[ Last post: 2019 Manga Year in Review! ]

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

Only “Completed” is ranked, all others alphabetical. (SHIMEJI SIMULATION IS #1 THO)

Going forward I’m only going to comment on completed manga and first impressions of series I’ve started since the last update. I might sometimes make exceptions to this, but I’m following too many manga now to keep doing it the same way I did in the past. To that end I’m going to do these quarterly, alongside my anime season posts. Originally I wanted to do less manga posts because the series I follow only release 1-1.5 volumes a year on average, but if I stick to completed and first impressions and post more often, I can both comment on completed series closer to when I finish them and give first impressions relatively early on for new series. Seems better all around.

Series that I’ve finished since last update:
Ano Ko ni Kiss to Shirayuri wo

Ongoing, New
Series I started since last update (not ranked):
Pocha Climb! (1 vol)
Sasayaku You ni Koi wo Utau (2 vol)
Shimeji Simulation (1 vol)
Slow Loop (2 vol read, 3 published)
Tamayomi (3 vol read, 8 published)

Ongoing, Other
Series that I started prior to the last update (not ranked):
Centaur no Nayami (18 vol read, 19 published)
Flying Witch (9 vol)
Harukana Receive (9 vol)
Hayama-sensei to Terano-sensei wa Tsukiatteiru (2 vol read, 3 published)
Kirara Fantasia (1 vol)
Konohana Kitan (12 vol)
Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru (7 vol)
Otome no Teikoku (11 vol read, 15 published)
Slow Start (7 vol)
Watashi no Yuri wa Oshigoto desu! (6 vol)

Ongoing, Waiting
Series in waiting, no new volumes have been released since last update (not ranked):
Citrus+ (1 vol)
Kase-san (6 vol)
Machikado Mazoku (5 vol)


Ano Ko ni Kiss to Shirayuri wo
(Canno | Kadokawa / Monthly Comic Alive | 10 volumes | Complete | Bookwalker Listing)
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Even before I started reading Anokiss I was aware of its reputation for having an enormous and ever-expanding cast. Canno’s mind is an infinitely deep ocean of lesbians. She casts out her net and hauls up couples by the dozens, and wants nothing more in the world than to tell every one of their stories. To say that keeping track of Anokiss’ characters can be challenging is an understatement, however you will eventually come to realize that if you don’t recognize a character, it’s probably because they are indeed new. Each of the nine volumes adds another couple, often with a side character or two. Every one of Anokiss’ fifty chapters also ends with a one-page story, the majority of which feature minor side characters you either never meet elsewhere, or saw in the background of a main couple’s story.

Anokiss has the elite girls’ school sensibilities of Maria-sama ga Miteru, but jettisons the suffocating Class S ennui. It has the large interconnected cast of couples seen in Otome no Teikoku, but with a lower overall degree of inter-couple interaction. It has a central story threaded through from start to finish like Okujou no Yurirei-san, but introduces its couples at a much more staggered pace.

In some ways I prefer the more complex web of interactions found in Otome no Teikoku over Anokiss’ more isolated anthology of stories. Anokiss did an excellent job of introducing a couple and exploring the initial conflict between them, but with the exception of Ayaka/Yurine and Izumi/Chiharu it didn’t attempt serious follow-up arcs. Because this is Canno’s first long serialized manga, I can only speculate as to whether this reflects Anokiss’ unique focus, or if it says something more about Canno’s interests and strengths as a writer. I’m interested in finding out though, so I’m eager to read her new manga (Goukaku no Tame no! Yasashii Sankaku Kankei Nyuumon) when the first volume comes out. As far as I know it focuses on one relationship (albeit a trio), which means Canno is going to have to stay focused. I don’t know how good she’ll be at that, but the prospect is exciting.

Ayaka/Yurine get the most long-term development, and one reason I’m optimistic about Canno’s future work lies in how completely she turned me around on them over the course of the story. Of course I can only have “turned around” if I wasn’t sold in the first place, and I’d generally prefer to be invested in a couple from the start. I frankly didn’t like Yurine very much at first, or for quite a while after that either. I don’t mind a “problematic” romantic partner (I think Yagakimi’s Touko and Citrus’ Mei are ultimately pretty great characters, for example) but the vibe I got from Yurine didn’t sit well with me for this specific manga. It was a struggle to give her the benefit of the doubt, and when I contrasted this against how instantly I took to Ayaka, I kinda didn’t want them to get together.

