Kagerou Daze by Mahiro Satou and Jin
This is such a weird series because I’m seven volumes into it and I have legitimately no idea what it’s about. It’s basically been seven volumes of back story, and only now are we starting to jusssst figure out where this is all coming from, or where it might be going. Who thinks this is a good way to start a story? And yet… I am totally hooked.
Not only that, but volume to volume—and sometimes within the same volume—the story jumps from one character’s story, to another that has almost nothing to do with the first story, to another that has very little to do with the first two, and so on. All of the stories are connected, but so far, the connection is so thin that it’s like reading several different storylines altogether. And yet, it still works.
In the first volume, our initial MC is a boy who hasn’t left the house for years, and is basically attached to his computer. And he has a girl living in his computer—she’s digital but doesn’t seem to be a computer program so much as a person—and that seems completely normal. Right away, he spills soda on his keyboard and has to go out to get a new one. Which, aside from being quite an adventure for him because he hasn’t left the house in years, leads to a ton of weird plot things like a terrorist attack, a meeting with a weird gang of kids who have special powers, and, eventually, murder.
I mean. This plot is nuts. And it just gets more and more strange and intense from there. The suspension of belief should be impossible—but it isn’t. The plot seems to be crawling, sooo slowly, towards the reveal of why these kids have their special powers, and what they’re supposed to be doing with the powers. But there’s also an unresolved back story about a creepy teacher and some sort of… digitalizing of people? And at the end of… volume three, I think, something totally ridiculous and odd and impossible happens (trying not to spoil) and then there’s a huge time jump, and this is, so far, never explained.
I actually have to marvel at this because it shouldn’t work in any way whatsoever. And in fact, I think, if I’m remembering correctly, that I watched a few episodes of the anime for this manga and was so hopelessly lost that I stopped immediately because it made not one speck of sense. But the manga, despite having these completely tangled plotlines, and despite having about a billion characters, and despite never actually giving us, y’know, a real plot to hold onto, works wonderfully. It’s captivating. The character development is so excellent that I don’t care if I’ve just started a completely new character’s story that seems to have nothing to do with any of the previous stories—they make you fall for the character, and their life, and you want to know what happens. You have to know. And then they switch you to another character, but that works, too. And I’m not even sure why—I was going to say it was because I was sure they’d come back to the previous plotline at some point, but in fact, they have very rarely come back to any of the previous plots or character routes in a way that’s at all satisfying.
Library Wars by Kiiro Yumi
I love this manga, ahhhhhh!
The premise for this is… honestly, not very believable. Basically, the government of Japan has decided that censorship should be legal. But the library forces, which was independent, are allowed to remain autonomous and circulate banned items. But the censorship people are always coming to attack libraries, so the libraries have what amounts to a military to stop them and save books and let readers read what they like. So it’s exciting and dramatic, although I can’t really fully suspend my disbelief at people getting shot over books.
On the other hand, I can totally see getting shot over a book. If I was going to get shot over something, being able to read and write what I want seems like a pretty good cause. So I like the premise, a lot, even though I don’t fully believe a country would basically let civil war happen over its libraries.
Anyway. Our main character, Kasahara, is a member of a special library task force. And her instructor/commanding officer, Dojo, is someone she’s annoyed to death by, but also someone she looks up to and depends on a great deal. And yep, there’s a romance.
There are so many romances! \o/ If it wasn’t ridiculously obvious, I am, at heart, a total sap. And this manga feeds straight into that. These characters are so earnest in their emotions it hurts. And I love the character dynamics, because within their task force, the bonds and motivations of all of the characters are so true, and played out through those earnest emotions, and it’s just ahhhhh. I love the friendships. I love the respect these people have for each other. I love how I just read fifteen volumes of manga and there wasn’t a kiss until nearly the end and it was entirely worth it.
I was also surprisingly unsquicked by the romance between Kasahara and Dojo. He’s technically her superior officer, so there’s a lot of power to abuse there and… that sort of teacher/student thing is often a no for me because the potential abuse of power is ignored. But this was pretty carefully handled and I enjoyed it.
This is full of sweetness—and there’s action and drama and intrigue!—but mostly sweetness, and delicate feelings between characters, and lots of fascinating talk about books and censorship, and superbly drawn collarbones on Dojo (what?), and I loved it.
Until Death Do Us Part
I started reading this forever ago and stopped halfway. And… honestly, I probably could have just left it there and not missed much.
Haruka is a young girl—I think she’s 13 at the start of the series?—with the power of foresight. And because of this, her family’s been killed and she’s being pursued by bad dudes who want to use her to make lots of cash. Using her predictive abilities, she gains the assistance of Mamoru Hijikata, a blind swordsman, who agrees to protect her life with his. Also, she’s foreseen that Mamoru will one day become her husband.
It’s exciting! The plot’s intriguing! Also there’s squickiness because Haruka’s 13 and Mamoru must be 25 at least! >___>
Oddly, one of the only things I liked, at the end, about the series, was how Haruka’s… err… crush, on Mamoru is handled. He knows she’s a kid, he has absolutely no interest in her in a romantic way, but he also takes her seriously and respects her choices. It was refreshing to see that sort of parental/child role played out in a story, and those sorts of dynamics were everywhere in the series.
My problems with the series are pretty much that… it’s boring. Before I say more, let me say that I really, really love action/fighting mangas. I don’t seek them out, per se, but they seem to find me and I seem to have a thing for them. Yu Yu Hakusho is basically one fight after another, and it’s one of my favorite series. Bleach is more than 70 volumes of battles, and I adore it. (God, Bleach. I can’t wait to finish that one.) And Until Death Do Us Part is action and fight after fight. But the difference is… the fights are boring. I’m actually not a big action fan, so this is only personal opinion. I like the fights in Bleach because you’re always learning about both side’s motives and wants and needs, their personal stories. The good guys aren’t wholly good, and the bad guys aren’t wholly bad. And the fights are clever. The fights in UDDUP are just… super technical and dry. So maybe if you enjoy MMA or boxing or… *stops before I make a blunder* some form of fighting simply for fighting’s sake, this might be your thing. But I want story. I want character motivation. I want to know the bad guys.
