingly realized that I adore stories of found family and slice-of-life regardless of whether there is any romance. My Stepmother and Stepsisters Aren’t Wicked sounded like it would be a perfect blend of both! Not only that, but twisting the Cinderella story so that Cinderella is loved and cared for by her family and potentially has a happy ending? Sign me up! This story was as fun as I had hoped it would be! It definitely plays on the original fairy tale: even Miya is completely confused for almost the entirety of this volume because surely her new family will hate her since she’s the daughter of her father’s mistress?! Much to her dismay, though, Miya is instantly loved right from the start: her sisters give her a bath and argue about how they should style her hair, and then her stepmother declares they should move their father’s library books into a new room so Miya can have the library as her new room. And the super fun shenanigans don’t stop there, because both her stepsisters and her stepmother continue to show how they value Miya and want her to be part of their family. Even when an unexpected visitor arrives, Miya quickly realizes that her new warm family is where she wants to stay and be. While this first volume is very episodic and repeats the beginning of the chapters the same way, it’s still a very fun story! It is heartwarming while surprisingly very humorous. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next volume releasing because I need to know what Miya’s stepmother and stepsisters are going to do next in showering Miya in love! ~ Laura A. Grace

My Stepmother and Stepsisters Aren’t Wicked is published by Seven Seas.

Spy Classroom, Manga Vol. 3 (Final)

The Spy Classroom manga concludes with the final confrontation between the members of Lamplight and the ultimate villain of the series, who proves to be more than a match for the girls and their teacher. Wait, did I just say this was the conclusion? Yes, indeed. We hardly get to know each of these girls (and one or two barely at all) but must care enough about them to worry and cheer during the final fight and to be gleeful as they use their gifts to the greatest extent. There wasn’t enough development in these three volumes for the latter to work, but I did care about the ladies and my heart was in the final battle. Although the series has moved too quickly, it’s otherwise been crafted with care. There’s heart to this series, and the illustrations and character designs are nice, too. Imagine what Spy Classroom could have been with a proper release of ten or more volumes! Luckily, while this series is ending, the afterword promises two additional parts to the story; hopefully, they continue to focus on these girls we’re just getting to know—but already love. ~ Twwk

Spy Classroom is published by Yen Press.

READ: Spy Classroom Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2

How to Win Her Heart on the Nth Try, Light Novel

Have you ever read a novel adaptation of a K-drama? I don’t actually know if they exist, but if they did, though they’d be in Japanese and feature Japanese flourishes (in other words, perhaps a J-drama, though my only experience with those are with manga adaptations), they would read just like How to Win Her Heart on the Nth Try. Although this one-volume romance is actually adapted from a web novel, everything about it screams K-drama. Nagi is a business-minded woman with a tragic past and a fragile heart that she keeps hidden, though her childhood friend, the handsome and genius IT pro Keigo, knows her inside and out. In fact, he’s loved her since they were kids, but she can’t see him as anything other than a friend. But will love bloom when Keigo transfers into her work team? See, I told you this was a K-drama! And it really needs to be read that way, with the same kind of corniness that somehow isn’t cringy in the world of dramas, and where convenient coincidences are the status quo. Put yourself in that frame of mind, and the book is a marvelous, funny, romantic read. I do wish the series could have taken a further cue from dramas and developed the protagonists by showing more humorous asides with a larger cast of side characters (which would have required a few more volumes—though that would have been welcome!), but I still found myself admiring how well Keigo and Nagi were rounded out as characters. They felt real, and by the conclusion, I came to care deeply for them both. In other words—this one is a winner. ~ Twwk

How to Win Her Heart on the Nth Try is published by Yen Press.

Honey Lemon Soda, Manga Vol. 2

I feel like the romance in Honey Lemon Soda is going to drive me bonkers for a while! I thought it would be smooth going, but that ending quickly made me realize this is most likely going to be slow burn and angsty. Ha! That’s not a bad thing, because Kai has helped Uka begin to spread her wings and fulfill her dream of having a fun high school experience. As a result, she is experiencing emotions she never imagined she would feel! With a school hiking trip, she’s going to be experiencing even more new emotions, but she’s hoping most of all that she’ll grow closer to her classmates—and of course Kai, too! Apart from my opening complaint, I once again caught myself getting pretty emotional on Uka’s behalf. This was a very freeing volume, as we see her really spread her wings and slowly take one step at a time towards fulfilling her dream. I really liked the significant moment when Uka was struggling during a certain situation and Kai more or less tells her to look at her classmates’ reactions and their words about her to see if she is who she used to be. It was very powerful because I related to her moments of spiraling downward and second-guessing herself. Even though I didn’t love this volume quite as much as the first one, I’m still really enjoying this series and looking forward to the next volume! I just hope that the romance isn’t too angsty because I’m grateful for the huge impact Kai has had on Uka and would love to see them be a couple, but not to the extent of Uka ever potentially experiencing heartbreak. She’s such a sweet character and deserves the happiest of things! ~ Laura A. Grace

Honey Lemon Soda is published by Yen Press.

