[ Last post: 2018 Manga Year in Review! ]

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

I decided to do a mid-year post so I don’t have to do the whole year’s worth in one shot. Three of the most important manga I’m reading (Urara, Yagakimi, Gakkougurashi) have one final volume coming out in the latter half of this year, so they’ll get either no, or brief, comments for now, as I don’t want to repeat myself after their final volumes. The series I did complete since the start of the year are all pretty short, except for Takkyuu Musume.

Ranking is looser here than it is with my anime lists. I don’t explicitly number or score them, so don’t read much into the ordering.

Complete
Series that I’ve finished since last update:
Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
Roid
Kyuuketsuki-chan x Kouhai-chan
Swap Swap

Ongoing, New
Series I started since last update but which are still ongoing.
Urara Meirochou
Yagate Kimi ni Naru
Citrus+
Majime Girl to Seishun Lingerie
Houkago Strip

Ongoing, Other
Brief comments about ongoing series that I started prior to the last update, or started since last update and only have a limited amount to say about because I’m still retreading anime material (alphabetical order, no ranking):
• Centaur no Nayami
• Gakkou Gurashi
• Harukana Receive
• Konohana Kitan
• Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru
• Slow Start

Ongoing, Waiting
Series in waiting, either because no new volumes have been released since last update, or I haven’t read anything new in that time.
• Flying Witch
• Hinamatsuri
• Kase-san

Complete


Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
(Asano Yagura | Shueisha / Jump SQ.19 → Tonari no Young Jump | 7 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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While I’ve only jumped into sports anime and manga fairly recently, it seems to me like they have two main ingredients: exciting head-to-head competition, and well-timed flashbacks. Takkyuu Musume executes this basic formula flawlessly by creating a positive feedback loop between the two. Long flashbacks in the middle of a match don’t halt the momentum, they provide context that heightens the tension awaiting us once the match resumes. It excels at fleshing out its characters in this way, informing us as to how they got where they are, and then showing us through their play precisely where they’re headed.

Back when the anime aired I posted my thoughts on what became my favorite sports anime, so I’m not going into a ton of detail about those arcs here. That said, there are differences between the anime and the manga that I find interesting enough to discuss. The anime made a slew of intelligent adaptation choices that resulted in a more fleshed-out version of the early volumes. Hindsight is 20/20 so that’s not a knock on the manga, it’s moreso praise for the anime staff in choosing to harness the spirit and tone of the original while identifying what was best for the adaptation. This was largely a result of the staff’s skill and talent, of course. But it also has a lot to do with the very lopsided structure and pacing of the manga. The first and only stopping point at the time the anime was airing happens quite early on in the manga. There isn’t another until the literal end, which came more than two years after the anime had finished airing.

When I said that the manga’s story is structured in a lopsided way, I really mean it, though I don’t intend it as a criticism. The entire anime covers only the first two volumes, while the manga’s final match between Agari and Kumami is longer than that all by itself. The anime avoided feeling stretched or padded only because it beefed up those early scenes with a clever mix of anime-original material and cannibalizing ideas from later on in the manga.

The very first thing I noticed is that Hokuto doesn’t have a line until page 103 of the manga, and isn’t formally introduced until 140 pages in. It seems like she was always intended to be a major character, given that we see her ranked #3 in the club in the first few pages. For whatever reason though, she just doesn’t play a role initially. The anime makes the wise decision to incorporate her from the start, ensuring that we meet her alongside everyone else and her presence feels integral and natural. Considering the anime doesn’t get to Hokuto’s focus episode (her real manga introduction) until five episodes in, this was a crucial change.

This also means that her first match with Koyori is anime-only as well. In fact the first time we really see Koyori play anyone in the manga is her match against Agari, which the anime handles as the climax of a three episode introductory arc. She still beats Munemune, Hokuto, and Hanabi but it’s all off-page. Also off-page is the entire practice match against Mozuyama, with the exception of its centerpiece battle between Koyori and Kururi.

Overall, as much as I like the manga I think the anime is unquestionably the superior version of these two volumes. It took a small-ish slice of the manga and used it as the springboard for creating a deeper, richer understanding of the characters through more matches, more character interactions, and making full use of the audiovisual aspects of an anime adaptation. With the structure of the manga leaving no realistic possibility of rushing into post-Mozuyama content, this was the world they had to work with, and they gave it all the love and affection you could possibly ask for from an anime adaptation.

The anime worked so well because it knew it could focus on a fairly narrow span of time. I suspect something similar happened to the manga post-Mozuyama. All five volumes from 3 through 7 are dedicated to the the district qualifiers match against Tsubame Jogakuen. 3.5 of those, half of the entire manga, are Agari vs Kumami. I don’t know the internal details of why and how the manga ended where and when it did. It’s clear from very early on that its ultimate goal is for the girls to reach the nationals. That’s what the cold open teaser is setting up, and it’s what he anime’s final flash-forward depicts. The black-haired girl they’re facing there is not addressed whatsoever after the first couple pages of the manga. Whether Shueisha told Asano to wrap up, or Asano personally wanted to stop is unclear.

That said the manga’s final page notes that only “Part 1” has ended. The series will no longer be serialized in Jump SQ, and any information on how, where, or when it will continue is up in the air. But Asano is determined to continue the story, somehow. And I think the knowledge that “Part 1” didn’t need to cover the Nationals is what allowed Asano to do some very interesting things which ultimately made the manga much better – and earned the franchise a spot in my favorites list.

The afterword says that “Part 1” is comprised of two stories: Koyori’s introduction and Agari’s evolution. Because the last big match in the anime is Koyori’s climactic duel with Kururi, the anime only scratches the surface of the latter storyline. Agari’s initial loss to Koyori was the vital awakening her story needed, but she still had a long, long way to go. We only really return to this during the training camp in the final two episodes. In the manga, Agari’s desire to develop a game-winning smash segues directly into her reunion with Kumami during the district qualifiers. But the anime ends with the training camp.

If the opening arc is Agari handing over the title of “team ace” in order to rediscover her pure love for the game, the final arc is a now-mature Agari reclaiming that title in dramatic fashion. Loudly punctuating this point is the fact that Suzumegahara goes 3-1 over Tsubame, and with Koyori in the fifth matchup, she doesn’t even get to play. Her opponent was to be Kohime, the much-hyped team captain, but that last round isn’t even needed in the end.

If the story does get to continue through the Nationals, I suspect the pendulum will swing between Koyori and Agari a few more times yet. In the end they are a pair, in more ways than one, and the story will treat them roughly equally as players. But Koyori is the Papika to Agari’s Cocona. On her own she’s changed very little, but you evaluate a character like Koyori by how she’s changed the people around her, not by how sophisticated her own arc is. Koyori has challenged, encouraged, and loved Agari from the moment she transferred in, and helped push Agari through her own arc in the process. That’s a vital role, and Koyori excels in it.

As mentioned, the anime takes cues from later manga volumes. In particular the Kiruka/Munemune doubles match against Tsubame clearly informed the anime’s Mozuyama doubles match. It’s similar, down to Munemune’s misgivings about dragging Kiruka down and Kiruka’s reassurance that she trusts Munemune implicitly. And they end the same way, with Munemune practically vaporizing the ball as she goes total beast mode, scores the winning point, and justifies Kiruka’s unwavering faith in her.

