Four-Leaf Clover Girl – Yotsuba

YotsubaA laid back, low maintenance comedy about the adorable but naïve little girl Yotsuba Koiwai.

Manga Title: Yotsuba
Mangaka: ­Azuma Kiyohiko
Genres: Comedy, slice-of-life
Demographic: Shounen

Yotsuba is exactly the easy-to-follow sort of read to uplift you, make you chuckle and give you a truly moe kind of feel. The main character is, of course, Yotsuba (which means four-leaf clover), a five year old, innocent girl learning all about the world around her. At the start of the manga she moves to a new town with her single parent father. Yotsuba’s father apparently found her abandoned in an overseas country, deciding to raise her.

yotsuba and dad

Yotsuba and dad

Her adventures begin immediately as she starts to wander her new neighborhood, meeting her neighbors – the Ayase household – that consists of 3 daughters: Asagi, Fuuka, Ena and their parents.


The Ayase Family

Most of Yotsuba focuses purely on her interactions with adults or kids slightly older than her, and the humor is most often derived from the way she reacts in an inexperienced, brash kind of way. These include Yotsuba’s father’s only friend, a giant of a guy named Jumbo, who visits occasionally and likes to take Yotsuba and her friends out.


Yup, he’s huge

Yotsuba begins to see the Ayase’s as family, going over to their house frequently and unintentionally getting up to mischief. The family members also visit her and her father regularly, which creates for some comic moments.

The art is what I’d called moe in at least one of its definitions – ‘a non-sexual desire to hug, love and protect’ (from Wikipedia), which it has in buckets. Other than that, it’s mostly situational comedy with Yotsuba reacting to the happenings around her in humorous ways. It’s not ROTFL material, but it’ll have you giggling plenty.


Ooops! She let the cicadas out

A Silent Voice

A Silent VoiceA Silent Voice speaks loudly about its themes and the struggles of its characters.

Manga Title: A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi)
Mangaka: Yoshitoki Oima
Genres: Drama, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard (some spoilers):
Shouya Ishida leaps from a bridge into the polluted water below, slams into concrete walls and jumps from high places to the ground with his other elementary school friends, all in an attempt the defeat the enemy he hates the most – boredom. Ishida’s friends stick with him despite the fact that they know they’ll eventually have to give it up – going along with their boredom-fearing buddy.

A Silent Voice

Ishida and friends

An unexpected event occurs one day that’ll change Ishida’s life forever; a transfer student comes to their school. The girl who transfers in, Shouko Nishimiya, has a hearing impediment. All his classmates, including Ishida himself, find it hard to comprehend the reality of this situation. Shouko can’t hear them properly and also speaks unclearly, surprising all the students as well as giving Ishida a sudden realization – the cure for his boredom has arrived.

A Silent Voice

Shouko Nishimiya

Starting one day, Ishida begins making fun of Shouko. First, shouting loudly behind her for all the class to see, he goes on to perform numerous actions that amount to outright bullying. All the while, their homeroom teacher takes an unwilling-to-get-involved stance, half-heartedly reprimanding Ishida for his actions. Other classmates join in too, finding fun in imitating Ishida’s actions at the expense of Shouko.

A Silent VoiceAll throughout the bullying, Shouko, while going through turmoil internally, never gets outright angry with Ishida – quite the opposite, she attempts to reach out to him on a few occasions and is continuously apologetic towards her classmates.

A Silent Voice

Reaching out

Everything eventually comes to a head after Ishida has broken many of Shouko‘s hearing aids. Her mother finally complains to the school and Ishida is singled out by the class for bullying. Despite the rest of the class’s involvement and his teacher’s negligence in dealing with the issue, Ishida is given the whole blame. On top of that, he becomes the target for abuse next, with Shouko eventually transferring out once again.

Ishida goes through a grueling time being on the other end of the stick – being the one bullied by his best friends for all his past actions. The bullying continues throughout the rest of his elementary school life and follows him to junior high, where the rumors persist and people ignore or gossip about him.

He decides to keep a low profile and not interact with others too much, literally marking everyone off as hopeless and himself as well.
Finally he comes to the conclusion that he’s going to end his life, after finding Shouko once more and apologizing to her. Little does he know that his meeting with Shouko will once again push his life in a different direction – one that he could never have imagined years before.

A Silent Voice


Pencil Sketch:
Ishida seems like a typical elementary student at first, constantly looking for fun and playing pranks with his friends. In part, his reasons for targeting Shouko for bullying were this very playful nature, and his attempts to escape boredom. At first he seems like the villain, the bully and someone you’d like to see get punished. For anyone who’s been the victim of bullying, Ishida would be an object of hate.

Essentially his character is purely that of a curious young boy who wasn’t specifically malicious, only trying to cure his boredom in a very incorrect manner. It’s arguable that the best thing that could have happened to him was being found out and Shouko’s transferring that made him become the object of everyone else’s scorn.

The tables are turned on him, and he can clearly see how Shouko must have felt in the same situation, and even comes to realize that when the bullying against him started, Shouko constantly attempted to reach out to him.

Ishida’s change of heart and understanding of his own errors is a rare one, something that perhaps people who’ve committed similar actions in their lives may never become aware of. This lends a deep respect for me towards his character, being able to accomplish something unique like that is no small feat, though admittedly it was only after a significant amount of hardship.

Shouko on the other hand, possibly having come from similar situations in the past, puts a brave face on as she faces the ridicule, impatience and eventual cruelty of her classmates. She always smiles, whatever comes her way, and has a gentle, compassionate personality. Though this may seem unrealistic, and arguably the situation she finds herself in would drive most people to rage or possibly depression, Shouko reveals how she deals with it in another way.

She blames herself for putting others out and troubling them. This guilt complex might have arisen from her condition, and partly because of her mother’s attitude and methods of dealing with Shouko’s problems.

Not much has been revealed about her mother’s background at the point I’m up to in the manga, except that she’s single and considers her daughter’s disability a burden that has brought her misery and anger. When Shouko eventually transfers her mother thinks it only natural, rather than dealing with the problem hands on.