READ: Honey Lemon Soda Vol. 1 Review

Helck, Manga Vol. 3

If we’re willing to put aside a negative first impression and the prejudice that lurks within you, kindness and love can develop between you and someone else who’s completely different. This theme is especially pronounced in volume three of Helck as the devious schemes of the humans, led by the frightening Human King (wearing a mask that looks like it’s straight off King Baldwin’s face in Kingdom of Heaven), come further to light, and Helck and Vermilio meet a witch and come across goblin-like captors as they make their way closer to home. This volume is a much more enjoyable read than volume two; that one dealt with the separation of Helck and Vermilio from the rest of the demons and introduced the central conflict of the tale. This volume returns to that boyhood sense of adventure that was present in the initial release as the two main characters (plus a cute third companion) begin a long journey home. It’s full of humor, too. There are robust sideburns! Smiling ingredients flying into the pan! And Helck being Helck. This has been a treasure of a series thus far. With promises to turn toward danger and intrigue when it nears the end of its run, I’m excited to continue the journey. ~ Twwk

Helck is published by VIZ Media.

READ: Helck Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2

Horimiya, Manga Vol. 16

This is how you end a series. Horimiya concludes in this volume with the school year ending and most of the series’ main group of friends graduating, including the titular Hori and Miyamura. As the day draws near, the latter faces his past self, considering how far he’s come and, in a short It’s a Wonderful Life-style segment, how things could have gone if he had never connected with Hori. This via con dios to Miyamura’s old self, together with a few final goodbyes between other characters during the graduation ceremony, perfectly captures the nostalgia and sadness of real-life high school graduations and leads right into the final, beautiful few pages of Horimiya, which are poetic and full of warmth. This is a beautiful conclusion (or is it?) to a lovely series, and one of my favorite closings in all of manga. Volume sixteen also features bonus chapters that jump ahead ten years and go back in time twenty, respectively. In fact, these extra chapters take up about half of the content, and while they are fun reads for Horimiya fans, the first half is where the meat is. So is it worth purchasing a half-manga? If you love these characters—and it’s nigh impossible not to if you’ve followed their stories at all—you’ll want to see how their journeys conclude, in a mixture of happy and bittersweet ways, and probably want to hug these precious kids. Of course, you can’t, but maybe hugging your copy of the manga is the next best thing. ~ Twwk

Horimiya is published by Yen Press.

READ: Horimiya Vol. 1 Review

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Ex, Light Novel Vol. 2

Noble, powerful, and kind, Wilhelm is one of my favorite characters from Re:ZERO; with a story of love and redemption feeding his soul, he’s both a highlight and highly positive element in the series. His tale (and that of his love, Theresia) is fleshed out in the second volume of the “Ex” side stories. Not unexpectedly, this side story carries less weight than the main one and isn’t as tense. New characters carry less prominence than in the story proper, and others reappearing here do so in cameos-like bits, minimizing their importance as well. Those issues drag the plot down in some chapters, but volume two of Re:ZERO Ex does a wondrous job of building up Wilhelm’s character, slowly unraveling how he grows from a single-minded, selfish lad into the type of man that will one day put his life on the line with a heart toward saving others. Most intriguing are the battles in which he participates, with two in particular—a devastating one in the middle of the book and the climactic one near the end—demonstrating Tappei Nagatsuki’s penchant for writing vivid scenes of violence and destruction. They are well-choreographed and thrilling, and together with the usual fanservice provided in a side story, make this volume worth the read for casual and die-hard Re:ZERO fans alike. ~ Twwk

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Ex is published by Yen Press.

READ: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Ex Vol. 1 Review

“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.

9 thoughts on “Reader’s Corner: Helck (Vol. 3), Honey Lemon Soda (Vol. 2), and Horimiya (Vol. 16, Final)

  1. […] Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian (Vol. 3) • Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle (Vol. 3) • Earl and Fairy (Vol. 1) • Helck (Vol. 3) • Honey Lemon Soda (Vol. 2) • Horimiya (Vol. 16) • How to Win Her Heart on the Nth Try • My Stepmother and Stepsisters Aren’t Wicked (Vol. 1) • Puella Magi Suzune Magica • Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Ex (Vol. 2) • Sasaki and Peeps (Vol. 2) • Spy Classroom (Vol. 3) • Yokohama Station SF […]

  2. […] Over at Anime Collective, Kristin reviews the deluxe versions of 20th Century Boys, Blade of the Immortal, and Pandora Hearts… Megan D. jumps in the WABAC Machine for a look at Cipher, a manga with “a great cast, a compelling premise, and great art that looks as fresh as it did nearly 40 years ago”… Adam Symchuk weighs in on Small Nozomi and Big Yume… and the latest Reader’s Corner looks at Helck, Honey Lemon Soda, and the final volume of Horimiya! […]

Leave a Reply