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Viewing all posts with tag: publisher: shueisha



[Manga Review] Beware the Witch Boy: Komori Yōko’s Kokage-kun wa Majo

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)From mid-2015 to late 2016, a strange candy-coloured jewel sparkled brightly in Shueisha’s Gekkan YOU, a monthly josei manga magazine which has a target demographic from youngish female office workers to women in their 50s who all have been reading shoujo manga for a long time, and which usually offers a line-up of mostly romance, comedy and slice of life josei manga by shoujo manga veterans. Yet sometimes it is in the most unexpected places you can find the most unusual, charming little gems, in this case a short series called Kokage-kun wa Majo (subtitled Kokage-kun Bewitched, but more literally translated Kokage-kun is a Witch), published separately in 3 comic volumes.

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)Its young artist, Komori Yōko, is a very recent graduate of Bunsei University of Art and neither a former Betsuma author now graduated to YOU nor a veteran like Hagio Moto, who are all more typical for the latter magazine’s roster. But Komori’s unique art style and inventive story-telling definitely deserve a closer look if you’re interested in exciting new talents. She only has two previous 2-volume series under her belt, one astronomically themed, the other one taking place in a maritime setting, which were also serialized in YOU. In these two works, she has already been able to impress readers with her quiet but entrancing stories and her stunning yet clean art relying heavily on natural motifs. Here, in Kokage-kun wa Majo it’s the plants-growing-out-of-cute-boys-and-girls, slightly pagan aesthetics so popular among professional and amateur artists right now which are combined with pastel secondary colors, playful gothic lolita accessories and fairy tale elements in a suburban and later on more fantastic setting providing a backdrop for a surprisingly dark love story.

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)Yumeko, our female protagonist, is a cute but lazy and self-indulgent girl who likes rolling around on the floor of her room in just a pair of panties and her school uniform top. Together with her mother, she lives in a decrepit community apartment building, a fact she’s been trying to hide from the girls in her class – and often from herself as she dreams herself away, imagining herself to be a princess swimming in cute clothes, candy and cakes. (We’re back to an old danchi as the childhood home of a shoujo manga heroine here; see Yamakawa Aiji’s previously reviewed Yajirobee for another example.) But that creepy old apartment building appears to have been hiding one secret from her too, as Yumeko finds out one day: there’s a boy living deep in the mysterious forest located on the roof of the building. The two argue a lot from their first meeting on, but there is something special about him that draws Yumeko back to his green oasis on top of the house. When Yumeko finds herself in a dangerous situation, it turns out that Kokage-kun, while biologically a boy, possesses helpful magical powers linked to nature which he inherited from his mother, making him a male witch!

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha) Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)Kokage-kun was supposed to take part in an “orgia” with a demon (akuma) to gain his full magical powers. He didn’t want to, though – for hidden reasons closely connected to Yumeko. The demon, however, never accepted Kokage-kun’s rejection and can’t let go of his desire for the witch boy and his right to an orgy with him. (And yes, that orgy is exactly what it sounds like ;) His plan is to get closer to Kokage-kun by using Yumeko who is flattered by the sudden attention of the demon in the disguise of a rather good-looking schoolboy. Of course, Yumeko is doomed to get hurt once she finds out the demon’s true intentions and is shocked when she hears about that orgia business.

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)Things get even more complicated when Yumeko realizes that her own feelings for the witch boy are slowly changing when her best friend Nanao falls in love with him. But there is a mysterious strong bond between Yumeko and Kokage: they seem to have a shared past Yumeko doesn’t remember, the proof being a photograph she finds of her and him smiling happily in a field of sunflowers… This is just the beginning of Yumeko’s and Kokage-kun’s dangerous journey to the bottom of darkness which is lightened up by hope, friendship and wonders, more witches, demons and a puppet master, a journey to recover Yumeko’s lost memories of a forgotten love – and to overcome death.

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)Like mentioned in the beginning, Komori Yōko’s artwork is absolutely delightful! From the beautiful color illustrations for the book covers, sweetly pastel-hued like Yumeko’s beloved candy, to the retro but sparkle-free character designs, which convey emotions expertly through lively facial expressions, to the atmospheric settings – there’s just so much that pleases the eye without ever being overwhelming. The page designs throughout are mostly clean, with the action often put into tidy panels, but also feature pretty details and natural ornaments, like insects, flowers, or even leaves growing out of bodies. But the pages never appear overwrought or overloaded, just as the story is not convoluted but – despite its growing complexity – easy to follow throughout the three volumes. And what is important to stress is that the art of a wildly growing nature is not just a visual gimmick here, as the life force of nature is crucial to the bitter but ultimately sweet story. Komori is also a master of creating memorable scenes just by putting her whimsical characters, fully fleshed out with their own weaknesses and quirky habits, into charming sceneries and settings: the run-down yet retro-cute community housing complex, a haunted forest, a day at the beach that envelopes the reader in its atmosphere so successfully you’ll find yourself able to smell the salty air and hear the cries of the seagulls!