Additionally, she’s harsh in her treatment of Shouko, also showing her own negligence in that she doesn’t even know how to sign in order to communicate properly with her daughter. Of course, raising a child with a disability would have inherent obstacles, however its plain to see that Shouko’s mother isn’t dealing with it in a way that’s helpful for her own emotional stability or Shouko’s.

The art in A Silent Voice stands out in clarity with captivating character designs and detailed backgrounds. At first glance it may seem that the title is being preachy, trying to earn sympathy from its readers, but I’ve never found that.

A Silent Voice is a heart tugging, gentle and often humorous tale that goes into the sincere heart of remorse and how it can change not only one person, but their entire life. Ishida’s cruelty and vile behavior gets turned upon him, nearly crushing him. Yet through his remorse, he finds some light in his life – in the silent voice of the heart that Shouko speaks to him with.

Within You and Without You – Inside Mari

mariThe most recent work by Shuzo Oshimi, the mangaka behind The Flowers of Evil, is another psychologically delving title that takes us deep into the thoughts of its main character – Mari.

Manga Title: Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological, drama, gender bender, mystery
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
Isao Komori, a college student who’s become a reclusive hikikomori, spends day after day playing away his time with games, erotic manga and visiting a local convenience store every night to get a glimpse of his ‘angel’.

Inside Mari

Isao Komori

His angel is none other than Mari Yoshizaki, a teenage high school girl – someone who looks for all intents and purposes like a model, moral student.

Usually Isao follows her every night for a short while before returning home, however one night she inexplicably turns around, staring him right in the eyes. The next morning Isao wakes up to find that he’s inside Mari – he’s taken over her body.

Inside Mari

Mari Yoshizaki

Spending an embarrassing day at school as Mari, he finds it difficult to keep up the pretense that he is a girl, whilst also trying not to do anything perverse to his angel despite being in her body. After searching for and finding his male self, he discovers that he is completely unaware of any change, going about life as usual.

Left with no other option, Isao temporarily has to be Mari, beginning a life whose social, physical and mental situations are completely unknown to him.

Inside Mari

A day in the life

Pencil Sketch:
Two main characters take up most of the stage, Mari (with Isao inside her) and Mari’s close but undisclosed friend Yori Kakiguchi. Isao is straightforwardly perverted, thus he’s immediately challenged to keep his hands to himself being inside Mari. Aside from that, not being a particularly social person in the first place, he’s constantly embarrassed and at a loss for what to do being surrounded by Mari’s peer group.

After being at school it becomes apparent that Mari truly is a hardworking student who is regarded highly by her peers. Trying to maintain the façade of being her increases in difficultly when going to the restroom, getting close to and even holding hands with other girls – Isao literally has a permanent blush on his face.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, Mari’s clandestine friend Yori enters. It appears they’d maintained a secret friendship as Yori isn’t in with Mari’s current group and she doesn’t want to spoil her social life.

Inside Mari

Yori Kakiguchi

Yori usually observes Mari quite closely, so she notices something is amiss, and confronts her about it. Backed into a corner, Isao reveals that he’s inside Mari – a situation that Yori is both creeped out by and concerned about. She’s desperate to make sure that until they recover the original Mari, Isao not even look at Mari’s (his) body while changing, let alone do anything to disrupt the flow of her daily life.

It’s revealed that Yori’s relationship with Mari, though secret, is extremely close and she is quite fixated with her.

Being the shut-in that he is, Isao blunderingly tries to maintain face, navigating his way through the complex storm that is a high school girl in Japan’s community life. He winds up discovering that the life of a girl is not quite the dream-life he may once have imagined.

What I expected from Inside Mari was perhaps another gender bender drawing on the amusing and awkward idea of someone being put into a person of the opposite sex’s body. Inside Mari is that, but so much more. Without singing Shuzo Oshimi’s praises too much, I have to say that he’s done it again; I haven’t read through a manga as fast as this in a while. Shuzo’s skill at portraying the clumsy awkwardness of youth and relationships between the sexes, the mental turmoil of puberty, the purity as well as the darkness of the mind as it grows into maturity – is amazingly done.

Like in The Flowers of Evil, he’s captured a tension and a need-to-know that hooked me right from the start. He’s also very honest in his portrayal, Inside Mari doesn’t gloss over the brooding, angst and pain that goes with coming of age and in peer groups, but displays it honestly. Once again he also shows the inner battle, confusion and occasional elation of his main character with ease.

Inside Mari is a journey into the psyche of sexuality, growing, and coming to terms with oneself and others. Family issues, interrelationship politics, and periods are just some of the difficulties that Isao has to face on his chaffing journey – inside Mari.


Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel AlitaGunnm, or as its better known, Battle Angel Alita, is a gritty cyberpunk classic, exploring themes well-known to the genre while taking some to new heights.

Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)

The Storyboard:
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Ido Daisuke is an inhabitant on the surface of Earth, living in a city called the Scrapyard – an area used to dump waste products by the dwellers of the mysterious Tiphares, a floating city that towers above.

battle angel alita


People living on the surface have to scrape a living together somehow, and most of them have cybernetically altered bodies to cope with the harsh life. Ido is a cyberphysician, but also hunts cyborg criminals for their bounties to make a living. One day he comes across the dismembered head and midriff of a young cyborg girl who’s been discarded in the scrapyard for unknown reasons.

battle angel alita

Alita’s head

Ido takes her home and begins the process of rebuilding her, using parts that he purchases with money from his bounties. Naming her Alita, Ido gradually assembles her robotic body – her brain still being intact – and she has regains full consciousness, except that she has no recollection of her former life. She decides she wants to aid Ido in his bounty hunting work.

battle angel alita

Alita’s 2nd body

The work is extremely dangerous, with Ido encountering powerful cyborgs such as Makaku, a deadly being with the bizarre habit of eating brains that acts as a kind of painkiller for him.

battle angel alita


Despite Ido’s admonishments, Alita joins him, encountering other bizarre denizens of the city along the way. During her interactions with them we find that while her body is almost completely robot, her heart and feelings are still very much those of a young girl.