Their relationship is about four and a half volumes’ worth across a ten volume manga, and at times it suffered from a lack of organic flow. A quarter volume of material in the middle of a volume dedicated to a new couple we’ve just met isn’t necessarily ideal, even for someone like me who read the whole thing over just a few months. I wonder how Anokiss would have felt as a five volume manga focused only on Ayaka and Yurine’s relationship, with only minor changes to introduce the side characters they befriend over the series. I suspect it would need to be reworked a fair bit.

Compare this to Otome no Teikoku, which lets a handful of characters go solo but otherwise gathers everyone into a few major clusters, each of which shares some loose connections to one or more of the others. You’ve got the primary gathering of second year students surrounding Miyoshi, the Kaoru-adjacent mess, Honoka/Elisha and the manga club, and the MahiMahi/Yuu/Mari cluster. You could visualize this with one of those relationship cluster mappings you see utilized to, for example, analyze links between twitter accounts. Numerous threads of cross-cluster relationships would bind the denser groupings together in a very natural-feeling way. Do the same for Anokiss and you’d lack any such large clusters. The graph would take on more of a hub-and-spoke structure with Ayaka/Yurine in the middle, radiating out towards every other couple, each of which has no or only a few connections to any of the others.

I don’t think one approach is inherently better or worse than the other, but there is a marked difference in how organic each series feels. Otome no Teikoku has an immense amount of flexibility as a result of its choices, but as a trade-off its more isolated pockets (debate club, Nao) don’t really mesh with the whole. Its short chapters also switch focus at an exponentially more rapid rate, although that suits the overall more lighthearted, comedia tone. Something like the Yurirei visual novel, on the other hand, is fundamentally inorganic in how it incorporates all of its couples into one game (literal ghosts help you watch over them!), but it owns that choice entirely and makes it the core storytelling mechanic.

Anokiss has its share of issues related to how it chooses to tell its story. Because each volume brings a new couple, couples from earlier volumes end up falling off while those introduced near the end have little opportunity for long-term development. This affects the final couple (Asuka and Mikaze in vol 9) the most. Their story was perhaps too melancholy and intense to be introduced as late as it was, and mostly left me wishing I could see what happened *after* they reconciled and began a long-distance relationship. The glimpses we get in the final volume were encouraging, but too brief. On the opposite end, my favorite of the first half’s couples (Chiharu and Izumi) got either the second or third highest total page count, and then were essentially missing from the last 40% of the story. In a true anthology, you know not to expect characters to reappear, but Anokiss brings them back at least often enough that you start to rely on it, and it can be a shame when that no longer happens.

In the end, it’s clear that Anokiss had one overriding long term goal, and that was telling a story between Ayaka and Yurine.

At first blush, Yurine feels like one of those supervillains who torments the hero out of a desire to mold them into the perfect opponent for a climactic battle, all so they can perish at their hands and finally be released from this mortal coil. In Yurine’s case she provokes with aggressive kissing and fanning the flames of Ayaka’s perfectionist ego. Again, not the best first impression, and my opinion of Yurine wouldn’t substantially change until a major breakthrough in volume five. With Ayaka at her wit’s end after a particularly discouraging call with her mother, Yurine comes to a realization that if she truly wants Ayaka to stay by her side, she needs to stop making every interaction about herself and learn to listen to what Ayaka has to say.

Ayaka’s hang-up is a lack of acknowledgement and love from her mother, while Yurine’s is a boredom with being so effortlessly perfect at everything she attempts. Ayaka believes that her mother will acknowledge her if she reclaims first place from Yurine. Yurine believes she’ll be happier if someone bests her and she’s allowed to become “ordinary”. Ayaka’s dream is crushed when her mother treats her return to #1 as little more than one insignificant step on an endless journey towards success and prestige (but never, apparently, satisfaction). Yurine’s dream is unfulfilled when, having finally been toppled by her rival, she’s sill treated like a superhuman by everyone around her. One girl desires the acclaim that comes with being the best, while the other seeks the approachable intimacy of being normal.