Here, the bad guys are just… bad.
By the end of the series, I had absolutely no cares about the characters and it didn’t matter to me what happened to them. I kept reading to find out if Mamoru and Haruka would actually end up married– which made me side-eye myself tons–and because I liked the omake pages the manga artist left between volumes. Seriously. I don’t know what I was doing.
Millennium Snow by Bisco Hatori
Another series I started a looooong time ago. I read two volumes, and then stopped, because I just wasn’t reading manga at all anymore. This actually sort of went hand-in-hand with how this manga was written, though. The author, Bisco Hatori, started writing Millennium Snow, but in the middle of it she either put out some of a second manga, or pitched it, or something. That second manga was Ouran High School Host Club, which became super, super popular, and ran for like… 20 something volumes? And was made into an anime. So Millennium Snow ended up sitting on the backburner for ten years before the author came back to it.
TEN YEARS. Can you imagine? I don’t even like doing edits on a book I wrote the year before because I’ve moved on since then.
Anyway. Ouran was weird but I enjoyed it—particularly the anime—so I was into reading Millennium Snow. And I do remember liking the first two volumes (although there’s something nagging at me that maybe there was something I found either boring or uncomfortable or both in the second volume? But I can’t remember what it was.) Our MC is a girl with heart disease, who doesn’t have very long to live. A teenage vampire comes to her rescue, and starts lending her… some of his energy? But he’s also unhealthy because he refuses bond with a human—bonding with a human means subjecting that human to a thousand years of life.
I really like this question, the morality of living an extended life (*points at Half*) so this was right up my alley. And I do really like how this was handled. But overall, what I enjoyed most about this was how very human it was, how tender the relationship between the main characters was (and how mature) and how the characters cared for the people around them. The last two volumes, at least, just made me feel good to read. It’s decidedly not perfect. There are some very eyebrow-raise-y, this-is-super-uncomfortable-to-read moments, and the art style is completely different between the first two volumes, and the last two. And I guess… it didn’t leave a huge impression on me, since it’s been only a couple weeks since I finished it and I’m having a hard time remembering anything concrete about it. But overall, yeah, worth that wait.
Yukarism by Chika Shiomi
Another short series I started and never got around to finishing. I’d read the first volume a while back, and really liked it, but… I like to think I’ve grown some and learned some since then, and I was nervous to pick this back up now. The basic premise is that Yukari, a teenage author prodigy, connects with his past life, and ends up going back in time when he sleeps. And in his past life, he was a female courtesan in Edo Japan. And this connecting of the past and present causes all sorts of problems, and Yukari starts meeting other people who he knew in his past life… It’s a great concept. It’s very clever, and it’s intriguing. But I was worried about the gender swapping and how both the gender and sexuality aspects of the story would be handled.
But Chika Shiomi, the artist and author, is one of my favorites. She writes excellent paranormal manga, and she always has wonderful endings, which I feel is sort of a rarity in magazine-serialized manga. Also, I had this whole series out of the library, and they were overdue. So I finally caved and read them so I could return them.
And… they were great. I love the way Chika Shiomi does relationships, too. She builds such strong connections between her characters. And the ties between the people Yukari knows in his current life, and the stories of their lives in the past, and how they all tangle together, was really well done. The story was intriguing but not predictable. And the end was perfect. It gave me all the warm and fuzzies.
I also thought both the gender aspects and the sexuality aspects—because Yukari’s past life is a woman who gets paid to have sex with men, and Yukari seems to be straight—were handled well. Which is not to say it’s good rep. It’s not rep at all. But it didn’t make me uncomfortable—although I could definitely understand how it might make someone else uncomfortable. I expected, like… I don’t know. I expected Yukari to freak out about being in a woman’s body, or falling in love with a man while in that body, but he never does. The romance was, actually, very sweet and honest, whether Yukari was in his own body, or as his past life. There were some eyebrow-raise-y moments, but for me, they were minimal.
So I’m quite glad I finished it. And I hope Chika Shiomi writes more in the future.
Noragami by Adachitoka
I straight up didn’t like this. I took the first three volumes out of the library because I vaguely remembered watching the anime for this, and thinking is was good… But now I’m wondering if I was way off. The thing is, I can’t really pinpoint what it is I don’t like here. The story’s really clever—Yato is a very minor god who, hoping to earn enough offerings to build his own shrine, will pretty much do favors or perform tasks for anyone who calls him. He meets a girl, Hiyori, who gets into an accident, the aftermath of which causes her spirit to keep falling out of her body. She asks for Yato’s help, and he agrees, but he never actually does it, so she tags along after him to hold him to his promise.
There’s a ton of really awesome Japanese folklore going on here, some clever storytelling and word play… But I just didn’t like anything. The characters all fell flat for me—I wish Hiyori had more depth and more backbone. Yato’s a complete ass—the author keeps pointing at him like, ‘Look, he’s got redeeming qualities! He’s just fragile and emotionally bruised!’ But what he is is a jerk who can’t think of anyone but himself. The art isn’t speaking to me. And I got two volumes in and there seemed to be basically no plot happening, except that the manga had managed to convince me that I hated all the characters.
I wanted to love this, and I think maybe if I’d made it to the end of the second volume, it might have picked up, because I do remember liking the anime. But I couldn’t make myself finish it. It was crass and full of misogyny and just not my cup of tea at all, even though I really wanted it to be.