The city of Tiphares looms overhead constantly, a source of great desire and dreams, as well as persistent mystery. Especially in Alita’s case, she was found in junkyard of materials from Tiphares, hinting at an unknown history she may have and a link to the enigmatic place.

Pencil Sketch:
Ido acts as Alita’s guardian, essentially a father figure for her, and considers her to be his main source of happiness. He dotes on her a lot and initially tries to keep her from the bounty hunting business, wanting her to stay the ‘angel’ that he envisions her to be.

Ido Daisuke

Ido Daisuke

Alita however has her own opinions about what she wants to do. Although grateful and protective of Ido, she also is very opinionated and forges her own path, meeting other individuals and forming friendships along the way.

For Alita, she has no memory of her former life, and is essentially bodiless, making her constantly question who she is. Ironically she’s able to get flashes of memory when she’s engaged in combat, making her want to train herself even harder to discover her identity. Her growth is well developed, starting from her initial naivety about the world, to a much greater understanding of its harshness and grim truths. Despite this she remains cheerful, showing us her youthful, feminine side whilst being a badass cyborg killer. The name ‘Battle Angel’ couldn’t be more apt to describe her.

She reveals herself to be compassionate, considerate and even falls in love with another boy character, Hugo, who appears in the second volume. One thing she seems unable to shake though, is the cruel life thrust upon her and all the dwellers on the surface, who continually live in the shadow of the city Tiphares.

In the first two volumes, minor side characters appear, notably Hugo. He grew up on the surface and had painful family experiences. He eventually resorts to a life of crime in order to obtain money and earn his way into Tiphares. He becomes a romantic interest for Alita, who loves his dreamy visions of escaping the junk-filled life they have and starting a new one on the city above.

battle angel alita

Alita and Hugo

Among the more prominent titles of cyberpunk I’ve comes across in manga (like Ghost in the Shell and Blame!) Gunnm’s characters stand out as having more color and emotion. Even the cyborgs encountered by Alita in her battles are mean characters, with foul attitudes to boot.

The style of Gunnm is pretty much hard sci-fi in many ways; most of the gadgets presented in the manga get specific footnotes explaining their operation. Despite not being as dark as the above mentioned titles Gunnm is brutal and has its share of gore. Even though it was first published in 1990, there is such attention to detail that Gunnm looks cool even by today’s standards.

battle angel alita

Alita in action

I’d easily call Gunnm a cyberpunk epic, with mind-blowing art, innovative ideas for the time it was created, a varied cast of cyborg and human characters and not to mention the intriguing question of Alita’s origins and how she’ll trace her way to finding her true self.

Battle Angel Alita is one of the first real anime titles I saw. Back when the distributor Manga Entertainment was still producing titles a friend bought copies of Alita, Akira and Vampire Hunter D, which I loved on first watch. It’s great to return to this series that was one of the first that started me down the road into anime/manga land!

There Can Be Only One – Future Diary

Mirai Nikki

Future Diary is a gem among survival game titles I’ve encountered, keeping up a thick tension all the way and with a host of atypical characters.

Manga Title: Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
Mangaka: Sakae Esuno
Genres: Action, psychological thriller, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
14 year old Yukiteru (Yuki) Amano has a hobby that at first seems rather ordinary – keeping a diary on his cellphone – but turns out to be something extraordinary. Introverted and anti-social, Yuki spends his free time at school keeping his diary and comes home to enter an imaginary world he thinks is of his own making, ruled by a god named Deus Ex Machina.


Deus Ex Machina

One day Deus announces that Yuki will be taking part in a game to select the next god – a survival game – but the catch is that the game involves cell phones. Yuki’s cell phone (referred to as a diary) is now equipped with a certain special function – being able to predict with accuracy what will occur around him in the future, which appears as text on his phone’s screen. His diary doesn’t give any hints as to his own future though, thus it’s called the Random Diary.

Mirai Nikki

Yuki and the Random Diary

Initially shocked by the cell’s accuracy in prediction, Yuki attempts to continue with his daily school life, meeting another diary holder in the process – Yuno Gasai. Yuno is Yuki’s classmate, however Yuki knows little about her other than she’s beautiful and got great grades.

Mirai Nikki

Yuno Gasai

Shortly after announcing that she knows about Yuki’s diary, she shows him her own, which she refers to as the Yukiteru Diary. Her diary displays all of Yuki’s actions over a ten-minute course of time. Yuno is at first forceful, then very affectionate towards Yuki, saying she has a strong desire to protect him in this deadly survival game. Terrified, Yuki barely has time to think before discovering that they too are being pursued by a tall, masked man who’s out to kill them.

Mirai Nikki

The Third

The man is also a diary holder, the first of many Yuno and Yuki will encounter throughout the series. Yuki discovers there are nine in total, and that each of them is trying to kill off the other diary holders. Quite simply, if the other holder’s diary is destroyed they die at the same time, and Deus will proclaim the last survivor to be the new god.

The three assailants Yuki comes across in the first volume all have their own unique diaries too. They all just refer to each other by their numerical orders – Yuki being the first, Yuno the second. The third diary holder has a Murder Diary which can see the methods he uses to catch and kill his targets. Later on Yuki also encounters the ninth and the fourth as well.

While Yuki fights with his paranoia about Yuno, his fear of the other dairy holders and of dying in the fatal game, Yuno puts her life on the line to protect him again and again. She shows a disregard for her own safety and an addictive, protective love for Yuki verging on being psychotic.

The stakes are high and the clock is ticking; with enemies all around and unsure of who to trust, Yuki enters the survival game of the diary holders where the only person he can actually call an ally seems to be crazy herself.

Mirai Nikki

The diary users

Pencil Sketch:
Mirai Nikki is unusual for turning around common hero/ heroine tropes. The ‘hero’ Yuki is anything but – he gives up quickly, whimpers a lot and lets Yuno fight most of his battles for him. Even though he’s aware of his own pitifulness, he still feels like he’s in a corner. In a sense he’s relatable, it’s far easier to assume that you’ll act bravely and protect everyone under difficult circumstances, but a more likely truth is most people would be scared and start panicking.

Mirai Nikki

Common expressions for Yuki

To his credit, Yuki does try to break through his fears again and again, though mostly when he’s pushed into near death situations.