For all the progress Yurine and Ayaka make, they hit a roadblock that can only be pushed aside with the aid of all the connections they’ve formed over the course of the story. Neither girl fully appreciates these relationships until the final two volumes, and that’s where Anokiss’ plan kicks in. No, Anokiss doesn’t have the couples interact with each other as much as I’d like, but it still pays off nicely in the end.

Yurine finds peace by coming to understand that she can change for the better without “becoming ordinary”. She’s so focused on not being number one anymore that she fails to realize being number two is still pretty extraordinary in most people’s eyes! Her maturity wasn’t dependent on a test score, but on her willingness to open up to the people who care about her, and her discovery of a hobby (gardening) she could be passionate about for its own sake, without having awards and rankings shoved in her face. Ayaka is confronted with a similar emptiness upon reaching her goal. Her relationship with Yurine has advanced to the point where she’s unwilling to give it up, but if Yurine is no longer her rival, then what is she? In a last ditch effort to find this answer, she spends the final volume on a whistle stop tour of the cast, asking each of them in turn about their own special person and how they define that relationship. It’s perhaps a clumsy way to write your final volume, but clumsy can be offset with charm, and there was a whole lot of that to be found here. As Ayaka does the rounds she gives us a final glimpse at each couple before the climax and confession. Ayaka is effectively collecting data on the myriad forms that love takes and using it to calibrate her own feelings for Yurine. It reminds me of (a somewhat less organic take on) Haruka’s arc in Sakura Trick.

I struggle to think of other relationships that took as much effort to win me over as this one. It’s a cliche (and often an untrue one, if you ask me) to say that adversity makes eventual success all the sweeter, but it ended up panning out here.

I’d end it there because talking about every couple would be excessive, but given that Canno’s new manga centers on polyamory, it’s interesting to look at the groundwork laid here. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Anokiss slowly builds its way up to volume six’s beautiful poly climax in three stages:

When Izumi meets Chiharu, the latter is in love with her graduating senpai, Maya. Maya never explicitly says it as far as I can remember, but it’s implied she loved Chiharu as well. Izumi grows close to Chiharu, but respects Chiharu’s love for Maya. She makes a genuine effort to help Chiharu out, but it isn’t meant to be. In the end Chiharu and Izumi end up together instead, but no matter how in love they are, some part of Chiharu will always love Maya as well. Izumi accepts Chiharu – all of her – nonetheless. While this isn’t a poly relationship, it does explore the reality that monogamy is not a magic spell that vanquishes all prior romantic attachments. Sometimes those feelings become a permanent part of you. (Izumi is also my favorite character and this relationship my second favorite overall, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna skip over these two entirely just because they weren’t fitting in the flow of my commentary…)

Later we meet Kaoru and her two friends, Momiji and Kohagi. Kaoru has had a major crush on Yurine since middle school. For as early as they were introduced, there’s actually very little movement to be found here, only the foundations of a potential romantic trio in the future. Momiji and Kohagi are mildly antagonistic towards one another when Kaoru isn’t around, but they’re bound together by their feelings for her nonetheless. I was fascinated by this dynamic and ended up being disappointed that it wasn’t fully explored. Even in the end, Kaoru is still sighing over Yurine and her friends are still humoring her, waiting patiently for her to look their way. This ends up feeling like a test run for what would come next.

Volume six, the best of the series, brings this all to a head. It centers on a trend of girls giving each other colored ribbons, each representing emotions like gratitude, apology, friendship, etc. The most coveted of all is the red ribbon, romantic love. This is where we get to know Amane, a free-spirited girl who openly challenges the idea that monogamy is the only valid form of love. She offers red ribbons to no less than three girls (Nina, Izumi, and Ryou), and when Izumi objects that the rules say you can only give out one red ribbon, Amane retorts: “And who exactly decided on that rule?” …Society? Common sense? Neither of these are sufficiently compelling for Amane. She loves who she loves, and doesn’t believe she should feel shame in that.