One benefit of the anime introducing Hokuto immediately is that we get to see her interacting with Hanabi right away. This is a nice way of hinting at the close relationship that volume three explores in detail. I didn’t notice it while watching, nor do I think the anime even mentions it, but that charm we always see around Hanabi’s neck turns out to be the very thing that has bound Hokuto and Hanabi since childhood. Takkyuu Musume’s ability to blend flashback and ongoing action is particularly strong in Hanabi and Hokuto’s matches against Nemuri and Irori. We’re led through Hanabi’s devastating loss, Hokuto’s determination to avenge her, the near miss when she seems like she’d going to fail as well, Hanabi’s heartfelt encouragement, and Hokuto’s eventual triumph. This is all framed around the story of how they became friends and learned to love table tennis together.

Munemune, Kiruka, Hokuto, and Hanabi deserve whole sections of their own, and both anime and manga do a great job fleshing out what they mean to each other. But the three biggest matches of the series are all about Koyori and Agari.

First was their match to determine the position of team ace, and for the second we capped off Koyori’s introduction with her battle against Kururi. I think everyone who has seen the anime loves Kururi, and how could you not? She and Zakuro are deeply sympathetic in the way great rival teams in sports anime/manga ought to be. But there’s no difference in how the anime and manga portray them, so my comments on the anime cover everything I would want to to say there.

And it’s great that I put those thoughts down when I did, because I’d hate to shortchange or overlook Kururi. But there’s a good chance I would have ended up doing so if I’d only read the manga, because very soon after Kururi, we meet Kumami. She’s a lot like Kururi, but with every dial turned up to 12. Kururi feels like a prototype, like a test run for the themes that would define Kumami’s arc. You do meet her, briefly and mysteriously, in the anime. The scene is the same, even though it takes place at a slightly different time. But her true significance is something only the manga gets a chance to explore. She dominates so much of the last five volumes.

Kumami is a former Suzumegahara player who left to join Tsubame at the invitation of its captain, Kohime. Agari never understood why Kumami left, given what good friends and rivals they seemed to be. The anime touches on this during the training camp, but it’s only in the manga where we learn Kumami’s side. Kumami is, let’s say, a girl of complicated proclivities. When she first beats Agari, an embarrassed and frustrated Agari runs off and cries alone. Kumami follows her and upon seeing her crying face, becomes… excited. Like, intensely, unambiguously, sexually excited.

However this strange (and arguably somewhat sadistic) urge is soon complicated when she gets to know Agari better and realizes what a hard-working, determined, and kind girl Agari is. Whatever questionable fetishes Kumami may have, she quickly realizes that she loves Agari’s smiling face most of all. And so to protect that beloved smile she starts to pull her punches, and she keeps their head-to-head record even during team ranking matches. All the while Agari, oblivious, truly believes they’re genuine equals. She has no idea that Kumami is the far better player.

Leading this double life takes a toll on Kumami. In order to keep Agari smiling, she suppresses her explosive desire to utterly demolish her opponents. That urge to obliterate the competition is something she calls “Ura Kumami” (Hidden/Reverse/Black Kumami). Her ventriloquism act is a way of letting off steam while playing it all off as a joke. But that’s not enough, and with the safety valve about to explode, she finds a table tennis hall she knows her friends won’t find, and lets her inner beast run wild. That’s where the meets Kohime, the only person who can go toe-to-toe with Ura Kumami without breaking.

Kohime tempts her with the offer to transfer, and while Kururi initially resists, Ura Kumami escapes during a match with Agari, and she finalizes the decision to leave Suzumegahara. She fears that her true nature will one day destroy that smile she loves so much, and she chooses exile instead.

That’s the last time they played until now, and the mystery has been torturing Agari ever since.

I can imagine no more humiliating blow to Agari’s pride than realizing that her rival was coddling her. Agari values friendship, but when she’s at the table she’s in it to win, going all out against an opponent she believes is doing the same. Being patronized in such a way would be more devastating than any legitimate loss. When game four of the district qualifiers begins Kumami has the upper hand, but Agari brings out her revived forehand smash and changes the momentum. Rather than feeling overjoyed, all she can think about is that flash of darkness she saw during their last game. She demands that Kumami come at her for real, to hold nothing back, no matter what that entails.

The rest of their match is a spectacularly intense series of momentum swings as they each evolve their game before our eyes. Kuma Barrier shuts Agari down. Agari’s revived forehand breaks through. Ura Kumami dominates with the Speed Drive. Agari gambles on her Ideal Loop Drive. Finally, Kumami embraces her dual nature, accepts the darkness as part of who she is, combines her two playstyles, and drives Agari to the brink. But it’s not enough, and Suzumegahara are going to the Nationals.

It wasn’t until I finished the sixth volume and Agari’s match was still ongoing that I seriously entertained the idea that she might win. And I only half believed it until it actually happened. The conventions of the genre imply that of course you have to go to the last round of a best of ‘X’. They imply that of course Koyori would get her chance to take down the mysterious captain Kohime. But Asano was serious about this being Agari’s time to find herself, to evolve herself, to become the ace she always wanted to be. She repeatedly pushes up against and breaks through her limits, while Kumami matches her beat for beat.

Takkyuu Musume is obsessed with faux-furigana, exploiting the Japanese writing system’s ability to efficiently convey parallel meaning by writing one word but telling us to read it as something else. This often comes up with 卓球 (takkyuu/table tennis) being furigana’d as ドキドキ (dokidoki/heartbeat/excitement). And so, when Agari scores one last point to seal her victory, we’re told to read “Kamiya Agari” as “Ace”.

While this victory is Agari’s moment of triumph, Koyori’s influence is felt all throughout. Kumami sees Koyori as little more than a nuisance initially, just some awkward girl encroaching on “her” Agari. The more Kumami realizes how important Koyori is to Agari, though, she comes to viciously resent her as a love rival. But as the match progresses and Agari not only holds her own but starts getting the upper hand, Kumami starts to get that old dokidoki feeling once again. It doesn’t take her long to realize that it’s Koyori lurking behind the new and improved Agari.

Kumami loved Agari so much that she ran away to protect her. She unleashed all her pent-up frustration at Tsubame, where Kohime was strong enough not only to withstand it, but to challenge her as an equal and elicit the blood-pumping excitement of all-out, no-limits competition the likes of which Kumami couldn’t get at Suzumegahara. But in this match, she gets to experience both of the Agaris she yearned for: the excited smile and the fearsome competitor. It’s the perfect combination she’s desired for so long. She will never forgive Koyori for taking her spot by Agari’s side… but she can’t help but feel gratitude towards her as well.

During the match at Mozuyama, Koyori told Kururi that her reason for playing table tennis is to see her opponent’s face up close and experience that intense dokidoki feeling together. Even without a racket in her hand, Koyori achieves that again with Kumami. What may be most remarkable is that Kumami doesn’t exorcise Ura Kumami at the conclusion of the match. She doesn’t simply “get fixed” and become a perfectly sweet girl devoid of emotional baggage. Instead, she learns to check her worst impulses while also accepting that Ura Kumami is still part of her. It’s still the driving force behind her fierce competitiveness. It’s still her very own brand of table tennis, her very own “dokidoki”.