I noticed a slight difference between the manga and the anime in that the manga has some inner monologue from Yuno’s perspective.  This has the effect of making Yuno seem less sinister than she did in the anime. She’s really proactive, taking the reins to fight back against the other diary holders when Yuki goes weak at the knees. Aware of all his actions; Yuno stalks him, keeping a close watch over him and displaying an inexplicable love for him that remains one of the mysteries of the series to be explained later.

Yuno’s personality has been classified as ‘yandere’ in anime/manga jargon, the best suitable words I can find to describe her myself is ‘sadistically clingy’. The enigma of Yuno is a special one as her endearing qualities are almost on a par with her insane ones – thus creating a sort of ‘dark heroine’ quality about her that has endeared her to a lot of fans. Check out most image posts on Mirai Nikki and for sure you won’t be seeing Yuki.

Mirai Nikki

A yandere in love

Other diary holders are introduced in the first volume and of course more later on, but one thing is for sure – not one is ordinary and almost all have the intention of being god themselves.

The mascot of Mirai Nikki, Muru Muru, doesn’t appear a lot in the first volume but I wanted to mention her as well. She Deus’s servant, initially playing the role of an indifferent observer, however she takes a far more active role later on in the story. She provides a bit of comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious title.

Mirai Nikki

Muru Muru brings a bit of humor

Quite a few titles involving cell phones used in survival games came out before and after Mirai Nikki, but among them I’d have to say it’s one of the best. The pacing is excellently done, setting up a tense, fast feeling that doesn’t stop each chapter.

Mirai Nikki’s characters all display manic emotions, from extreme anger and fear to literally psychotic meltdowns – all drawn amazingly by Sakae Esuno. Though not being particularly endearing, the characters are extremely interesting and convention challenging. Topped off with a creative spin on the powers of cell phones and the mysterious game set up by Deus ex Machina – Mirai Nikki is undeniably a gripping, inventive page turner.

If I have any beef at all about the manga it would be a few holes in the logic of cell phones’ usage, but as usual with such titles, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. The important thing is that I didn’t feel the amount required was significant enough to detract from the enjoyment of the series.

I decided to pick up the manga after reading Albert Nakano’s post on the anime (check out his article on it here ( I saw the anime when it aired between 2011- 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it; revisiting the manga now is no less enjoyable than when I watched it.

Honey and Clover

Hachimitsu (2)While a lot of manga titles are set in high school, Honey and Clover takes a look at college/university life and the growth its characters experience there.

Manga Title: Hachimitsu to Clover (Honey and Clover)
Mangaka: Chica Umino
Genres: Comedy-drama, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Josei

The Storyboard:
Yuta Takemoto is an architectural student at a university in Tokyo, living in the same apartment complex as two of his fellow students and friends: Takumi Mayama and Shinobu Morita. Each of them are happily going about their student lives when they are introduced to a freshman girl called Hagumi Hanamoto (Hagu) who is related to their art professor Shuji Hanamoto.

Yuta and Shinobu fall in love with her at first sight. Shinobu is infatuated by her cute appearance, constantly taking photos of her and even creating a webpage of his pictures. His approach doesn’t endear him much to Hagu, who reacts to him mostly with aversion.

Yuta on the other hand befriends her, initially unaware of his own love for her. He gradually gains her trust and discovers that she has a sweet, childish temperament.
As the two are friendly with Shuji, Hagu slowly starts to draw closer to them through their interactions, although romance seems to be the last thing on her mind.

Honey and Clover

Yuta, Hagu and Shinobu

Later another member of their group is introduced, the so called ‘Iron Lady’ Ayumi Yamada, who warms to Hagu quickly. Ayumi is physically very strong, hence her title, and is in love with Takumi. The love is unrequited however, because Takumi has feelings for another woman despite caring a lot for Ayumi.

Honey and Clover focuses on the interactions between these five characters (and their professor) as they grow closer, sharing the experiences of their lives all the way.

Honey and Clover

Takumi and Ayumi

Pencil Sketch:
Honey and Clover has a character driven plot, going from the group’s minglings with one another to their own backgrounds. The main lead is Yuta, a meticulous, unassuming young man who’s more sensitive to other people than the rest of the characters. He often doesn’t say what he really feels, which is especially how he is towards Hagu. That being the case he still has an admirable ability to find the good qualities in those he meets, making him a likeable protagonist.

Next is Takumi, a fourth year art student; brooding and somewhat self-absorbed, Takumi nonetheless is always there for his friends, joining in their get togethers and romps enthusiastically. Takumi’s love life is complicated by his affection for another woman, Rika, whilst knowing that Ayumi loves him. Even though he cares for Ayumi, he’s doesn’t return her love and tells her to forget about him.

Ayumi is usually self-assured and fiery tempered, often depicted giving Taekwondo kicks to anyone that pisses her off. She loves attention and compliments, soaking it up whenever someone says a good word about her. She states her affections for Takumi early on, and though rejected by him continues trying to win his heart, despite his not returning her feelings.

Of the group Shinobu is by far the most carefree and derpy. From the onset we see him sleeping late and missing classes, doing odd jobs and returning days later, and making genius pieces of art effortlessly. He’s a seventh year student, having been held back for tardiness in his projects. His love for Hagu begins immediately in a bizarre way; he seems to view her more as a doll than a person. Due to this she avoids him, but through the party’s activities they spend more time together.

Honey and Clover

Shinobu’s buff self-sculpture

Although she’s eighteen, Hagu has a temperament similar to a small girl’s. Also an art prodigy, she’s shown to ‘absorb’ the things she wants to paint and then reproduces them later on canvas, creating beautiful sculptures too. Having been almost brought up by Professor Hanamoto, they have a close relationship, staying with each other all the time. Hagu seems oblivious to both Shinobu and Yuta’s advances – happily getting along with both of them whilst the two men’s love for her deepens.

Honey and Clover

Hagu’s masterpiece

Lastly is Professor Hanamoto, at once a helpful guardian and friend to the group, he’s very devoted and protective over Hagu – ready to jump on the guys if they try anything. Hanamoto’s past is also connected to the love triangle between Ayumi, Makumi and Rika, a connection that unfolds as the story progresses.