Polyamory is something I’ve long been interested in seeing a story tackle, but the conclusion that one girl was just going to have to suck it up and be alone (or start over with someone else, if she’s very lucky!) has always felt inevitable in the past. It’s not like every series with a sympathetic third wheel has to go this route, but the fact that virtually none of them ever do only increases my desire to see a story finally step up and give it a try. For that to happen, you need a character like Amane. Ryou accepts Amane’s love because the feeling is mutual, but still worries over Nina. When Ryou asks Amane how she can love them both, Amane replies: “Me when I’m with Nina and me when I’m with you, they’re a bit different, but they’re both still me. How about you, which of your parents do you love more? Can’t choose? It’s like that.” Romantic love and familial love are different in many ways, but Amane doesn’t accept the idea that monogamy is therefore the inevitable conclusion. To deny either love would be to deny a part of herself, and Amane isn’t convinced of the virtues of emotional asceticism.

For a polyamorous relationship to work, each leg of the love triangle needs to be connected. Most love “triangles” are only love “angles”, two lines meeting at a single vertex but not themselves directly connected. This is why, say, Kamuri-Eiko-Enami in Slow Start could theoretically work (Kamuri and Enami become close later in the manga), but perhaps not Hiro-Sae-Natsume in Hidamari Sketch (as much as I’d love to believe otherwise). Once Canno convincingly links Ryou and Nina, the triangle is completed and it’s just a matter of letting them work out their feelings.

Canno normalizes polyamory in a positive and respectful way without sugarcoating it. Very few people come pre-socialized to function in open relationships, and while we don’t learn what made Amane different, we do see her slowly come to realize that not everyone can jump into her lifestyle as readily as she did. While Ryou has her own hesitations, they pale in comparison to the pain, shame, and hypocrisy Nina feels over being attracted to Ryou. Nina’s angst is some of the rawest emotion of the entire series, and there an immeasurable feeling of catharsis in the group hug that finally brings them all together.

Anokiss isn’t perfect, but you know what? It’s pretty darn good. Of everything it has to offer, this relationship is the most significant. If Yasashii Sankaku Kankei can come anywhere near these highs, it’s going to be a really good time.

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Ongoing, New

Pocha Climb!
(Mintarou | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | 1 volume | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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You all know the drill by now: childhood friends reunite unexpectedly in high school, join the same club, make more friends, and do cute things together. Pocha Climb is a club-based slice of life manga, but unlike the majority of those I’ve seen or read, it’s published in Yuri Hime. And that means we’re actually going to get romantic development! Sounds like the best of both worlds to me, and it’s also made me aware of how few of the yuri manga I’ve read revolve around club activities. What an oddly obvious blind spot that is, and it makes me extra excited for Pocha Climb.

Pocha Climb is about Tsugumi reuniting with Aira after she sees Aira practicing bouldering/indoor rock climbing in the school gym. They recognize each other and in short order Tsugumi has joined the club. The other “hook”, though that’s a weird way to think of it, is implied in the title: Tsugumi is “chubby”. This is manga of course, so translates to “shorter and bustier than the other girls, is shown eating all the time, and has maybe the tiniest bit of a belly”. I mean, she looks like this, so I’m pretty sure she’s doing just fine. She only stands out because of how she contrasts with the other girls.

If there’s one topic anime/manga tend to stumble over, it’s trying to convince us that characters have body issues that aren’t reflected in their designs whatsoever. Just think of every self-evidently pretty girl an anime has tried to convince you is plain and unattractive to the characters around her. Thankfully, Pocha Climb handles this rather well in the first volume, largely by not making an issue of it in the way you’d assume. Tsugumi is aware that she’s (allegedly) heavier and has a penchant for snacking, but she doesn’t beat herself up over it. It’s part of her motivation for joining the club, but neither the reader nor Tsugumi have weight concerns constantly shoved in our faces. Sometimes the best way to handle a touchy subject is to just not, if it isn’t all that important to the story.

