Cats Over Flowers – Nineteen, Twenty-One

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Manga Title: Nineteen, Twenty-One
Author/ Artist: Yu, Han/ Kim, Hye-Jin
Genres: Romance, slice of life
Demographic: Josei, Shoujo

Flowers hang from the sides of houses and hug the walls in a strange harmony. Narrow streets sprawl throughout a bright, well-kept neighborhood, showing signs of meticulous care. In this place of tidy order, there are creatures that exist in the small unnoticed spaces and that slink along pathways, keeping out of sight. Stray cats.

It’s here that we find Yun-lee, a 21 year old student who’s just started her life again after recovering from an accident for over a year, coming out to meet these unwelcome, ragged beasts. Though too cautious to actually touch them, she brings them food and tends to them whenever she can, showing a compassion that’s very much like the flowers about her, spilling their fragrances freely onto the wind for all.

Strays

Strays

One day a stranger comes leaping, like a cat himself, into her private world. He’s Dong-hwi – also a lover of cats, and the exact age Yun-lee was before she lost two years of her life: 19. They start getting together, feeding their beloved cats and nurturing the seedlings of their own feelings at the same time.

Leaping In

Leaping In

Both characters are at important points in their lives, standing in front of the same line. Yun-lee is starting shakily again after losing two years, and Dong-hwi is hesitant about entering into the adult world, with all its hang-ups and responsibilities. Amidst all of this, their budding romance for one another, as well as for cats – takes place.

 

A Love for Cats

A Love for Cats

Yun-Lee and Dong-hwi start to take care of a group of stray cats together, but encounter some difficulties in the community that tests their resolve.

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The challenge that faces them is something that’s posed to us all at some time or another: if you could do something worthwhile even though it only makes a small difference – would you still want to try? And so they make the choice to do what they can for their small clan of cats, despite the opposition and trials their own lives present them with.

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Every once in a while, you read a story that doesn’t get you psyched-up, but rather warms you up and leaves you feeling that way afterwards. Nineteen-twenty one is definitely that kind of story. The panels are big, with luxurious drawings of flowers, scenery, people, and of course – cats. The setting is within a small town, yet the art makes you feel like you’re inside a botanical garden.

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Nineteen, Twenty-One is a journey into an exotic wilderness, full of sights that remain behind your eyelids after closing them at night and thoughts that will keep you pondering, ever so gently, along with them.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?

 

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Demi-Human – Ajin

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Manga Title: Ajin
Author/ Artist:  Tsunina Miura/ Gamon Sakurai
Genres: Horror, supernatural, mystery, action
Demographic: Seinen
Rating: M (mature)

Ajin (demi-human) is a fitting name for this manga. A running theme in the story is human nature, and in the case of the characters that nature is often less than human. The manga follows Kei Nagai, a high school student who discovers one day after an accident that he is one of the feared ‘Ajin’ – a type of being that can’t die and regenerates wounds shortly after receiving them.

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The dark nature of humanity soon shows itself to Kei as he is immediately hunted down for a large reward that has been placed on the head of any Ajin captured. Fortunately, he finds some compassion in his childhood friend Kai who immediately comes to his aid, and who doesn’t see him differently, despite his regenerative abilities.

kei and kai

Kai and Kei

Kei struggles to escape his would be captors, whilst coming to grips with his dilemma and figuring out what his new found powers are. He slowly begins to discover that Ajin aren’t only immortal, they also possess a unique vocal ability that paralyzes others, as well as a powerful kind of puppet called a ‘Black Ghost’ that they can manipulate mentally for attack and presumably other purposes (all that’s seen in volume one are its attack abilities though).

In volume 1 a few characters are introduced and it’s hard to distinguish between the good and bad guys. That’s to be expected though, the overall feel of the manga is pretty dark, and even Kei reveals some of his twisted intentions later on. Apart from having ordinary reward craving civilians on his tail, there’s the police and a mysterious duo from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (aka. Ajin hunters) who are also pursuing him.