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)Komori Yōko is not just a wizard of ink and colours: her series is brimming with small inventive ideas which are delivered both through the art and the story itself. Her talent for plotting and story-telling is just as outstanding as her art, as she presents us with a narrative full of twists and turns. Our starting point is witnessing the antics of our lazy heroine, her hilarious lack of self-discipline and her little quarrels with the witch boy, the tone being light and fun with a slight hint of melancholia. As the story unravels it turns surprisingly complex and deeply emotional, combining elements of comedy, fantasy, romance, adventure and even boys’ love. It sometimes even ventures into the surreal which again provides the reader with some unusual art to go along with it.

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)The cast is growing too as Yumeko and Kokage later on are joined by more and more magical companions. And it’s the deepening bonds with Yumeko’s friend from school, Nanao, and another witch girl called Moe that are really nice to watch, as this manga is not just a fantasy romance manga but also depicts friendships among girls in a realistic, multi-layered way. However, the heart of the manga remains Yumeko’s and Kokage-kun’s dangerous journey, as the question of whether the two will be able to save their future together is what will keep readers devouring the pages, desperately hoping for a happy end…

Kokage-kun wa Majo by Komori Yoko (Margaret Comics YOU, Shueisha)It’s been a while since Kokage-kun wa Majo ended its run and there has been no word on a new work by Komori Yōko, neither short nor long. But now that the artist has finished her art school education, we have to keep our fingers crossed she’ll be able to continue her career as a manga artist and find a lot of support in the future as both her quirky art and story-telling abilities truly stand out in the often rather homogenous sea of mainstream shoujo/josei manga.

Title: Kokage-kun wa Majo – Kokage-kun Bewitched (木陰くんは魔女。)
Author: Komori Yōko (小森羊仔)
Volumes: 3 (2016; completed)
Magazine: Gekkan YOU
Label: Margaret Comics YOU
Publisher: Shueisha
Additional information: Have a look at the first pages of volumes 1, 2 and 3 on the publisher’s site.

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Posted on Apr 16, 2018 (Mon, 11:36 pm). .

[Manga Review] Who’s got your back? Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)In the past few years, the big three manga magazines for elementary school girls have been spicing up their usual mix of romantic comedies, school dramas, idol and magical girl manga with a spine-tingling element of horror. Ribon‘s most successful title of this wave is Ishikawa Emi’s Zekkyō Gakkyū (Screaming Lessons, alternatively Scary Lessons for its French and German translations by Tokyo Pop) which was published as 20 volumes from 2009 to 2015. This collection of surprisingly shocking short stories – considering its young target readership – was turned into a live-action movie in 2013, received the Shogakukan Manga Award in the childrens’ manga sub-category in 2014 and has recently been revived for a sequel called Zekkyō Gakkyū Tensei (Rebirth), with 6 volumes published so far.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)Right between the original series and its sequel, Ishikawa worked on a shorter, 2-volume series titled Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan (lit. Hikaruko-chan Behind You) which gives off a distinct Japanese horror flavor just like Ishikawa’s longer hit title but relies much less on shockingly scary scenes and replaces them with a bittersweet portray of a ghost girl who’s trying to reach back out into the world of the living.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)After an accident that should have been fatal at the young age of 14, timid Asahana Hikaruko finds herself unable to leave our world completely behind her. Her lingering attachment to her old life and Haruki, the boy she’s had a crush on for so many years but for whom she was unable to openly show her support, leads her into an arrangement with a handsome instructor of the office for vengeful spirits. From now on, if she doesn’t want her spirit to disappear completely, Hikaruko has to prove herself as an onryō, a vengeful spirit, by scaring her designated ‘targets’, making them scream or cry with fear. But instead of being all that frightening she’s much more interested in helping others, for example Hana, an elementary school girl who is bullied at school and almost driven into suicide before Hikaruko gives her the strength – a little push in the back – to confront those torturing her.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)Thus, Hikaruko’s boss is starting to run into trouble because his novice isn’t able to prove herself to be much of a success by the standards of the other vengeful spirits. Hikaruko-chan however carves out her own identity as a supporter to those in need, something she herself wasn’t capable of doing during her lifetime. Sooner or later this will inevitably lead to Hikaruko and Haruki meeting again, but in a different way than Hikaruko imagined it, and Haruki will have to decide between – literally – the world of the living and the dead.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha) Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)
Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha) Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)