Instead, the bulk of the volume’s “conflict” revolves around Aira being a spectacular disaster lesbian. This is Yuri Hime so we can rest assured they’re going to be a couple in the end, but right now the gay vibes are overwhelmingly coming from Aira, with Tsugumi at the “blushes while thinking about how much she cares about Aira but isn’t conscious of anything deeper yet” stage. Meanwhile, Aira is at the “I’m going to jump out of a second story window just so I can be with you 45 seconds faster” stage. This is the kind of discrepancy that’d drive me nuts in other slice of life manga, but here it’s totally charming because we know how it’ll all end up. Besides, we’ve got Nanoko and Shuu being Very Girlfriends while we wait for the main couple to get on the same page.

Overall I’m super optimistic about this manga. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m hoping to see every time I complain about Houbunsha being so cowardly with its relationships.

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Sasayaku You ni Koi wo Utau
(Takeshima Eku | Ichijinsha / Comic Yuri Hime | 2 volumes | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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Everyone I’ve gotten Sasakoi first impressions from agrees that it’s good, but Himari really can’t keep Yori hanging much longer. And while I feel the same way, I also think it’s true that in plenty of other yuri manga, Himari’s difficulty in recognizing that she’s in love wouldn’t stand out as much. How many yuri protagonists in ongoing series are fully on board with their feelings by volume two? I mean, a couple entries above I just reviewed a manga where it took ten volumes for the characters to use each other’s given names. There’s got to be something different about this series that’s shifting our expectations.

To be clear, I like Himari a lot. She’s cute and bubbly, and really passionate about the things that interest her. She comes off a bit air-headed but there isn’t a malicious bone in her body. And to be doubly clear, Sasakoi itself is a ton of fun to read, particularly the second volume. But there is a small risk that Himari’s indecision could cause problems down the line, not because she’s a bad person or because I doubt that she and Yori will get together eventually (it’s Yuri Hime and they’re on the cover!), but because she’s surrounded by personalities that are all so much more interesting and nuanced. And there are alternate relationship options that I’m going to become more invested in each passing chapter than Himari demurs. I don’t know, maybe it feels like Himari is auditioning for protagonist of a different manga?

Speaking of those more interesting personalities, Yori is the real star of Sasakoi. After she realizes that Himari’s bold statement of love at first sight was actually intended as platonic admiration, she doesn’t back off and lick her wounds. She declares to Himari that she’s going to do whatever she can to win her over. She also ends up being really open and honest with her friends about her feelings for Himari, and asks their advice on what to do. I can’t overstate how much I appreciate Yori having a close support network through all this. Yori is refreshing as hell as a yuri love interest. So when I finished the chapter one I said “What a whirlwind of a first chapter. I’m so glad Yori is the kind of person she is, because it’s going to take perseverance and focus to get through to Himari.”

Ever since then everything’s only gotten more complicated: Yori’s friend Aki has been in love with Yori for a long time, but Aki’s feelings may be her way of replacing Shiho, an old bandmate she also appeared to have feelings for. Shiho however is potentially dating Momoka, who ends up becoming Himari’s senpai in the cooking club. Himari’s friend (and Aki’s little sister) Miki might also have feelings for Himari. And as the cherry on top of this messy lesbian sundae, Aki performs a metal as fuck mic drop at the end of volume two when she tells Himari she’s in love with Yori. She point blank asks if Himari will let her take a shot first, seeing as how Himari isn’t in love yet. So she should have no objections… right?

It’s incredibly juicy and I can’t wait to see how this clusterfuck shakes out. I also suspect that the juxtaposition of Himari’s naivete against the complexity of Sasakoi’s character relationships is a deliberate choice. Himari’s not being given the option to sit back for another half a dozen volumes and monologue poetically about her conflicted maiden’s heart. Aki has fired an ultimatum in her direction, and she can either reply in kind or step out of the way. I don’t imagine any of this gets any simpler once Shiho becomes involved either.

So if I’m right, and the author is fully cognizant of how Himari comes off vis a vis the rest of the cast, I think we might be onto something pretty great here. If I’m wrong and Himari is allowed to continue to defer action for much longer, then maybe we’ll have an issue. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it; right now, Sasakoi is delightful.