Honey and Clover doesn’t attempt to express any profound messages or philosophy. It details the lives of friends on their journey through university and life. The difficulties they face, happiness they share, love that grows and bitterness they go through all blend into a sweet, touching story.

What I liked most about Honey and Clover are the moments of comedy scattered throughout and poignant reflections on life that come in controlled bursts. The humor is often generic, dealing with tropes frequently encountered in manga – but every now and then there are some genuinely comic moments. Due to this the poignant parts seem all the more deep and heart-tugging, being placed amidst the humor they seem to stand out even more.

Honey and Clover won’t make you sob, though tears may escape from your eyes – it won’t make you roll on the floor laughing, though it may make you let out a real, hearty chuckle. Genuine and visceral, I found myself smiling and feeling warm inside after putting it down.

Dreams and Reality – Bakuman

BakumanThere’s a huge amount of manga out there but once in a while one comes along that changes you. For me that manga is Bakuman.

Manga Title: Bakuman
Author/artist: Tsugumi Ohba/ Takeshi Obata
Genres: Slice-of-life, comedy/drama, romance
Demographic: Shounen

I was beginning to get into reading more manga when I came across Bakuman in a nearby bookstore. I started to read it and I just couldn’t stop turning the pages – my hands and heart had been set on fire by Tsugumi Ohba’s writing and Takeshi Obata’s art (the duo also behind Death Note).

The main characters Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi, who are classmates, decide to form an artist/ writer duo after Takagi sees some of Mashiro’s art in a scrapbook that he leaves behind in class. The scrapbook also has Mashiro’s drawings of his crush Miho inside it and at first he’s worried Takagi plans to show it to her.


A bit of self-referencing

Mashiro is hesitant at first; although a lover of manga, his uncle was a mangaka (manga artist and usually author too) who “worked himself to death”, therefore Mashiro initially ignores Takagi. Eventually Takagi convinces him in a dramatic way.


Mashiro and Takagi

They visit the house of Mashiro’s childhood sweetheart, Miho Azuki, who dreams of becoming a seiyu (voice actress) one day. Takagi declares that they are collaborating on a manga; caught up in the moment, Mashiro asks Miho to marry him once their manga is adapted into an anime and she is the seiyu for it.


Sharing a dream

Miho accepts, revealing her feelings for Mashiro, which she has held for him since elementary school. And so begins an intense and energetic journey into the world of the manga industry and into the heart of realizing dreams.

The pair starts from scratch, with Takagi writing and drawing rough sketches for Mashiro while he works on visualizing and drawing the art. They make their first submission to the famous Shueisha and meet with their future editor who sees their talent and encourages them to publish it in a one-shot for Weekly Shounen Jump. Their and Miho’s mutual friend Kaya Miyoshi helps them think up a pen name that combines their names and Miho’s…Ashirogi Muto. They work excruciatingly hard to attain serialization in Shonen Jump and eventually succeed with their first series, interacting with many manga artists along the way.


Rushing headlong…

Pencil Sketch:
Mashiro and Takagi share a similar enthusiasm and raw energy often seen in shounen protagonists. They both have a ‘genius is 99% perspiration’ mentality that’s extremely catching. Mashiro is a straightforward, down-to-earth type of young man who is ruthlessly earnest whether in drawing or romance. Though initially reluctant to do manga, after making his promise with Miho he goes into it full of gusto – and is even quite willing to learn from his fellow manga artists – who share a healthy competitive spirit.

Being conservative and traditional in many ways, Mashiro has a bashful approach to his relationship with Miho – even the slightest communication can have him blushing and feeling over the moon. Bakuman focuses mainly on Mashiro out of the Ashirogi Muto trio as he attempts to break through the unspoken curse left by his uncle and carve a path towards his dreams, while at the same time maintaining his artistic and personal integrity.

Takagi is far more of tactical and rational than Mashiro. Although as much of a fighting dreamer as him, Takagi is pretty methodical in his approach to writing manga and acts to balance out Mashiro’s fiery enthusiasm with logic, even though he’s often carried along with it anyway. He’s the script writer and does most of the original concepts for their manga pieces, which are often praised for their innovative and dark undertones. Despite their differences, Takagi shares the same passion as Mashiro and the two build a deep understanding and bond of friendship over time.

If anything the character that receives too little attention in Bakuman is Miho. Due to her and Mashiro’s decision to not be together until they fulfill their ambitions they’re separate most of the time, the focus being mostly on Mashiro and Takagi. Occasional peeks into Miho’s life and her progress along the path of a seiyu reveal her to be just as driven as the boys. She works hard at auditions for voice acting parts, gradually working her way up in the world of voice actresses.

Traditional and shy to a fault, Miho strictly adheres not only to her agreement with Mashiro, but is also truly devoted to him . The pure love between the couple is not without its difficulties, and the two of them both suffer from the loneliness and uncertainty that comes with their type of relationship.

Takagi’s love interest – Kaya Miyoshi is optimistic with a fiery temper. She often brings Takagi back to reality and teaches him some basic wisdom. Miho’s best friend and a constant companion to Takagi and Mashiro, Kaya lends positive support to the mangaka pair and is there to celebrate their joys with them and go through the difficulties too.


Miho and Kaya

A large supporting cast of fellow manga artists fills the panels of Bakuman. Notable among them is the eccentric Nizuma Eiji, also a winner of the Tezuka prize for manga when he was only 15. He becomes a long standing rival and thus a motivating force for our pair. Mangaka of the famous Crow series already being published, Eiji is considered a prodigy not only in his art, but in his unique way of creating drafts for his titles.

Other fellow artists include Shinta Fukuda, mangaka of a motorcycle manga Kiyoshi Knight, Ko Aoki, a young woman penning the fantasy title Hideout Door, a unique but lazy genius Kazuya Hiramaru – who draws a title called Otters 11, and the recluse Ryu Shizuka – drawing the manga True Human. Many other talented manga artists present themselves as the story progresses.