Whatever the circumstances of its ending/suspension, my feelings about Takkyuu Musume aren’t predicated on whether it returns or not. In my Swap Swap comments below, I talk a lot about what happens when a manga ends before a story has put in the work to do its characters proper justice, and Takkyuu Musume is a virtually perfect counterpoint. I didn’t go into the final volume terribly worried about whether there would be a payoff. I wasn’t fearful that all the build-up would come to nothing.

That’s because Takkyuu Musume had been nothing but payoff after payoff after payoff. There was no need for a Hail Mary play at the last second to tie all the loose ends together and justify why the characters did the things they did, because it had been satisfyingly justifying everything it did the whole way through. This doesn’t mean that there’s no more for the story to say, or nothing more I’d like to see explored. The author themselves made that clear when they called this “part one”, and of course they’d love to show us how these girls fare in the Nationals.

But Takkyuu Musume put in the work. And so when it came time to say (a temporary?) farewell, we went out not on a hastily concluded match, but… Agari and Koyori going on a date! Koyori is tasked with showing Agari a good time on her birthday while the team prepares the party. While they’re out having a fantastic day, Koyori lets slip that her birthday is actually the same as Agari’s. She didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to steal Agari’s spotlight or make a nuisance of herself. Koyori sees herself as a supporting character. Agari, however, knows that she’s so much more. She insists on buying Koyori a gift, and makes sure the party is rebranded as a celebration for the both of them.

For Agari, being “team ace” is no longer about monopolizing praise from her adoring fangirls. It’s a solemn responsibility she bears for the sake of her beloved teammates. This may be Agari’s story, but she understands as well as we all do that it wouldn’t have proceeded beyond a rough draft without Koyori standing beside her.

I hope Asano gets to write the sequel, because I can’t wait to see what it has in store.

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Roid
(Shiroshi | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | 2 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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I picked this up because it was from an artist I followed on Pixiv and the illustrations they were uploading looked intriguing, but I still didn’t expect these volumes to look as good as they did. I kept mentally comparing it to the art of Tsukumizu (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou), in the ways it turned a rough, sketchy look into something evocative. It is somewhat more traditionally “polished” than Tsukumizu’s unabashedly rough style, but it’s still got a ton of personality.

Roid is near-future cyberpunk-ish sci-fi in which cybernetic prosthesis are common, intelligent robots are in wide use, and truly lifelike androids are on the verge of commercial viability. Futagami Yui, Kazumiya Reina, and the club president (who we know only as Buchou) run a robotics club that just happens to have a genius-level AI programmer (Reina), a master engineer (Yui), and some convenient contacts in the local police forces (courtesy of Buchou). When Reina is kidnapped by her own robot, the wheelchair-bound Yui makes the risky decision to insert her consciousness (theoretically viable but currently illegal tech) into an android she’s been painstakingly working on. This android is her, but idealized – tall, beautiful, curvaceous, and above all, able-bodied.

The catch is that she’s not just temporarily inhabiting the body, Kusanagi Motoko-style. Yui’s consciousness has been entirely duplicated. There’s two identical copies of her memory and personality now, in two very different bodies. This was done in a moment of desperation without giving thought to what would happen afterward. It’s was just a risk Yui felt she had to take to save a girl she cared about. But for the other her that was created in that moment, the question of what comes next was an existential one, in the most literal sense.

The basic premise is something I’m sure sci-fi has explored plenty of times, but I still thought the execution here was incredibly clever. Debating the rights of sentient AIs is all well and good but it’s a lot more complicated when the “AI” is literally you. And what happens when this new intelligence stops being you? Your experiences are identical only up to the point you upload the copy. You both experience every subsequent moment differently – maybe only subtly at first, but the divergence snowballs over time.

Yui comes to resent what she has created, even as she has to live with it day in and day out. Many characters have been forced to deal with the self-loathing that comes from being less than your ideal self, but for that ideal self to be “you”, staring right back at you, is something else entirely. Yui has to watch as her “better” self does all the things she can’t. In the scene pictured above, Reina is in danger, and Yui’s other self springs into action. Yui is left behind to slowly roll after her. The shot lingers with intent on her damaged legs, speaking loud and clear.

Disability is a central theme to Yui’s arc, and Roid handles it gracefully. Yui’s relationship with her body is complex; it may hold her back but she doesn’t simply rage against her handicap. She knows that she has a brilliant mind, and her exceptional skill with her hands is what allows her to create the impressive body into which Anna is “born”. She treats her wounds as a memento of the day her her life was saved from the berserk robot that crippled her. Yui has admired the security forces that rescued her ever since, and despite cybernetic prostheses being widely available, she’s resolved not to lose any part of the body that was preserved for her on that day. Her legs are an ever-present motivation to work harder to improve her skills as an engineer in order to one day join up. But when the security forces get involved after Reina’s kidnapping, it’s Anna that they’re interested in recruiting. With her dream so close, it’s only her able-bodied “other self” that gets the attention.

There’s no simple, tidy message here. Roid isn’t saying that “handicaps are bad and must be corrected”, nor is it saying “seeking to correct your handicaps is ableist”. Yui’s feelings are more complicated than either of those extremes. Yui both hates and loves her legs, and they mean different things for her at different times. This nuance is nicely illustrated in the decidedly non-romanticized scars Yui bears. This isn’t your usual “sexy fashion accessory” anime scar. This is a physical manifestation of violent trauma. But she also accepts that this, too, is part of who she is.

Anna possesses the physical traits Yui admires, but Yui has the one thing Anna comes to desire most: Reina’s affections. The fact that Yui isn’t even romantically inclined towards Reina just bothers Anna all the more. Reina loves a version of her, but it’s not her – not anymore, at least.

This love for Reina is therefore part of Anna’s personality, something she’s developed independent of the memories she started with, and it’s what truly distinguishes her from Yui. It’s something unique she can latch onto, like Touko does with her love for Yuu in Yagate Kimi ni Naru. Anything that makes Anna feel like her own distinct person is important, because while Yui (handicaps and all) is recognized by society as inherently human, Anna is not. Anna got the body she’s always desired, but at the cost of her personhood.

Even Yui initially devalues her. She names her An (杏) “because it’s easy to remember”. It’s nothing more than a pun on her being an android, because An is a tool. It’s Reina, the passionate AI programmer, who sees An as human for the first time. She etches this recognition into An’s very name, gifting her a character from her own name (那), transforming her into Anna (杏那). The platonic love that Yui holds for Reina is inherited by Anna, and then blossoms into love.

Roid’s mangaka mentions in their afterword that they don’t actually know much about yuri (I’d say this is contradicted by their Pixiv account!) and were surprised when someone recommended that they submit to (and then were subsequently accepted by) Ichijinsha/Comic Yuri Hime. And it’s true that Roid is by no means a traditional romance. But it centers love for another girl as a major part of Anna’s self-realization, and this neatly complements the themes of humanity and identity.