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Shimeji Simulation
(Tsukumizu | Kadokawa / Comic Cune | 1 volume | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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This is without question the single best thing I’m reading right now. After just one volume it’s captivated me even more than Machikado or Konohana. And why would I expect any less from Tsukumizu, author of Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, my favorite manga of all time? This time we’ve wound the clock back from the post-apocalypse to present-day Japan and traded literal solitude for emotional isolation. Majime and Shijima (or Shimeji as Majime calls her) go to school, have families, join a club, become sorta-girlfriends; it sounds like the normal life Chito and Yuuri fantasized about. And maybe, for a split second, you might think to yourself that we’re getting a pretty normal slice of life 4koma this time…

…Hah. Mushrooms start growing out of Shimeji and confer upon her the power to read minds. Majime was born with a sunny side up fried egg permanently affixed to her head. They both join the “hole digging club”, a club where you, well, just dig holes on the school grounds. The club advisor drinks whiskey at school and justifies it by sticking her head through a hole in the fence so she’s technically off premises. Shimeji’s older sister spends all of her time creating inscrutable machines that allow her to locate and capture the souls of the ethereal flying fish inhabiting a nearby field. Abstract sculptures of unknown origin have been appearing randomly throughout town. Oh, and Chito and Yuuri are here too. Sort of? At least, two people who look and act just like them live in the town and make frequent appearances. (I swear Tsukumizu is screwing with us. At one point, we see them enjoying a meal at a family restaurant named “Heaven”. The Yuuri lookalike suddenly shouts “Heaven is the best! Ahh, so glad I died!” ::shakes fist:: Tsukumizuuuuuuuuu!!!)

Shimeji Simulation is a deeply surreal experience, and that’s firmly established even before the boundary between dreams and reality crumbles, Shimeji is forced to flee from a giant crab through an abstract and lifeless cityscape, and a bunny-eared Majime saves her while riding Shimeji’s fish-shaped pencil case.

But what you’re getting is far more than a wacky sequence of abstract gags. Shimeji and Majime both battle very different forms of depression: Shimeji fled human contact by dropping out of school and living in a closet for two years, while Majime berates herself for seeking human contact so desperately and awkwardly that she inevitably gets rejected by everyone she wants to become friends with. She does manage to become friends with Shimeji, but the initial dynamic is exasperated apathy from Shimeji in response to Majime’s clumsy, suffocating affection. Majime even asks Shimeji to become her girlfriend that very first day, and Shimeji appears to agrees more to shut her up than anything else.

Despite the circumstances under which they meet, it’s clear that Shimeji wasn’t going to make friends any other way, and she seems to understand that Majime’s affection for her is real. At one point Majime catches herself Being Way Too Much again and starts apologizing over and over. She can’t always help being the way she is, and she’s completely terrified that she’s going to drive Shimeji away. Socially stunted as she is, Shimeji isn’t able to engage with Majime’s emotions directly, so she just pokes her in the cheek. It’s Shimeji’s roundabout way of reassuring her that it’s all okay, and Majime gets the point. It’s such a brilliant little moment.

As the volume progresses a recurring pattern sets in, with chapters ending when Shimeji goes to sleep for the day. As these scenes build up, we notice two major changes. One is that each time she reflects on her relationship with Majime, she has a harder time playing it off as meaningless. She grows increasingly comforted by thoughts of Majime, as hesitant as she is to admit it. The other change is that we’re drawn increasingly deeper into her dreams. The first time we see Shimeji go to sleep, we’re specifically told she does not dream. The second time, we see a brief, confusing glimpse of a single moment. The third time, we see an entire scene play out. This pattern culminates in the volume’s phantasmagorical finale.

All throughout, Tsukumizu’s singular artistic style looms. I was worried that their art would be overly constrained by the strict 4-koma format, but what a needless concern that was. Panel boundaries are taken not as a limitation but a challenge. A telephone pole rises up to frame one strip. Gnarled branches creep their way around and over top of the panels. Shimeji’s stroll through the town is grounded in an impossibly angled skyline, mirroring the unfamiliarity she feels with a new part of town. Even regular pages feature the artist’s signature style, with small girls framed by monumental architecture. Mood is effortlessly conveyed through the sparse, wavering lines and a dream world that could be straight out of Chito and Yuuri’s travels.