Ishikawa’s short but sweet series provides a peak into the lessons learned between life and death making use of the concept of miren (未練), a sort of regret or – more positively – lingering affection and attachment that let’s our protagonist ghost girl stay close to the world of her old self but also makes it hard to let go of the people she used to love. In the course of her existence as a spirit, Hikaruko learns to motivate people to move forward, to seize the day and make the most of the time that is giving to them during their lives, something that unfortunately Hikaruko no longer has the chance to do.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)Both the episodes told throughout the series and the overarching plot are engaging and touching as Ishikawa has managed to create a likeable protagonist facing a task she thinks she’s completely unfit to fulfill and an interesting and diverse cast, like the handsome older ghost instructors or eccentric vengeful spirits. Each side character leaves an impact, influencing the main story around Hikaruko and her crush Haruki, propelling it forward with Hikaruko’s emotional evolution as a ghost, the dead girl watching over everyone protectively from behind.

Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan by Ishikawa Emi (Ribon Mascot Comics, Shueisha)With its cute character design and an intriguing ghost story that’s never too complex, there remains no doubt that this series is primarily targeted towards a very young readership. But its well-balanced mélange of the spooky, the funny and the melancholy should speak to older shōjo manga readers as well. Whereas there are some pretty heavy shocking moments in Ishikawa’s long-running hit series Zekkyō Gakkyū and its Tensei sequel, Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan only as a very mild horror taste making it perfect for people who usually don’t read horror manga and also need a bit of psychological depth and development in their stories. With these two volumes you’re in for a nice treat for the Halloween season without a second of boredom. And despite the heavy topic of death looming in the background and its urgent message to support the people you like while you can, there is a lot of warmth and humour here which makes reading this series all the more satisfying!

Title: Ushiro no Hikaruko-chan (うしろの光子ちゃん)
Author: Ishikawa Emi (いしかわえみ)
Volumes: 2 (2015)
Magazine: Ribon
Label: Ribon Mascot Comics
Publisher: Shueisha
Additional information: Have a look at the first pages of volume 1 and 2 on the publisher’s site. In an author’s comment on the inside of the dust jacket of volume 2, Ishikawa mentions her eagerness to continue working on this series. No news on that for the moment though, so this should be considered a completed series for now.

On a final side note, I really like Ishikawa Emi’s non-horror short stories she’s published in Ribon and its special seasonal editions – I really hope they’ll be collected in tankōbon format soon! (Shueisha, do you hear me?!)

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Posted on Oct 31, 2017 (Tue, 12:23 am). .

[Manga Review] More Than Family: Yajirobē by Yamakawa Aiji

Yajirobee 1 by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)One of the most horrible things that can happen to a young child is to lose its mother. This is exactly what happened to 5-year old Haru. Now, 10 years later, Haru looks back on her life with Seiji, her stepfather. Both are the only family they have for each other as Seiji has been keeping his distance from his own blood relatives since his strict grandmother never liked Haru’s mother. Haru realizes that Seiji still misses her mother and feels sad about the empty space she left behind both in his and in Haru’s life. Haru on the other hand also notices small changes in her feelings toward Seiji which leads her to confront the question what Seiji’s role has been so far and will be from now on in Haru’s life.

colour illustration for Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)Just like with a yajirobē, a T-shaped balancing toy with two little balls or weights hanging on the opposite sides of a thin strip of metal or other materials that spins around on a wood handle, the characters of the same-titled short manga series by Yamakawa Aiji (see our mangaka profile for her here) find themselves always at a distance from each other, a distance they reluctantly try to overcome. In a way, Haru can be seen as the wooden stick of the toy, the center around which different pairs of people circle. She observes their relationships to each other and to herself. When Seiji and Haru have to move out of their soon-to-be demolished apartment, she meets her childhood friend Bonta who she hasn’t seen in more than a year after he and his parents had moved out of the apartment next door. He’s a year older than Haru and classic shōjo manga love interest material – cool and aloof on the outside but also clumsily caring and attentive towards Haru. Haru cannot help but slowly realize there is now more than pure friendship between them. After she successfully manages to get into the same high school as Bonta, they see each other more regularly at school, a perfect chance to get a little closer to each other.

double page from Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)

Another pair Haru watches is Seiji and his friend Kawabata-san who squats at their apartment whenever he feels like it. And with a mixture of curiousity and jealousy Haru observes his stepfathers platonic relationship with Chie, a now divorced single mother and a stunningly beautiful woman who Seiji meets again at a flea market. Haru finds out that Seiji rejected Chie’s advancements years ago when they were university students. Chie is a person who wants to make everybody like her so Seiji’s resistance to her charms is a puzzle to Chie, Kawabata and Haru alike. Even more confusing to Haru is Towa, Chie’s son who is one year younger than Haru. He seems a little mysterious and excentric but also tries to reach out to Haru whenever they meet. Then there’s Seiji and Chie who can’t seem to get closer to each other because Seiji always sees Haru as the priority in his life.