There is a “let’s make the robots rebel, people suck” antagonist in Roid, and they’re handled quite well enough. They effectively prey on Anna’s insecurities to drive a wedge between her and Yui (and we get some nice action as well). This programmer and android pair are a darker version of Yui and Anna. Through overcoming them and saving Reina, our heroines learn to begrudgingly accept each other.

Roid was was Shiroshi’s first serialized manga. While it’s a shame that they don’t intend to explore such an interesting world beyond these two volumes, there’s something to be said for a compact, tightly told story that explores a clever theme really well and then ends on its own terms. I’d like to see what they come up with next.

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Kyuuketsuki-chan x Kouhai-chan
(Takano Saku | Kadokawa / Dengeki Comics Next | 4 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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An enjoyable girl-meets-vampire-girl yuri manga with really pretty art and a solid grasp of how to ratchet up the drama in an effective way. And this is definitely a drama, even if it weaves in some decent comedy and slice of life moments as well. It’s a well-trodden character dynamic: shy transfer student (Sara) meets the popular and beautiful student council president (Iris), they’re drawn in together by a shared secret, and they fall in love. In this case, the secret is that Iris is a vampire (or “chouki” as they’re called) and she’s chosen Sara as her bride (or “hanayome”).

Perhaps not unexpectedly for a “sexy vampire romance”, there’s a power imbalance at first. Vampires don’t make a habit of seeking consent when sucking blood, and Iris does go for some rather suggestive feeding spots. But they’re both smitten by each other from their first meeting, and by chapter three Iris realizes she doesn’t actually need to “assert dominance”. Sara is the first hanayome Iris has chosen, and the relationship isn’t quite what she thought it would be. They’re partners, not hunter and prey. From this point their relationship very rapidly shifts to one of mutual consent, respect, and passion.

There’s a big, tragic catch to their relationship. Aoi (another hanayome) reveals what becoming a hanayome truly means: once your blood is first sucked, you will inevitably weaken and die within a year.

That’s as much a surprise to Iris as it is to Sara, and the rest of the story sees them struggling to cherish the time they have left while also dreading what is to come. Apart from taking some time to tell Aoi and Shion’s story, there is an all-consuming focus on Iris and Sara’s relationship. The cast stays limited to these four major characters, ensuring that the low volume count never becomes a handicap and the pacing doesn’t feel rushed.

Iris is devastated by guilt, and every time Sara consoles and forgives her that guilt only deepens. But in the second and third volumes they resolve to make the best of the time they have left. They can’t ever forget how this ends, and they both break down in despair multiple times, but they give it their absolute best. They even enjoy some nearly-normal moments as a couple while ticking experiences off Sara’s bucket list as quickly as they can.

The second and third volumes do a solid job of striking this balance of love, resignation, and despair. It’s handled well enough that, while I wanted a happy ending, I thought I’d be able to accept a tragic outcome if it came to that. It’s not particularly easy to get me on board with a sad ending in yuri, so I consider that a credit to this story. Having it come not as a surprise or for shock value, but as an intrinsic part of the premise, is certainly one way to make that work. Kyuuketsuki-chan was putting in the effort needed to earn its sad parts. Still, when the second volume ends with Sara declaring her absolute determination to find a cure, you couldn’t help but think that everything was going to be alright, somehow.

But it’s not meant to be. With no cure forthcoming, Iris is desperate and despondent enough to attempt suicide, even though she subconsciously knows that her immortal body won’t let her die. from this nadir of despair, Sara and Iris finally and fully accept what’s coming and agree to face it together. The story’s single-minded focus on these two results in a fourth volume entirely and intimately dedicated to Sara transitioning into end of life care. It lets them celebrate what they have rather than wallowing in maudlin self-pity. Giving them so much time to prepare is what finally really sold me on what was coming. And indeed Sara’s death does come. Iris continues on as best she can, for Sara’s sake.

Despite all this, Kyuuketsuki-chan does eventually end happily. I haven’t mentioned Iris’ backstory yet, but in a prior incarnation she fell in love with another chouki named Mizuki. Mizuki sucked her blood, fell under an agonizing curse for violating that taboo, and had to be mercy killed by Iris herself. Sara turns out to be the human reincarnation of Mizuki. After some number of years, she reincarnates once more, and they reunite in the final pages, Kannazuki no Miko-style.

It sounds like an ass-pull, but it actually works better, and is better foreshadowed, than I’ve made it sound. (Sara looks identical to Mizuki after all, which is what first drew Iris to her.) Sure, I wanted a happy ending for these girls badly enough that maybe I’m refraining from looking a gift horse in the mouth, but so what? It all works. Iris learning the truth from Sara through a posthumous video message is such a great scene. A little cliche, maybe, but I don’t evaluate stories purely by their novelty, I evaluate them based on how they make me feel, and in that moment, I felt absolutely happy.

Kyuuketsuki-chan isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s a sweet love story, compactly told, well-drawn, and perfectly competent at tugging on the right heartstrings when it needed to. I came away from it pleasantly surprised and happy I’d read it. And what else matters, really?

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Swap Swap
(Tomekichi | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Carat | 4 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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Swap Swap was an absolute blast… until it came to a screeching halt and ended without exploring the emotional implications any of the ideas and relationships it toyed around with for four volumes. Ooof. Take this as a cautionary tale regarding what happens if you have absolutely no exit strategy if and when your manga ends prematurely. Whether Houbunsha called it quits with minimal notice, or whether Tomekichi had to end it for personal reasons, I don’t know, but there is no way this was a natural, planned ending.

It’s a damn shame because I was having such a good time with this. The premise is simple: Ichinose Haruko and Nikaidou Natsuko bump into each other on the way to school one day, accidentally kiss, and find that they’ve swapped bodies. They figure out that they can swap back and forth at will by kissing. They also realize how convenient it is to enjoy foods you normally dislike, evaluate new clothing purchases without relying on a mirror, have someone take a test for you or cover your shift at work, and so on. This well-trodden gag never actually stopped being amusing. Even when the same scenario repeated quite a lot (especially food and clothes shopping), it never felt like a chore to read through. There was also a steady stream of new characters/couples, all of whom I found charming.

I went into Swap Swap knowing that it was only four volumes, and that it seemed to end before it was planned to. So I wasn’t excessively that alarmed when, even by the end of volume three, barely anything had happened in terms of character arcs. The setup seemed like something you could wrap up in half a volume, or about 5 chapters, if you had a plan. But then I just kept getting closer to the end… and closer… and closer… and finally there were two chapters left, in which only the absolute barest hint of a concluding conflict was raised and then “dealt” with. I put that in quotes because by ‘dealt” I mean “just went away on its own for no reason, and nobody changed at all”. At the midpoint of the final volume we’re burning a chapter on backstory for a pair of characters we’d just barely met. It’s not even a bad chapter, and they’re not bad characters (adult lesbian couple!), but in the back of my mind I was largely distracted by the rapidly dwindling page count and thinking “this is nice but you’re almost out of time!

Of course, I get the impression that while *I* knew it was ending soon, Tomekichi probbaly didn’t know that at the time they were writing these chapters. It genuinely feels like they got no more than two chapters’ notice (assuming it didn’t end for personal reasons). When we do finally transition into the “ending”, the catalyst is a character who I don’t think even got a name when she was first introduced two chapters prior. She ends up leaving almost no mark on the story besides being a cheap excuse to wrap things up.