Bakuman characters 2 (2)

Nizuma Eiji, Shinta Fukuda, Ko Aoki and Kazuya Hiramaru

The thing that hooked me about this series is its vigor. The raw power, enthusiasm and unstoppable determination that Ashirogi Muto show throughout each chapter as they hurtle headlong towards their dreams is really something to read. They start pursuing their aspirations whilst still in junior high, so there are priceless moments in their high school where they talk about manga in the sick room, dream up stories and art during lessons and still go home to work all night to meet the deadlines for their submissions.

Another energetic element of the story is the strong rivalry and close camaraderie shared by the manga artists. They constantly try to outdo each other, whilst secretly rooting for one another, and being able to pick up the strong points of their adversaries. To add to the story’s charm is the fairytale like love between Mashiro and Miho, who don’t meet and only occasionally send brief emails of encouragement to one another until their dreams are fulfilled. The deep seated love they have, but complete stubbornness of not seeing each other is as heart rending as it is sweet.


Shy couple

Lastly, a fascinating aspect for me was learning of how the manga world works and watching the process of creation that Ashirogi Muto go through. Starting from the basics of rough sketches, to submissions and reviews by the board at Shueisha, they climb the ladder to serialization and once they reach it, they have to maintain their integrity and the quality of their stories throughout in an industry where it’s so easy to just start churning out uninspired and repetitious work in order to keep the cash coming in.

Ultimately Bakuman made me feel that it really is possible – if you have the dreams and vision, stick to your principles and never sell yourself out – dreams really do come true. The old cliché that we’ve all heard thousands of times before turns out to be a solid reality. After only reading halfway through the manga I was inspired to pick up my pen (or keyboard) and start writing again after not doing so for years. The power of this story is it can make you start saying ridiculous things like, “I’m gonna become a mangaka!” And…why not?

For another great article on Bakuman check out Manga Turtle here!

Warm Things – Natsume’s Book of Friends

Natsume Yuujinchou

“We all like hearts that seek something dear – and burn with life.”

Manga Title: Natsume Yuujinchou
Mangaka: Yuki Midorikawa
Genres: Drama, Supernatural
Demographic: Shojo

Natsume Takashi is a teenager who can see ghosts. His grandmother could also see ghosts and was notorious for beating them in competitions and making them subject to her will. After defeating any ghost, she’d write its name in her ‘Book of Friends’ so that she could call on them to do her bidding. If a ghost from the book was called, it would immediately have to do what Natsume’s grandma, Reiko, wished.

After Reiko passed away, Natsume inherited the book. Not knowing what it was for, the book remained unopened for many years.

Natsume goes through a semblance of a normal life with his caregivers, trying to avoid giving his unique abilities away. One day he’s chased by a ghost and runs across another spirit who’s trapped inside a shrine. Accidentally freeing the spirit, which is shaped like a maneki neko (lucky cat), it informs him that the ghosts are chasing him as they hate Reiko and want to get their hands on the Book of Friends.

It turns out that the cat, called Madara at first (later to be named Nyanko-sensei by Natsume), also wants the book, but to use it for his own ends. Natsume strikes a deal with him, agreeing that he’ll give Madara custody of the book should anything happen to him – on condition that Nyanko-sensei helps him with his dilemma.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Natsume and Nyanko-sensei

Nyanko-sensei explains that many of the spirits wish to be released from their binding in the book and shows Natsume how to return the names to the ghosts. First visualizing them, the Book of Friends will then turn to the appropriate page with the spirit’s name. After that, Natsume needs to place the paper with the name in his mouth and blow out. The spirits are then freed from their binding.

natsume releasing (2)

Natsume releasing a spirit

What follows is the tale of Natsume and Nyanko-sensei as they encounter the numerous spirits that Reiko wrote in her Book, gradually freeing them one by one, whilst drawing other entities to them. Many of the ghosts often aren’t friendly, bearing grudges against Natsume’s grandmother whom he resembles strongly.

In the process of clearing the Book of Friends Natsume comes across a variety of spirits. From small temple gods to the spirit of a passed bird, each is different, bearing their own unique tales.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Natsume’s friends

Pencil Sketch:
The characters in Natsume’s Book of Friends are a varied bunch. Natsume himself is initially a naive student who doesn’t know anything about the spiritual world he’s capable of seeing. After meeting the conniving Madara he starts to have more of an insight into them, and here’s where the magic of Natsume’s Book of Friends lies.

The spirits he meets are very human. Though their appearances have mostly gone beyond normal, they all still have hearts and needs that Natsume sympathizes with, and as we come to discover, his late grandma did too. When freeing some spirits, Natsume gets a peek into their existences when they were alive and sees that each soul had a poignant story to tell. He begins to like the spirits and to see their similarities to living people, in the same way Reiko did.

Nyanko-sensei acts as Natsume’s character foil. Constantly reminding Natsume that he wants his book only, he appears to be happily waiting for Natsume to meet his demise. Nyanko-sensei inadvertently helps Natsume a lot to deal with the spirits he meets, suggesting that a friendship between the two is blooming unbeknownst to them.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Nyanko-sensei’s true form

Towards the end of volume one Natsume encounters a boy, Kaname, who is also able to sense the presence of ghosts and will perhaps find a companion in him.

Natsume’s Book of Friends is a heartwarming tale that deals with a concept we’re all too familiar with – however ends up quite different. His journey of discovery about the realm just beyond our vision is touching and thought-provoking. Who would have thought that the ‘friends’ Natsume always sought, would be those who are not of this world?

In the tradition of GeGeGe no Kitaro, the manga pictures spirits in forms that are a mix between comical and spine-chilling. Whether you’re used to eastern ghost stories or not, Natsume Yuujinchou is a refreshing take on this familiar genre.

Mecha, Aliens and Space Opera – Knights of Sidonia

Knights of Sidonia From his raw beginnings with the cyberpunk classic Blame! we can see how much Tsutomu Nihei’s work has changed and grown in his more recent title – Knights of Sidonia.