Tosaki and Izumi

Tosaki and Izumi

They are Tozaki-san and Shimura Izumi. Tozaki is cold, methodical and has love for mints that he pushes on others. Izumi is his quiet sidekick who just screams that she’s holding a secret. They’re knowledgeable about the Ajin, especially their powers and weaknesses, the latter being very limited.

If things weren’t bad enough for Kei, another group is also searching for him – this time a group of fellow Ajin. Headed by a key figure among this secret sect, they seek to bring Kei to them for unknown purposes. Whatever it is though, their methods aren’t subtle.

Apart from the main plot involving Kei, there are flashbacks to another Ajin’s past – Tanaka – and his torture at the hands of his human detainers. In addition, later in the volume another female Ajin reveals herself in the most unexpected place.

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Tanaka in Captivity

The storytelling in Ajin is compelling to read; the time -skips that occur are well placed and give you enough tidbits of information to keep you hungry for more. This among other reasons made it a real page-turner for me.

Another enjoyable aspect is the overall brooding feel of the manga. This atmosphere grows with Kei’s gradual descent into accepting his predicament, physically and mentally. The dark past surrounding the Ajin is gradually revealed, including the persecutors who’ve tried to capture them and use them for experimentation and as weapons.

The art is fitting for the mood too, with dark and gory sketches and occasional escapes into wild abandonment by the artist.

abandonment (2)A particularly creepy feature in the artwork is the design of the Black Ghosts – ghoulish, mummy type creatures. They’re without a doubt the most sinister apparition I’ve seen appear in a manga recently.

Black Ghosts

Black Ghosts

Ajin is a title worth keeping an eye on (I’m thinking of anime adaptions in the near future) and is a tense, inwardly chafing journey into the realm of the demi-humans, and simultaneously into the dark recesses of the psyche.

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?

Happiness is a Warm BB Gun – Assassination Classroom

Assassination Classroom

Assassination ClassroomManga Title: Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoshitsu)
Mangaka: Yusei Matsui
Genres: Comedy, slice of life, action supernatural
Demographic: Shonen

I picked up this title as a few people were talking about it, and the slogan used on the advert I saw for it caught my attention. The way it was advertised made me think the first page would have crazy-eyed students blowing away their real life teacher. A few pages in and I realized that this wasn’t the case – it was something even more bizarre.

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Good morning…sensei

The story revolves around a multifarious alien ‘teacher’ who has come to destroy the Earth, and just to prove his point he’s already destroyed most of the moon by the time the manga begins. The teacher – known as Korosensei (unkillable teacher) – states that he will destroy the Earth within a year unless humanity is able to assassinate him. After making an agreement with the government, Korosensei becomes the homeroom teacher of a class at Kunugigaoka junior high. They’re known as Class E, and he instructs them to attempt to kill him – whilst teaching them regular school subjects too. The government offers a reward of ten billion yen to anyone who can successfully exterminate him.

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Assassins

What follows is the ludicrous but entertaining chronicle of Class E’s endeavors to assassinate Korosensei. It should be an easy enough task for a whole class of students to bump off someone else, however Korosensei is no ordinary being. His face is like an oversized emoticon (complete with color changes for moods), his body is composed of a malleable material, he has octopus – like tentacles (the old favorite) and can travel at the speed of Mach 20.

In volume one, we meet some of the more proactive members of Class E. Nagisa Shiota is a gentle-natured bishonen who is at first unable to try assassinating Korosensei, but is later encouraged to do just that by the sensei himself! Later Nagisa takes on the job of recording Korosensei’s weaknesses in order to make a more successful attempt on his life in future.

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Nagisa and Karma

Karma Akabane is a student who was expelled for violence at school and returns after the first few chapters. His past experiences led him to lose confidence in his previous teacher, and he now has no qualms about murdering Korosensei. His ‘killing intent’ is far stronger than almost all the other students and he starts thinking up all sorts of methods to do their sensei in right away.