Me being me, I unsurprisingly spent a lot of time thinking about Sakura Trick when I was reading this (note: light Sakura Trick spoilers incoming, I guess?). Specifically, I thought about why Sakura Trick worked and Swap Swap fell short. They share enough superficial similarities: yuri manga published under the normally “yuri non-committal” Manga Time Kirara label, featuring two girls who engage in frequent acts of physical intimacy (kissing) at a rate that outpaces the development of their emotional intimacy. Both series are slice of life with strong comedic elements. One of the co-leads starts to wonder “Huh, maybe there’s a reason I’m so comfortable kissing another girl”. The main characters are surrounded by other couples in various stages of romantic development (not yet confessed, dating, living together), against whom they can contextualize and evaluate their own relationship.

But each pair’s respective first kisses succinctly summarize the differing philosophies of each series. Haruko and Natsuko kiss by sheer accident and with no prior relationship, literally running into one another with Natsuko holding toast in her mouth. Yuu and Haruka kiss just as early in the story, and also on the spur-of-the-moment, but the explicit purpose of the kiss is as an intentional act to mark the inseparable friendship they’d shared for a couple years by this point.

Any number of other comparisons could be made, none of which break favorably in Swap Swap’s direction. For instance, the other couples in Sakura Trick have detailed and satisfying arcs, while Swap Swap never even bothers laying the groundwork for such a thing. And even though we constantly see Natsuko in the last panel of a 4koma strip blushing and frantically wondering “Wait, why doesn’t kissing Haruko bother me??”, at no point do they undergo anything similar to Haruka’s soul-searching or Yuu’s quiet struggle to maintain a balance between her rapidly evolving feelings for Haruka and Haruka’s emotional immaturity.

You could object that comparing a fully complete eight volume manga to a prematurely-ended four volume manga is not comparing apples to apples. And I’d agree that we can’t compare them at different points in time. But by the end of the third volume Sakura Trick had already concluded the main phase of the Mitsuki love triangle/confession arc, introduced and developed conflicts with two other major couples, and started to highlight the distinction between how Yuu and Haruka understood their relationship, in ways that directly reflected their varying levels of emotional maturity. If Sakura Trick had ended in volume four, that would be a damn shame, but it would have done so with groundwork laid in the first three. Swap Swap had no groundwork. It was a premise, not a story. Its final conflict commences on page 102 (“suddenly kissing to swap bodies isn’t working!”) and concludes on page 112 (“nevermind, it works again”), literally ten pages later.

I would love to say with certainty that another four volumes would have done wonders for Swap Swap. And I do think it would, at a minimum, have let the five or so characters introduced near the end actually do something. It also would have hopefully taken Satsuki suddenly kissing Yume somewhere. But four volumes was already plenty of time to have established, you know, literally any meaningful character arcs, and yet Swap Swap chose not to. I’d put money on a hypothetical volume eight ending with Natsuko and Haruko hardly any different from how they were in the first volume.

This isn’t even about Swap Swap vs Sakura Trick specifically. That’s just a really convenient example of how two manga can be very superficially similar, but come out very different. I always emphasize how slice of life series don’t necessarily have to be any more than a series of cute interactions arising naturally from throwing likable characters in the same room and seeing what happens. I mean that’s basically Yuyushki, and Yuyushiki’s a masterpiece. But the ones that do go beyond this simple setup usually end up with a whole lot more to say, and I find them vastly more memorable.

Maybe Swap Swap could have been that eventually, and maybe a lot of earlier scenes would have felt more substantial with a few extra volumes of hindsight, but I suppose we’ll never know. I still really enjoyed a good 90% of this series, and if its failings weren’t the most interesting and salient point to discuss, I’d have spent more time talking about how fun it was from moment-to-moment. But you can only ignore the hollow, eroded cavern beneath your home right up until the moment a giant sinkhole swallows it whole. Then all you can think about is how much you wish there had been a whole lot more substance down there.

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Ongoing, New


Urara Meirochou
(Harikamo | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Miracle → Manga Time Kirara | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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Because only one volume remains (and comes out in a matter of weeks – what bad timing) I’ll hold off on going into much detail for now. But thus far, it’s been incredibly satisfying. Much like Takkyuu Musume, I don’t know the exact circumstances of why it’s ending now. Unlike Takkyuu Musume, I don’t expect that it’s planning to come back after it’s over. But thankfully enough, unlike Swap Swap, Urara has been laying needed groundwork for a finale for a while.

It’s not that it couldn’t continue, but I think it’s important to emphasize that it doesn’t have to continue to fulfill its core mission. On the one hand, the structure of the story and the nature of an urara’s career progression seemed to lay out a clear path for a much longer manga. You start as new apprentices at rank 10, and advance all the way to as high as rank 1. As of the end of the sixth volume, the girls are only 8th rank. At this rate the series could be 30 volumes long! But it’d be silly to think of the story as “incomplete” if it ends before they hit rank 1. A story isn’t a math problem, and satisfying character arcs can be resolved at any point in a character’s journey.

It’s also not as simple as becoming a rank one urara. Only ranks 10 through 8 are considered trainee class. Rank 7 allows you to open your own shop. Rank 5 is enough to officially manage one of the tea shops and train brand new uraras. Even within the trainee ranks there’s a clear, understandable progression in autonomy for the fledgling uraras. At rank 10 they get direct instruction from a tea house teacher like the 5th rank Nina. Rank 9 sees them move out and live at a school dorm. Rank 8 already has them running a trainee shop and living on their own, albeit with occasional supervision and being unable to earn money for their work. In most series tracking this sort of career progression, that’d make rank 7 the end goal, with them opening their own fully independent shops.

This is why much of the plot development focuses less on attaining rank one (which, we’re told in the most recent volume, doesn’t actually exist) than on each of the girls finding their own urara style and becoming confident in who they are. And looming over all of this from the very beginning is Chiya’s quest to find her mother. Sure, Chiya constantly says she’ll become rank one in order to find her, but the goal there is “find her”, not really “becoming rank one”. The series has done plenty of work setting up this reunion for the last few volumes. There’s obviously a relationship between Kurou, Chiya, and Chiya’s mother. And the demons always trying to get a hold of Chiya are clearly involved somehow. With volume six ending in a major cliffhanger concerning precisely this, I’m entirely confident that I’ll be happy with how volume seven wraps things up.

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Yagate Kimi ni Naru
(Nakatani Nio | Kadokawa (ASCII Media Works) / Dengeki Daioh | 7 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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As with Urara, only one volume remains (though not until November), and as with Urara, I’ll wait to make any detailed comments. Unlike many of the other completed or soon to be completed series I’ve mentioned in this post, Yagakimi both unquestionably feels like it was plotted to be exactly this long and I’m not sure I can imagine it being any longer. At least not if the planned ending is for Yuu and Touko to finally reciprocate each other’s feelings. Nakatani could certainly try to tell the story of what comes after high school, but that never felt like Yagakimi’s intent. Slice of life series like Kase-san are better able to make that transition (even if very few of them do so either) and I’d imagine any Yagakimi continuation coming in the form of a sequel or spinoff, something that would clearly split the story into two distinct works.