Manga Title: Knights of Sidonia (Sidonia no Kishi)
Mangaka: Tsutomu Nihei
Genres: Science-fiction, space opera, mecha, romance
Demographic: Seinen

Taking place in the distant future, the space colony called Sidonia sails through space. Centuries prior to the start of the manga, humanity encountered an alien race known as the Gauna. Sometime after, a war between the huge aliens and humanity broke out, forcing people to flee earth aboard ‘seed ships’. Sidonia is one such ship, a wondrous, self-sustaining community that has made many advances not only in technology but also in genetic engineering.

Knights of Sidonia


Here we meet Nagate Tanikaze, a young man who dwells in the vast underground of Sidonia with his grandfather. Shortly after his grandfather passes away, Nagate embarks on a journey to the upper levels in search of food, finding himself in an unfamiliar world in the process.

Knights of Sidonia

Above the surface

The dwellers on the surface of Sidonia have discovered how to ‘photosynthesize’ thus reducing their need to digest real food to about once a week. Nagate is immediately seen as strange for not being able to photosynthesize and having a ravenous appetite. After being apprehended for stealing rice, he’s taken to the authorities who then inexplicably escort him to meet Sidonia’s captain – the mysterious Kobayashi.

Knights of Sidonia

Nagate and Captain Kobayashi

Kobayashi asks him to become a trainee guardian pilot – pilots who fly mechs (or frames) known as guardians to defend Sidonia against the Gauna. Nagate accepts and begins his training, meeting many other members of Sidonia’s guardian force.

The Gauna are a bizarre race, being able to traverse space and having grotesque, squid-like forms. Their bodies are constructed of something called ‘placenta’ – a substance the Gauna secrete to cover their true body, known as the ‘core’. The core is impervious to all weaponry, except for specially crafted lances called ‘Kabizashi’. Only by directly piercing the core of a Gauna with a Kabizashi is one able to destroy it.

Knights of Sidonia

Nagate faces a Gauna

Nagate is given the privilege of piloting the legendary guardian named Tsugumori, a frame which was used previously by a hero in mankind’s wars against the Gauna. This gains Nagate the disdain of one of his fellow pilots, Norio Kunato, who comes from an influential family and hopes for fame and glory. After his first sortie in which Nagate encounters a Gauna and helps repel it in the Tsugumori, he gains some status for being able to actually fight back against the powerful enemies.

Our hero, once called ‘the mole man’ for living underground, becomes an object of fascination for many. Nagate is befriended by the amiable Izana, one of a new sex who are capable of procreating with males or females thereby making them asexual. Izana Shinatose takes a liking to the clumsy and rather incapable Nagate, becoming somewhat of a partner for him. Another pilot he befriends is Shizuka Hoshijiro, a young woman who attempts to rescue Nagate when they encounter the Gauna on a mining mission. To the jealousy of Izana, Nagate becomes fond of Hoshijiro and the two quickly form a close bond.

Knights of Sidonia

Hoshijiro and Izana

Before the end of volume one it’s announced that the Gauna repelled earlier has returned, and a task force consisting of four well-known warriors will be going out to engage it. Whether or not they will be able to defeat the seemingly invincible Gauna or not remains to be seen…

Pencil Sketch:
Aside from overall story structure, pacing and plot differences, another major distinction between Sidonia no Kishi and Blame! is the amount of character development. All of the main characters have a significant amount of interaction and details about their backgrounds are introduced.

Making an unlikely protagonist with his clumsy and naïve mannerisms, Nagate is nonetheless a literal powerhouse once he gets into the cockpit. Being unaware of the history as well as the politics on Sidonia, Nagate innocently follows the commands of Captain Kobayashi to battle the Gauna. While Izana and Hoshijiro are protecting him mostly when on Sidonia, in space he’s capable of protecting them and becomes a clearheaded, resourceful pilot. At times his obliviousness can get a bit much, but it’s made up for with his earnest attitude and caring towards the inhabitants of Sidonia and his friends.

Being an asexual, Izana has boyish features that might be described as ‘bishounen’, his/her mannerisms though, from way of walking to caring for Nagate are quite feminine. Izana is a composed person, and this togetherness acts as a good foil for Nagate. There are some comic and awkward moments between the two of them that make me wonder where their relationship might be headed in future.

Hoshijiro is a similarly sturdy and mature person. She’s equally considerate towards Nagate, whether on Sidonia or the battlefield. While neither of them have expressed any feelings for each other in volume one, there’s an obvious chemistry between them right from the start.

Another character worthy of mentioning is Kunato. His first appearance in the manga is when he knocks Nagate unconscious for stealing rice. Kunato is galled at Nagate’s being chosen to pilot Tsugumori as well as at his popularity thereafter. Coming from the wealthy family behind Kunato industries, who develop the guardians for Sidonia, he’s arrogant and two-faced.

Knights of Sidonia

Kunato’s hatred

Knights of Sidonia combines what are elements I already enjoyed in Nihei’s previous work, with additional depth in storytelling and fleshed-out characterization. Despite being a lot more up-beat, it still retains a brooding atmosphere, with the threat of the Gauna being ever present and the persisting secrets about their origins nagging.

Its hard science-fiction themes are well thought out and explained, while at the same time using a more show and less tell approach that leaves out just enough details to keep you guessing. In this regard it has everything the sci-fi lover could ask for: mecha, aliens, space opera and big spaceships.

Nihei’s art is as usual – stunning. The backgrounds, architecture and mecha in Knights of Sidonia are detailed and eye-catching, mixing elements of modern Japan with a dystopian, futuristic feel. Despite the comparatively simple character designs, they have a style and charm that could only be delivered by Nihei.

This is the first series for me in a long time that’s felt like a more serious sci-fi manga. My first impressions of it left me with a ‘Ghost in the Shell’ kind of feel, not because of the topics dealt with but simply the lesser amount of usual manga tropes and its more serious nature. That’s not to say the series is completely without tropes, it’s more the way they’re dealt with.

What little fanservice there is, is placed seriously too, and almost achieves the opposite effect of what it normally would. The characters are likeable and at the same time no-nonsense. That’s also not to say they don’t do silly things, there’s plenty of that, but it’s done earnestly and the meanings behind everyone’s actions all play their part in broadening the story.