Two other adult teachers (who are actually just posing as teachers) are Karasuma Tadaomi and Irina Jelavic. The former tries to train the students and hone their assassination techniques, while the latter is a professional who turns on her womanly charms (one of Korosensei’s weaknesses) to get him to drop his guard and rub him out.

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Irina Jelavic

Of course, Korosensei steals the show with his contradictory actions and amusing antics. Whilst encouraging the students to execute him and even teaching them how to do it, he also teaches them life lessons and encourages them. In only a short time, the students come to see him as a warm teacher who actually cares for them.

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He melted!

Though Assassination Classroom is pure comedy, it makes some meaningful points about teacher/student relationships. Another draw for me was the wordplay used throughout the series. Most of the jokes are Japanese puns (especially involving the word ‘koro’ – kill) playing on the meaning of the words used and their associations. Despite that the translation is well done and pretty close English substitutions are provided with explanations.

Overall Assassination Classroom has lots of gags, slice of life content that’s particularly centered around school themes, Japanese word play and assassination tactics all rolled into one manga. My main concern about this title is how long the mangaka can keep it fresh when Korosensei is almost invulnerable and the rest of the characters are trying to do pretty much the same thing in each chapter. That all depends on how the story is handled as it progresses, though.

Last but not least, Yusei Matsui’s artwork captures the comic moments (and there are plenty), action scenes, and day to day life of the students with pleasing art that always holds a few surprises hidden in the frames. Particularly, the drawings Korosensei likes to leave in his students’ notebooks are worth a chapter all of their own!

Korosensei

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What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?

Solanin Volume 1

solacobvManga Title: Solanin
Mangaka: Asano Inio
Genres: Slice of life, romance, music
Demographic: Seinen

The first volume of Solanin is 14 short chapters that are mostly 15 pages each. This volume focuses mainly on introducing the main character Meiko, her boyfriend Taneda, their friends and members of Taneda’s band Kato, Ai and Jiro (Billy).

Meiko is a young woman who’s just entered the working world after graduating from university but hasn’t found her calling. After taking an honest look at her job situation – an over demanding pervert boss and unexciting work – she decides to quit. The paradox is that even after quitting she still finds herself bored and perplexed, wondering what will become of her and Taneda in the future.
Meiko spends most of her time slacking off and living on her savings, however she encourages Taneda to pursue his dream of making it successful in his band.

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Meiko and Taneda

Taneda comes across as more cautious than Meiko; he initially holds onto his part time job and continues band practice, however the worries of life soon begin encroaching on the couple when Meiko’s finances dwindle. Taneda puts on a brave face while being inwardly worried about how to support himself and Meiko. Eventually he comes to a crossroads where he needs to make a decision – the band and his dreams, or a secure future at the cost of his aspirations.

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Billy and the frog statue

The characters in Solanin are easy to relate to and have issues that I’ve come across a lot myself. They question whether what they’re doing is worthwhile, and have to deal with the frustrations of not having achieved anything notable whilst still trying to pursue their dreams.

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Meiko’s realization

Each character is faced with the reality of daily life and at the same time they all begin appreciating small moments of happiness that can occur at any time and when doing the simplest things. I loved these parts and they have made Solanin an interesting read. Thoughtful moments at the zoo, sudden realizations when watching a balloon and an old man trying to mail a letter to his long passed wife through a frog statue were just some.

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Even though this volume follows the larger plot of Meiko, Taneda and friends in their search for fulfillment, a lot of its chapters stand quite well as single, poignant stories. They might not get your blood boiling, but they’ll definitely give you something to think about and are at times quite touching.

For me the art was refreshing too. I’m used to a lot of shonen style drawings, so Solanin’s more realistic seinen art and lack of a lot of the cliches present in shonen titles is nice.

Overall it’s a slice of life manga that brings up fundamental questions that we all face while at the same time not being preachy. I related to the characters and enjoyed the meaningful anecdotes spread throughout the first part. There’s also an intense cliffhanger at the end so I’m eager to continue reading!

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?