The last two volumes, respectively, climaxed with Yuu revealing her feelings to Touko, and then Sayaka doing the same and getting rejected. All that remains is Touko’s answer to Yuu. I don’t think the content of her answer is in doubt, and she’s even overcome her unhealthy obsession with her late sister, so that’s over too. She’s confident in who she is, and she knows who she loves, and she knows that she’s loved back. This last volume feels like it’ll be less “what will happen” than seeing how well it all fits together. The marathon is basically over, it just needs to saunter on past the goal line.

At least, I assume so. There’s only so many obstacles you can introduce in a single volume of manga, and at this point any conflict almost certainly has to come from Yuu’s side. Perhaps she won’t believe Touko’s “I love you” means something different now than the hundreds of other times she’s heard it. I’m not sure, but in four more months all will be clear, and one of my favorite series will come to a close.

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Citrus+
(Saburouta | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | ~1 volumes (6 chapters) | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing for Citrus; Citrus+ vol 1 is not out yet)

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I always try to avoid reading manga by the chapter, but I’ve made an exception for Citrus+. It just feels uniquely suited for it, being a (generally) more lighthearted continuation of a finished story. Perhaps if it veers into long-term dramatic arcs I’ll change my mind, but right now it feels satisfying enough to read in monthly chunks. It’s also been good about tying together loose ends here and there that the original’s ending hilariously sped through on the way to Yuzu and Mei’s wedding ceremony.

While I said it’s generally more lighthearted, to be clear this is a direct continuation of the original manga, not a totally distinct gag spinoff. It picks up before the time skip at the end of vol 10, so Yuzu and Mei aren’t married quite yet. I was rather surprised by this at first, since I expected more of a slice of life spinoff, not an immediate sequel. That said, I also feel like Saburouta used the opportunity of a new title to reset the tone of the manga just enough that it would have felt a little weird for this to simply be “Citrus Vol 11”.

In contrast to the original manga, the fluffiest moments all come between Yuzu and Mei. They’re officially out as a couple to their family, their friends, and as of the latest chapter even the board of directors of the school. They’re still feeling each other out, and Mei in particular is working through nervousness as she ponders the right timing to propose marriage to Yuzu. But the tone is so different from before. Even when Yuzu and Mei had good times in the original, you always knew that the big dramatic finale would be about them, so every peaceful moment was only temporary. But in Citrus+, we already know that their inevitable future is smiles and wedding dresses. The sense of relief that this brings when reading each new chapter created a very different feeling from the original.

As for the rest of the cast, we’ve had chapters tying up loose ends with Himeko and with Mei’s dad. Himeko reiterates her support for Mei and Yuzu, signaling her unambiguous acceptance of their love. It’s still hard for her, but it ties a really nice ribbon on her and Mei’s relationship. Mei’s dad finally gets closure regarding his relationship with Mei and the school in chapter six. He attempts to release Mei from any expectations that she’ll inherit the school, but she reveals that she intends to see it through. Not out of duty, but of her own free will. But she’s going to do it on her terms – with Yuzu by her side.

While Citrus+ has done some work to tidy things up, it’s simultaneously kicked one very big hornet’s nest: Harumin and Matsuri. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier if it means we’ll finally get some progress between them. Of course, even Citrus+ is still in many ways Citrus, and love is never easy. Chapter four makes it rather clear that Harumin is dealing with lingering feelings of unrequited love for Yuzu, which is something the original manga largely avoided addressing, or even raising. But like Himeko, she’s trying to keep those feelings in check because of how much she cares for Yuzu and Mei. If the big dramatic arc of Citrus+ ends up being Harumin and Matsuri getting over their feelings for Yuzu by finally, finally realizing what they have in each other, I will be giddy. I’ve been a huge fan of Harumin/Matsuri basically since they first met. Don’t let me down, Saburouta.

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Majime Girl to Seishun Lingerie
(Tachi | Kadokawa / Comic Dengeki Daiou g | 1 volume | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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I’d read most of this volume via individual chapters on Comic Walker, but that wasn’t really doing it justice so I decided to wait for the volume. And I’m really glad I did, because I liked it a whole lot more when I could read a big chunk in one sitting, and didn’t have to mess with comicwalker’s online reader. There was only a chapter or two more in the volume than I’d read online, but it made for a nice stopping point while I wait or vol 2.

As with any manga that’s tackling a subject the mangaka appears to be personally interested in (lingerie collecting, in this case), there are a fair number of digressions into the topic’s history and techniques. It’s like a sports anime explaining the rules, a cooking manga going over the ingredients, or a battle manga describing how the combatant’s special attacks work. If you’re into the topic, then those are probably great, while for the rest of us it usually feels like a bit of an interruption to the flow of the story.

But that aside (and I can hardly fault the manga for my own lack of interest in the topic) I found myself increasingly appreciating this for the slow burning relationship between Geraldine and Ran. Much like Houkago Strip, Majime Girl mixes a whole lot of barely clad girls with strong messages regarding body positivity. When Ran first gets professionally fitted, her reaction to finding out she’s an A cup (while noticeably surrounded by much more endowed friends) is a sense of pride and self-love over learning something new about her body. Ran takes notice of Gerry’s body for sure, but her first reaction on seeing her was “wow, cute bra”, not “grrr, must destroy the booby monster!!”. Tachi doesn’t mine breast envy for cheap humor here, she’s got better things to do.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Majiran goes with all of that stuff over the longer term. While there are no couples or confessions yet, there’s clear romantic tension between Gerry and Ran, plus Ran’s friend Riku clearly has feelings for her and is struggling to accept Gerry’s sudden appearance. If Majiran can continue to mix body positivity with adorable yuri romance, it’s going to be a really fun ride.

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Houkago Strip
(Wakadori Nikomi | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara | 1 volume | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)

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I picked this one up a whim thanks to following the artist on pixiv, where they do a lot of Saki yuri. It’s pretty heavy on the fanservice, which is probably unsurprising given the title, but I liked it quite a bit.

The basic premise is that Oono Ringo got rejected from joining her new school’s art club due to a misunderstanding, and has taken to drawing alone in an empty classroom after school. Shiraishi Ichika comes across her one day, and they form an unofficial figure drawing/conversation practice club, each using the time to work on the things about themselves they want to improve. Eventually classmate Nanase Nana joins, and some very gay times ensue. Additional characters are introduced as the volume goes on, but it’s too early to say much about them until more volumes are out.

The one thing that really stuck out to me is that despite (because of?) all the barely clothed bodies, the underlying message is about discovering a positive body image. Ichika tells Ringo that “Until now I really didn’t like my appearance. But when I look at your drawings of me, I don’t feel that way. For the first time, I’m starting to like myself.” And if you’re going to have a character who is in her underwear (or less) as often as not, that’s a pretty good moral for your story.