While in her monologues Haru often ponders the people and things she has lost so far in her life, the manga as a whole feels both mellow and light-hearted a lot of the time. Haru was lucky enough to have Seiji by her side after her mother died so her death wasn’t quite as traumatic as it could have been to other less fortunate children. Seiji fully takes on the roles of a father and a mother. He almost turns into a housewife for Haru, showing her how to cook (and letting her do things her way even when she fails) and how to grow vegetables in his small garden. When he brings home some young tomato plants one day, Haru realizes after a while that Seiji raised her not from the seed but from the time she was already a small plant. And with Seiji’s care, love and attention she managed to grow and turn into something beautiful just like the tomatoes that are now ripening in their garden.

Yajirobee 2 by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)But the main theme in this manga remains the question of how to communicate your feelings and intentions to somebody else without being too imposing on the other person. How do you overcome your fear of being rejected when you feel attracted to somebody and want to tell them how you feel? These questions aren’t just raised in a romantic context. Haru learns how to be more open about her feelings from Towa’s mother Chie, a kind of ersatz mother. She also teaches Haru how to use makeup which Seiji as a man wouldn’t have been able to do. Something Haru still wants to achieve is help Seiji get closer to his seemingly cold and disapproving grandmother again. The possibility of her and Seiji gaining a bigger family is just around the corner…

chapter cover illustration for Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)A young girl and her stepfather, a teenage boy whose parents got divorced, remarried and are expecting a baby again, another boy who was raised by a divorced single mother, a young man who suddenly had to become a father to a girl who isn’t his relative by blood and who has lost contact with his own family because of that, another young man who – lacking a family of his own – finds company in the household of his old friend and his stepdaughter. These are the unconventional forms of family Yamakawa portrays through Haru’s observing eyes. There is a multitude of options for living together as human beings. And Haru realizes one important thing: she has to tell Seiji how she feels. In a long birthday letter that will not leave even the most stonehearted of readers untouched, she expresses her gratitude toward him for being exactly what a father is supposed to be to her. And yet until the very end of the story, a certain kind of ambiguity between her and Seiji will remain, because Haru finds out that Seiji and her mother’s relationship was about to change just before her death, making it also possible for Haru to take her mother’s place and to let Seiji become hers, something else than family…

double page from Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)

And thus the story ends on an ambiguous note. On the inside cover of the second volume, Yajirobē is listed as an ongoing work but Yamakawa started another longer series, Stand Up!, after this so one might as well see this as a finished work. Finished and accomplished. Yamakawa has managed to fully make use of the shōjo manga genre to tell a multi-facetted story with complex characters. There is an air of nostalgia surrounding Haru as she’s standing right between childhood and adulthood, something that makes it easy to identify with her whether you’re her age or an adult because it’ll make you recognize or remember your own feelings between longing for a childhood that’s now gone and the insecurities and uncertainties of becoming an adult. This is also mirrored in the art and the designs used for the cover with their nostalgic water colors, the soft retro color schemes with their white outlines contrasting with the chic and modern fonts used for the title.

double page from Yajirobee by Yamakawa Aiji (Shueisha)

Yamakawa’s beautiful art throughout the manga always makes it easy to become completely absorbed into Haru’s (and at times Seiji’s) thoughts and the way she observes her surroundings. Yamakawa’s story-telling is subtle, almost restrained yet deeply exploring, questioning without coming up with definite answers. (It’s actually very rewarding to read the manga a second and even a third time to fully grasp each character’s motivations, to get the full picture of what drives them, what sources of pain and hurt are buried in their pasts.) Her visual effects go along with that as her artwork is often light, airy, almost sketchy. When the story moves into heavier territory she often relies on completely black backgrounds on which the white text of the internal monologue – or as in one of the most moving scenes, Haru’s written words to Seiji – are almost etched into the readers’ eyes. Those sparse words leave an impact on the characters’ as well as the readers’ minds. The slender figures of the characters, the stream of consciousness-like floating monologue layered over tender scenes of the everyday, the subtle gestures between two characters fighting to overcome their distance without words – they all lend this manga a sense of fragility and vulnerability that never becomes too painful because Yamakawa’s main philosophy is that of a humane gentleness in social interactions.

Verdict: In a perfect world, this would have become a bestselling instant classic. But since it hasn’t, at least for the time being, it’s now up to us, the readers, to spread the word about this fantastic, moving, deeply human work. This a true gem not to be missed!

Title: Yajirobē (やじろべえ)
Author: Yamakawa Aiji (山川あいじ)
Volumes: 2 (complete; 2011-2012)
Magazine: Bessatsu Margaret, Bessatsu Margaret sister (2010-2011)
Label: Margaret Comics
Publisher: Shueisha

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Posted on Apr 6, 2017 (Thu, 1:38 am). .




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