I can’t overstate just how immediately and intensely this manga clicked with me, and how limitless its potential feels right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the long run, but for now all I can say is thank fucking goodness Tsukumizu exists. What an absolute legend.

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Slow Loop
(Uchino Maiko | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Forward | 3 volumes [2 read] | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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When Houkago Teibou Nisshi went on COVID hiatus, I decided to finally pick up the Kirara fishing manga I’d heard a bunch of positive things about. I probably could have read the third volume before I posted this, but I’d like to put down my first impressions before I get too far along. You never know how long a slice of life series will run, after all. Besides, there’s already plenty to unpack in these two volumes! At the risk of counting one’s fish before they hatch, I’d say that Slow Loop is so good that I won’t be the least bit surprised if it blossoms into one of the all-time Kirara greats.

Slow Loop is the story of two girls brought together by their respective parents’ remarriage. Hiyori’s father passed away when she was younger, while Koharu lost her mother and little brother. In some series this sort of loss would only serve as setup, and wouldn’t have much bearing on the characters’ present day. But Slow Loop treats these relationships with a great deal of care. It reminds me of nothing so much as one of my all time favorites, Koufuku Graffiti, in its ability to explore parent/child relationships, the grief of losing a parent or guardian you loved dearly, and how your struggle affects the people who care about you. Instead of being a manga about “girls going fishing”, it’s about “girls fishing as a shared interest that strengthens their bonds and allows them to work out deeper issues”, just like Koufuku was not a manga about “girls enjoying food”, it was about “girls understanding their most important relationships through the preparation and sharing of meals together”.

When you compare Hiyori and Koharu’s personalities, the natural conclusion is that Koharu’s going to adapt to this new situation quickly, but Hiyori may take longer to adjust. The opening chapter is explicitly framed to reinforce this impression, and you might not even stop to process that Koharu is the one who had to move into a new home and transfer schools. Koharu’s arrival shakes up Hiyori’s status quo, but Koharu’s entire life has been started anew. She’s self-conscious about moving into Hiyori’s deceased father’s room. She’s nervous about how to interact with her new mother. She’s trying so hard to share Hiyori’s fishing interests without coming off like she’s invading Hiyori’s personal space. She’s got to play years of catch-up to come to know Hiyori as well as Hiyori’s friends do. As Koharu reveals more of these vulnerabilities, both we and Hiyori come to appreciate what she’s going through. And when Hiyori sees Koharu working hard, she finds the courage to start opening up to her new dad. It’s an elegant way to introduce your characters to an audience.

Then there’s Hiyori’s friend Koi, who works at her family’s fishing goods shop. Two volumes in, she’s easily my favorite character and I’ll be shocked if that changes. It’s through Koi’s eyes that we’re shown the aftermath of Hiyori’s father’s death, and we learn just how wretched she felt that she lacked the courage and emotional maturity to be by Hiyori’s side in those days. She was still a very young child and could hardly be expected to handle the situation herself, but her sense of devotion to Hiyori is strong, and Koi feels like she failed her. But whatever regrets she feels over the past are more than repaid, in my opinion, but what an incredible friend she’s become in the present. The second volume is just Koi being an all-star from start to finish. She always knows the right thing to do and say to bring together the people around her. But she’s got a blind spot for dealing with her own familial tensions, and I’m already psyched for the eventual arc where her friends pay back all the kindness and insight she’s given to them when they help her out of a pinch.

Slow Loop has ambitions well beyond your typical club- or hobby-based slice of life series, and it’s already abundantly clear that Uchino Maiko has the writing ability to deliver on it. If this series can make it to a solid 6-8 volumes, and even get an anime adaptation, it’s going to be an absolute must-experience. Personally, I’d argue it already is. Do not sleep on this.