I have no idea where the series will go, and how direct it’ll get about the romance, but it’s abundantly clear that Ichika has feelings for Ringo, and Ringo is so very hot and bothered by pretty curvaceous girls that these drawing sessions are damn near fatal for her. Even feels like there’s a non-zero possibility of a 3P ending with Nana, but that may change as other characters get more involved in the story. All in all, a solid start and I hope the next volume isn’t too far off.

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Ongoing, Other

Centaur no Nayami
(Murayama Kei | Tokuma Shoten / Ryu Comics | 18JP/16EN volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing [English])
Volume 16 came out since last time. My ability to sum Centaur no Nayami up hasn’t gotten any better in the last six months, but with the intergalactic invasion subplot over, this volume was significantly less strange than usual. That’s relative to a weird-as-fuck baseline of course, but this felt like the most straightforwardly slice of life volume in a while. It also had Mitsuyo and Amane together in the same panels a few times, which is maybe the most Horny Lesbian Energy that’s ever appeared on one page of manga.

 

Gakkou Gurashi
(Kaihou Norimitsu, Chiba Sadoru | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Forward | 11 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
I’m all caught up at 11 volumes, and there’s actually a lot I could say, but like Urara and Yagakimi, Gakkou Gurashi is rapidly approaching its endgame so I’d rather not do a big write-up now.

But my quick take is that it’s still incredibly good, even if I thought the college arc strayed from what made the story so compelling. At the end of last year, I’d only read the first four volumes, which more or less cover what the anime did. In the manga the event that forces them to leave the school is different, and they actually spend all of volume five in the basement of the school before the graduation scene. They move out at the start of volume six.

There’s three main story phases after that, which I’d call the road trip, the college arc, and the escape (ongoing). The road trip is all of volume six, and is easily one of my favorite volumes of the series. The chapter about the radio DJ is a chilling distillation of all the hope and horror and empathy that make this story so brilliant. Revelations about Kurumi’s physical condition are paradoxically both nerve-wracking and reassuring. The rapid degradation of Yuuri’s mental state is disturbing. The consequent ascendance of Yuki as the reliable heatbeat of the group is beautiful. Miki’s unexpectedly intense relationship with Kurumi as they bond over their front-line experiences is moving. Everything about this volume is breathlessly tense, yet so intimate.

When we move on to the college arc, that feeling of intimacy – of these four girls and the memory of their beloved teacher against the world – is lost. The size of the cast rapidly explodes (though many are dead or left behind by the end). The scope of the world also dramatically expands as they finally make contact with the Randall Corporation and we learn much more (but not everything) about the plague and what life is like elsewhere. There’s no lack of great characters and moments in all of this, but it has become something different in these volumes. I don’t mean to imply I didn’t greatly enjoy reading it, but I’d need to go into a lot more detail to explain that, so I’ll save that for whenever the series is over.

And when everything gets turned upside down at this new home, they head out again for volume 11. It’s the road trip redux, but this time they’re struggling to outrun both the living and the dead. They are all profoundly broken by this point, always on the edge of both emotional and physical collapse. The tone is viciously raw and deeply painful, but there’s an unmistakable beauty that hasn’t been snuffed out yet. The volume ends on a cliffhanger. One final volume remains. I’m so worried for them, but all I can do is wait for the finale.

 

Harukana Receive
(Nyoijizai | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Forward | 7 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Volume 7 came out in the first half of this year. Akari doubles down on her desire to take beach volleyball seriously, while wondering what Natsuki is up to (make them a pair or I riot). The Harukana and Eclair pairs are shuffled around as we get Emily/Haruka vs Claire/Kanata, competing both in volleyball *and* test scores as they seek to secure an invitation from Akari to an exclusive sweets shop. The volume wraps up with Haruka’s mom finally making an appearance, and Haruka informing her that Okinawa is where she belongs. We haven’t started the big tournament yet, and Akari still doesn’t have a partner. But despite not moving the higher level story along, this volume did some outstanding character work, which I appreciate every bit as much if not more.

Akari’s renewed efforts with volleyball are (slowly) setting her up to be a serious competitor, and hopefully to pair up with Natsuki. Besides being a strong ship, that’d drop her right in the middle of the juicy drama surrounding Natsuki’s resentment towards Harukana regarding her older sister’s interest in taking Harukana pro. And if there’s one thing Akari excels at, it’s bringing two groups of competing friends together, as she did for Harukana and Eclair. While Akari has a long way to go as an athlete, this volume once again reaffirms how much her friends appreciate her, and how willing they are to help her. The impromptu tournament precipitated by Akari’s invitation also results in her teaming up with Mai. While they’re unsurprisingly bested by Haruka and Emily, it’s not quite the blowout you’d expect, a sure sign of Akari’s improvement. Akari has long been the unsung hero of the series for me, and I hope she can one day stand on the court as their equals.

The pair-shuffling also gives us a chance to see Haruka/Emily and Kanata/Claire interact, and in doing so, learn something new about their friends and partners both. But the highlight comes when Claire and Haruka tie on test scores and decide to settle the tiebreaker with, of course, volleyball. Thus far, Haruka has never had to face off against Kanata as a serious opponent, and in doing so she finally understands just how strong – and scary – Kanata is.

The match climaxes in this excellent series of panels where Haruka summons all her memories of training together with Kanata to pull out a stunning last-second block… which she sends right out of bounds to lose the game. Humorous ending aside, this match is an important milestone in Haruka and Kanata’s relationship. Enough so that when Haruka’s mother shows up and asks her if she’s going to stay in Okinawa or go back with her to Tokyo, Haruka decides to stay. Life without Kanata is just unimaginable now.

 

Konohana Kitan
Konohanatei: (Amano Sakuya | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime S | 2 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
Konohana: (Amano Sakuya | Gentosha / Denshi Birz → Comic Boost | 8 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Volume 8 came out this year, which was quite a relief after the initial concerns I had when volume 7’s afterword revealed that serialization in Monthly Birz would end. It continued online in Denshi Birz and now Comic Boost, so the crisis has passed. That means we get another volume of this beautiful little manga.

The emotional centerpiece chapter of the volume is about a young girl who died in a car crash, and rejects being reborn as a human because she’s convinced she’s no good at it. She hated her life, and wants to be reborn as various wild animals instead. At least, that’s the plan until Ookami disabuses her of any romantic notions of what that entails by showing her all the ways wild animals die (mostly by getting eaten alive). The end of this chapter is one of those conversations centered around incompatible perspectives that Konohana does so well. Yuzu genuinely wonders how the girl can reject the stunning miracle of human life, but the girl counters by asking how something that happens billions upon billions of times can possibly be considered a “miracle”. In her usual fashion, Yuzu breaks through this misalignment of worldviews by drawing from her seemingly infinite well of compassion.

Then there’s the amazing punchline – this darn girl has already died and put Konohanatei through this drama *18* times. She’s fated to become a god in the next world, if only after she finishes life as a human at least once. This revelation doesn’t take the wind out of the previous scene’s sails, it just shows how good Konohana Kitan is at switching between compassion and comedy without missing a beat.