Knights of Sidonia

KOS style humor

Once again, I started reading this series directly after the anime finished airing. As of the date I’m writing this article, Knights of Sidonia has a second season which is green-lit for November. I’m confident in saying that this show can be enjoyed just as much after reading the manga or vice-versa. The fact that Nihei’s work has been given an anime adaption completely in CG seems fitting for this modern master of cyberpunk and sci-fi.

Justice will, without fail, prevail – Death Note

Death NoteRather than being a ‘Whodunit’ murder mystery, Death Note immediately throws you into an intense psychological hotbox. The opponents facing each other in this hotbox are two characters who both believe that they represent the very definition of righteousness itself.

Manga Title: Death Note
Author/Artist: Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata
Genres: Psychological thriller, detective fiction, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
Raito ‘Light’ Yagami, an honors student ranked highly in Japan and son of a detective, comes across a notebook that’s been seemingly dropped by someone outside his senior high school. Opening the book, he’s surprised to find this disturbing paragraphon the book’s first page:Death NoteAt first thinking the notebook is nothing more than a prank, he takes it home and reads the following paragraphs, which describe the details of how the selected person’s death can be manipulated by writing them in the Death Note too. Still not thoroughly convinced Raito gives it a try, experimenting first on a felon, and next on a random biker who’s harassing a girl he comes across in the street. After the biker really does die in the street from an apparent ‘accident’ – Raito’s doubts about the notebook are completely cleared.

Death Note

Validating the notebook gives rise to schemes within Raito’s mind, plans about how he can go about rectifying what he considers to be an evil world and become a god in the process. Raito begins his purge by writing down the names of one hundred dangerous lawbreakers, many of whom are incarcerated, believing himself to be untraceable due to the mysterious method the victims suddenly die from if not otherwise specified: a heart attack.

Death NoteShortly after, the true owner of the notebook, a shinigami (a god of death or a reaper) known as Ryuuku approaches him, telling him the book now belongs to Raito, and elaborating more on some of the rules regarding the Death Note. Ryuuku is invisible to everyone except the owner of the Death Note and those who touch its pages. He adopts a neutral status about Raito and his mission, claiming he was bored with the life of a shinigami and hopes that this unique human is going to make it interesting for him.

Death Note

Ryuuku the shinigami

In the meantime, Raito’s initial carelessness is actually what gives L, a famous private detective whose true name and identity are unknown, a major clue as to Raito’s whereabouts and methods of killing.

death note

L is on the case

L is contracted by international officials to investigate the bizarre sudden deaths of the hundred convicts. L’s sense of justice is the converse of Raito’s – he believes in following the law to the letter and any murder, regardless of who is killed – is still a murder. Tracing an invisible thread in the mass of killings, L filters them down to Raito’s location in Japan. Through a clever television broadcast, L also ascertains more about Raito and is able to pinpoint his rough location within Japan.

Instead of running from the threat, the now zealous Raito decides to use L’s closing in on him as a chance to annihilate his opponent. A battle of wits between the two geniuses begins, a battle in which the hunter and the hunted becomes unclear. One thing is certain however, neither Raito nor L will give in until they see that their ‘justice’ is done!

Pencil Sketch:
The story mainly follows the perspective of Raito Yagami, thus you’re enveloped early on in his mentality. Raito holds that everyone believes in justice yet no one’s willing to take the law into their own hands, therefore he sees coming across the Death Note as an opportunity to help the world. The main flaw in this plan is Raito himself; he not only wants to mete out justice, but also hopes to be revered as a god for it, which immediately highlights his delusional thinking.

You could say that Raito is questionably conscientious – he feels pangs of conscience on initially using the Death Note however he soon covers this feeling up with his grand designs to cleanse the world. His ideology/delusions and ego overrule his compassion and he follows the path of his own convictions regardless. What’s more, when L issues his challenge over a television broadcast for Raito (who is dubbed ‘Kira’- a play on the English word killer) he takes a sort of relish in the idea of a cat and mouse game with L, confident that he’ll win.

While Raito doesn’t show a scrap of sympathy for those he kills, he seems to be genuinely caring towards his sister and father – relationships that later may end up being a liability for him in his role of Kira.

Ironically L is not so different from Raito. Both possess a strong sense of justice and are ingenious, meticulous men who show little emotion. L has the habit of sitting cross-legged and even meditating when pondering the Kira case. He shrewdly smokes Raito out in the first volume and using his international contacts, including the F.B.I., draws closer and closer to Raito’s position.

Ryuuku, the shinigami whose Death Note Raito lays his hands on is arguable the truly ‘evil’ character in the story. Whilst doing hardly anything other than observing and explaining to Raito the Death Note’s rules, he openly states that he finds humans interesting due to their struggles and attempts to change things. He keeps a number of facts back from Raito to increase the enjoyment of the murder game he’s watching unfold – all to ease the boredom of his eternal existence.

death note

Chilling with a shinigami

A range of other characters are introduced later, but I’m only going into the first volume here, so I won’t touch on them. Needless to say, the characters introduced later are every bit as fascinating and colorful as our three main ones so far.

The entire concept of a Death Note brings with it an immediate sense of suspense and of delving into the forbidden. Just like opening a grimoire or esoteric spell book, starting to read Death Note is the same as diving into that taboo world. Right off the bat, the tension begins – a tactic masterfully done by Tsugumi Ohba, drawing you into the psyche of Kira and the paranormal killings which he performs. The manga hits on a deeper level when you find yourself understanding both Raito’s motivations and L’s too, growing closer to both of them.

Takeshi Obata’s art, as any who are familiar with his works knows, flourishes on each page – strongly bringing out the atmosphere and emotions of the characters. The story doesn’t let up for one second, and I was biting my nails along with L, pondering what his next move and Raito’s would be, unable to stop poring over the pages of what I can honestly call a modern classic.

I’d heard of the infamous Death Note through the grapevine before I actually read it. At the time I was reading Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Bakuman, and met someone who recommended I read the manga. One of the things the person who recommended it to me said was, “It’s a psychological experience; it gets deeply into your mind.” I honestly couldn’t agree more.

death note