Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Heavenly Hockey Club, vol. 3

The story: Sleep- and food-loving Hana is a none-too-willing member of her high school's field hockey club, even if it is filled with gorgeous boys. This time around, Hana and one of the boys get lost in the jungle while on vacation, leading to hilarious results. Up next is the obligatory group vacation at a hot springs resort, only this isn't what the team expected. When the vacation ends and it's time to head home, Izumi finds an unexpected guest waiting for him. In trying to avoid his guest, he ends up dragging Hana into a faux relationship against her will.

Reaction: This series grew on me in this volume -- it takes all the expected shojo tropes and makes them more hilarious and satirical. While it would be so easy to give in to fan service, or let this story take a dramatic turn to develop the romantic relationships, Ai Morinaga avoids it and skewers typical storylines instead. I will freely admit that the last chapter is a little stupid, but it's too ridiculous to not be found at least a little bit funny.

Deep thoughts: In talking to a friend about this series, I realized that I was a little too hard on it initially. I often compare it to the reverse-harem comedy Ouran High School Host Club, which came out first. But, the way she looked at it was through the lens of satirical comedy and measured it on its own merits. In some ways, MHHC is a caricature of OHSHC and takes some of the situations presented there to their logical, if more extreme, conclusion. I don't know that MHHC does "it" better, but it certainly is entertaining in its own way.

Artwork: There are some great physical comedy moments throughout this volume, especially during the hot springs chapter. Overall, though, my favorite panel is probably from the first chapter where Hana shouts, "Whose dad are you!!!?" She's leaping through the air, mouth agape and ready to pounce on Takashi in anger. Meanwhile, he's turned away from her, cowering in fear. It's an unexpected interaction between the two, especially since Takashi usually plays the bully. Of course, there are also exaggerated shojo moments, like furiously blushing cheeks and perfectly timed tears. But, the "crutch" of nudity as rom-com plot device is a bit overdone by now and I'm ready for them to crack a new joke.

The verdict: If only... I know I've yet to be totally satisfied with this series, but I still enjoy it based upon its merits. With a few tweaks here and there, I could see this easily becoming more of a favorite. For now, I'll just enjoy the goofy plots and abundant laughs. My Heavenly Hockey Club is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kitchen Princess, vol. 4

The story: Najika has an amazing ability -- anything she tastes she can cook from memory. When her parents died when she was younger, she found comfort in the kindness of a boy she named her "flan prince." Now at Seika Academy, she's trying to find her prince while making new friends. Unfortunately, Najika and Daichi have had a fight, and Najika doesn't know why he's upset with her. Why all is eventually forgiven, Najika is quickly distracted by a major discovery. Has she found her flan prince at last?

Reaction: There's something fishy going on here and it has nothing to do with Najika's cooking! For some reason, I don't think the big reveal of the prince is for real. Call me suspicious (and no spoilers please!). Other than that, there's another Akane-related storyline here and I find myself tiring of the character and her many personality defects. Lastly, this volume reveals a major development in our story's love "cube," and I found myself wondering how the romantic plot will resolve itself. As usual I really liked the food here, since it was very dessert focused. Thankfully, all the tasty recipes, as always, are featured at the end of the volume!

Deep thoughts: There's mention in this volume again of the rift between Sora and Daichi. Thus far, there's been no explanation for their estrangement, outside of some vague references to their mother and her death. While Najika's flan prince is the big mystery in this manga, I find myself more compelled by the brothers' relationship. What grudge does Daichi have against Sora and why doesn't Sora feel the same for his younger brother?

Artwork: The art here is really shojo-esque, more so than prior volumes. Think lots of floating flowers, blushing cheeks and toner-filled panels. It's not necessarily bad, but it's more visually distracting than usual. I also noticed some awkward anatomy, which I attribute more than anything to Natsumi Ando's angular style. Otherwise, the food still looks good!

The verdict: If only... I found this volume a little less interesting and tedious, but I was given one cliffhanger of an ending, so I'll be sticking around. Besides, by the next volume, I'll have made it halfway through this series, so I'm not stopping now! Kitchen Princess is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Land of the Blindfolded, vol. 8

As you may have noticed, posting has been pretty non-existent around here during the past week or so. Unfortunately, I'm experiencing some technical difficulties with the home computer I use for writing reviews. Hopefully, I'll be able to have it taken care of soon. Until then, expect fewer posts than normal. Now, on with the review!

The story: High schooler Kanade has a unique gift that allows her to sometimes see the past of people and objects. When two mysterious boys with similar abilities transfer to her school, they become her closest confidants. In this volume, the whole gang is back from their hot springs vacation and life gets back to (somewhat) normal. Namiki follows an extremely unlucky day with an incredibly lucky birthday surprise. Then, poor Kanade gets sick and puts Arou in a tough position. At one point, Eri, Kanade's best friend, learns about Arou's similar gift when a school thief strikes. By volume's end, Arou's uncle Suo can't contain his curiosity about his nephew's strong ability to see the past. Will his jealousy push him to the brink?

Reaction: There are some good self-contained stories in this volume that I really enjoyed and the last chapter raises some concerns that I hadn't really thought about before. Regardless, it was nice to see Namiki's birthday celebration, as it was to see Arou's classmates' support. While Kanade has been close to her classmates for some time, it seems that only now are Arou and Namiki beginning to experience the same. It's very heartwarming and is great evidence of the character growth the three leads have experienced, especially considering their personalities at series' start.

Deep thoughts: Maybe it's just me, but the author's notes in this series seem a bit more extensive than many others. The only other mangaka that comes to mind that pens extensive author's notes throughout volumes is Aya Nakahara of Love*Com fame. Here, I feel like I know Sakura Tsukuba better and have a real feel for what she's doing with this series. Then again, maybe it's just that I'm actually reading the periodic asides, as opposed to glancing over them as I might in other series, especially those that are more "slice of life" moments or personal asides.

Artwork: There are some really great panels in this volume, possibly the best of the entire series. I especially liked the opening page of the last chapter -- Arou, wrapped in bandages, walks towards a burst of light set against a black background. It's stark and depressing, but is set against the joy these characters are experiencing. I also liked the chapter cut pages, particularly the first one where Namiki looks like a beaten soldier. There's something world-weary about his look that juxtaposes nicely with the chapter that focuses on him.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This is an amazing series that I'm sorry I didn't get to sooner. There are some typical high school moments, but they are done so much better than most other shojo stories. This story has a lot of heart, due in large part to its heroine and the group of people she has surrounded herself with. I'll honestly be sad to see this series end in the next volume. Land of the Blindfolded is available in the U.S. from CMX (online preview available).