The other chapters are a mix of smaller stories. In the first chapter, the Konohanatei gang hit the beach, apparently for the first time. Ren and Satsuki swoon over their respective partners being way too ero-kawaii. Another chapter with the miko gang lets Botan experience some appreciation from her adoring kouhai. Then Ren and Yuzu go kimono shopping, and it’s every bit as adorable as you’d expect. As usual, Konohana allows Ren to be a positive take on femininity and fashion. Her interest in beauty is treated not as the frivolous vanity of teenage girls, but as a valid, healthy mode of self expression. Ren wants to be beautiful, and she wants to make other girls beautiful, and she’s never shamed or depicted as shallow for it.

And then the Kiri/Yae backstory continues. While we still don’t know exactly how or when Yae will die(?), it seems clear their story is progressing towards a tragic (or at best, intensely bittersweet) ending – after all, there’s a reason that it’s Kiri raising Sakura in the present day rather than Yae. Kiri’s love for Yae grows deeper and deeper, and all the while she has no idea that Yae is seemingly doomed to die in six months, exchanging her life for Sakura’s to appease the gods. The gap between Kiri as she was then and the Kiri we know now still fascinates me.

The Kiri backstory may be the only plot thread with continuous forward momentum, and it’s only a flashback at that. But Konohana has long since established a formula that could continue on indefinitely. I’ll never get tired of these stories about how compassion overcomes all, whether in life or in death, in the past or in the present. I’m still desperately hungry for meaningful advancement in Yuzu and Satsuki’s relationship, but I’ll never starve when every volume is otherwise so full of emotional nourishment.

 

Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru
(Hagino Makoto | Kadokawa / Dengeki Maou | 5 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
We got volumes 4 and 5 so far this year, and it sure seems like we’re shifting into the next big (and final?) phase of the story.

As Konatsu becomes more comfortable performing aquarium club duties without Koyuki, the ever-paranoid Koyuki starts to fret that Konatsu no longer needs her. What it will take to get this girl to understand that Konatsu values her as more than a club senpai I don’t know, but Koyuki’s gay energy is reaching critical levels in this volume. Just a few days out sick from school feels like an eternity, and when they finally reunite and put on a fantastic public presentation for the club, it seems like everything is going swimmingly. But Koyuki still can’t bring herself to abandon the stoic model student mask dhe wears. When she realizes how openly exuberant she’s being in front of everyone, the old fear grips her.

While Konatsu consoles her with a hug, this is the last moment where they appear to be on the same wavelength. Instead of this being the moment where they finally unite, Konatsu shows an uncharacteristic lack of follow-through. In fairness, she’s still hesitant about relying on Koyuki too much, and keeps striving for independence. She’s also concerned about the possibility that she may have to move back to Tokyo one day. I don’t know if I can say that she intentionally puts emotional distance between them, but she almost acts too normal, which ends up having the same effect.

If I have any mild criticisms about this manga thus far, it’s that Konatsu’s actions in this volume could have been slightly better fleshed out. Her strength as a protagonist has always been how perceptive she is about Koyuki’s feelings, and her willingness to take action before things get too out of hand. In this volume, she stumbles at that, acting like everything is fine while Koyuki struggles both with her family and her future.

But I was willing to overlook this for the very practical reason that volume five was, finally, our opportunity to learn just what the heck Kaede is all about. So far she’s been this goofy classmate of Konatsu’s who has a really uncanny knack for showing up whenever Konatsu or Koyuki are alone. There’s always been something slightly off about the way she approached them. She’s outgoing and friendly, but there’s a subtle hint of something else I couldn’t put my finger on. Sometimes her friendliness felt like desperation, sometimes it felt like scheming, sometimes I thought she had a crush on Konatsu, other times on Koyuki. But we learn in no uncertain terms in volume five that it’s Koyuki who she’s attracted to, and she has been for years.

As Konatsu continues to miss (or misinterpret) Koyuki’s signals, the door opens for Kaede to step in, and goodness does she ever do that. Literally, even! She spends time in Koyuki’s home, bonding not just with her but with the whole family. She gets Koyuki to reveal things even Konatsu doesn’t know about, and they bond over the shared fear of loneliness that drives them. For Koyuki it’s the isolation of being placed on a pedestal by her peers, for Kaede it’s getting the cold shoulder from her older siblings (which makes her hanging out iwth Koyuki’s family doubly meaningful). But either way, these outwardly incompatible girls really connect on a deeper level, and Kaede’s emotional support is essential to getting Koyuki over her current funk with Konatsu being so distant.

Volume five ends with Konatsu out and about, where she notices Kaede and Koyuki walking and smiling together. The shock on hr face says it all: we’ve got a love triangle on our hands. Under a less capable mangaka this could be a cause for concern. But I have a whole lot of faith in Hagino Makoto’s ability to do right by her girls.

 

Slow Start
(Tokumi Yuiko | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara | 6 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
I’ve only just started reading this so I’m only partway through volume two at the moment. Thus far, everything is basically the same as the anime so I don’t have anything new to add. But I’m excited to catch up and surpass the anime’s ending eventually, because there’s a whole lot of story beats I’m hoping the manga addresses head on, eventually.

Anything involving Eiko is fascinating, and I want to see how far it takes her relationship with Enami. The mangaka loves the pairing, and they’re clearly dating in her head, so I want to see how the manga itself handles it. And as Eiko’s story progresses, where will that leave Kamuri? Heartbreak of some sort feels unavoidable. Then of course there’s Hana x Tama, which is rapidly reaching Akari x Chinatsu levels of adorable yuri holy grail ships I would kill to see developed on the page.

This is one I’ve been meaning to get to for quite a while now, so I’m glad I finally got started. It’s never too late to start, wouldn’t you agree, Hana?

 
 


Ongoing, Waiting
These series are still in my ongoing pile, but either nothing new was released in the last six months, or I haven’t read any additional volumes.

Flying Witch
(Ishizuka Chihiro | Kodansha / Bessatsu Shounen Magazine | 7 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
Still waiting on vol 8, and given that 5→6 and 6→7 were each year long waits, I don’t expect another volume until around September.

Hinamatsuri
(Ootake Masao | Kadokawa / Harta | 16 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
I haven’t moved past volume 6 yet. It’s an enjoyable enough series but every time I’m in the mood for manga, it’s not for this. I guess the lengthy yakuza conversations are just a chore to read through in Japanese for me, and drag down my enthusiasm to continue. I’ve definitely not dropped it, but I don’t know when I’ll get back to it.

Kase-san series
(Takashima Hiromi | Shinshokan / Flash Wings | 5 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
So I suppose the original Kase-san series is technically over now, since the story is picking back up as “Yamada to Kase-san” in order to shift fully into covering their college life. Not only that, the first volume will be out in a couple weeks. I really hope it nails the high school to college transition, which is something nearly every high school manga and anime fails to even attempt.

 
 

2 Responses to “2019 Manga Mid-Year in Review”

  1. Avatar NyanNyankoSensei says:

    Hey ^^

    I just wanted to say that i always really like to read you post (finally thougs, Review..) you has an interessting taste.
    Pls keep going to write more such posts :> and sry for my bad englisch.

    mfg NyanNyankoSensei

    • something something says:

      Thanks. I like doing these posts to help myself sort out my feelings on a series, so I intend to keep doing them no matter what. Even if I were the only one to see them, it’d still be worth it because that’s my main goal.

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