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(Mountain Pukuichi | Houbunsha / Manga Time Kirara Forward | 8 volumes [3 read] | Ongoing | Bookwalker Listing)
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Normally I’d have picked his up after finishing the anime, but the unfortunate production circumstances that show suffered are well known at this point. Even so, I would have stuck out any amount of melting character designs (I finished Hachinai after all!) if it didn’t start heavily utilizing CG during matches. Alas, I had to drop a Kirara show, and one with super fun characters to boot. But that simply will not do, will it? Thankfully, that’s where the manga comes in. Baseball, like all sports, is something I only interact with under two circumstances: a video produced by Jon Bois, or an anime/manga about cute gay girls playing said sport. We’re still in something of a mini-Renaissance for girls sports anime and manga, and this also marks the third sports or sports-adjacent Kirara title to be adapted in the past two years (Harukana Receive’s volleyball, Anima Yell’s cheerleading, now Tamayomi’s baseball).

From what I’ve heard I haven’t yet covered everything the anime did, because the anime covered a pretty hefty six volumes or so. That’s more than usual even for a Forward adaptation, but I guess it makes sense if the next few volumes are all about the tournament that just got underway in volume three. An anime can adapt a significant number of chapters pretty quickly if they’re all action. Thankfully I’ve found that Tamayomi, at least to this point, hasn’t skimped on the character interactions off the field. Before I started it I heard that it was really focused on the sport to the exclusion of much else, but so far I don’t feel like that’s true. Sure everything revolves around the sport, but much like with Harukana Receive the sports-life balance feels solid. Certainly it’s not as slice of life as Anima Yell, but I think that makes sense; cheerleading lends itself to a different dynamic than a competitive team sport. Not that cheerleading doesn’t have competitions but Anima Yell could be argued to have more in common with something like Hanayamata than Tamayomi.

In the three episodes of the anime I watched, I was drawn towards Ibuki and Yoshino most of all, and that’s held true in the manga as well. I actually really like a good chunk of the team and don’t dislike any of them, but between Ibuki/Yoshino and Nozomi, apparently the trick is being blonde? Tamaki and Yomi are obviously a delight as well, but I appreciate that Tamayomi is really treating itself as a team sport, and like Hachigatsu no Cinderella Nine it takes care not to focus exclusively on its main duo.

While I’ve only just started the big tournament as of volume three, Tamayomi has already started exuding some of those good Saki vibes during the bracket seeding tournament seeding lottery. Seeing Yoshino fangirl about all the interesting teams participating in the tourney really hypes up the upcoming matches. Even during the earlier match against Yanagawa, Tamayomi exhibited exactly the sort of thing I like to see from a sports anime: interesting, sympathetic opposing teams. Ayumi in particular was delightful, and the first round tournament match against Kagemori is shaping up just as well if not even better. If your story is even minimally competent, I probably already care about the protagonists’ team. So if you really want to get me invested in the outcome of a match, especially when it’s pretty obvious the protagonists will win, you must get me to care just as much about the team they’re facing. Tamayomi currently nails that.

I’ve seen a handful of minor spoilers from anime screenshots that promise at least one interesting and unexpected coupling, and I’m eager to see how that plays out. I’ve known Mountain Pukuichi for well over a decade as a yuri doujinshi artist, so I had reason to hope that they’d try to slip at least some romance past Houbunsha’s editors. Given some of the earlier scenes between Tama and Yomi, I think we may be in for some fun. I’m also really impressed with how much Mountain Pukuichi’s art has evolved over the years. There’s a dynamic feeling to the manga that doubly undescores what an unfortunate mess the poor anime was.

But whatever else happens, I’m fully confident that I’ll always be cheering on Shin Koshigaya’s most precious treasure, Ibuki. I don’t usually think of characters in the “I wish she were my my daughter” way, but jeeze, I kinda get it in Ibuki’s case. Every incremental success she achieves leaves me glowing with pride. I want her to grow up healthy and strong. I want to shout encouragement at her from the bleachers. I’d take a bullet to protect her adorable, often completely bewildered, smile. Of all the good girls, she ranks among the goodest. Ganbare, Ibuki!

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