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.

Inking:
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.

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Always Watching Over You – Dengeki Daisy

Dengeki DaisyManga Title: Dengeki Daisy
Mangaka: Kyousuke Motomi
Genres: Romance, comedy, drama
Demographic: Shoujo

The Storyboard:
Dengeki Daisy establishes a familiar romance setting with a difference: Our protagonist Teru Kurebayashi has never even met the man she admires!

16 year old high school student Teru’s sole remaining guardian, her older brother and computer engineer Souichirou Kurebayashi, passed away and left her with two things: a place to stay and a cell phone with which to contact his friend – the mysterious ‘Daisy’. Teru keeps in touch with Daisy by texting, telling him her daily experiences but usually only revealing the good things. As her invisible protector, Daisy keeps her funded and with a roof over her head.

Dengeki daisy

Teru Kurebayashi

Unknown to Teru, Daisy is actually very close, working as a janitor at her own high school.

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Tasuku Kurosaki aka Daisy

At the start of the volume, we see Teru is the victim of bullying at her school; being a pretty destitute student on a scholarship, she’s the subject of abuse from the student council, and in particular its president Rena Ichinose. Rena picks on Teru in various ways, which Teru doesn’t take lying down. She struggles back – only to make more trouble for herself.

On one occasion Teru accidentally breaks a window in the skirmish. Without revealing his identity, Daisy, whose real name is Tasuku Kurosaki (a 24 year old man), tells Teru she has to work for him daily doing odd-jobs around the school to pay back for the broken window. Using his cover as an opportunity to keep an even closer eye on Teru, he helps her out whenever possible.

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Helping out…

Teru soon finds out that Daisy is a hacker of note, hacking into the school’s network to get into the locked PC of a crooked teacher. Said teacher has been seeing Rena, and embezzling the school’s funds, so Daisy remotely takes over the teacher’s computer, announcing that he’ll leak information about him if he doesn’t give himself up.

dengeki daisy

A hacker of note

Though troubled after learning Daisy is a hacker she decides to continue trusting in him. As the story progresses she’s further drawn into circumstances where she needs Daisy – and thereby Tasuku’s – help. Contrary to Daisy’s wishes Teru finds herself becoming closer to his alter-ego, his presence becoming an important part of her life, even though she still feels deeply for the enigmatic Daisy.

Teru is drawn unwillingly into dangerous situations, making it more necessary for Daisy to intervene as Tasuku, despite the fact that for some reason he doesn’t want to reveal his identity as Daisy to Teru.

Pencil Sketch:
Teru is a relatively ordinary high school girl in dire financial straits, however rather than being downcast and giving up, she’s scrappy and gutsy, showing defiance in the faces of those who taunt her. Still, her weak side shows when her difficulties mount up and we see the side of her that’s really been hurt by the loneliness of an orphan’s life. Mild-mannered and helpful, she’s an immediately likeable protagonist if not somewhat stereotypical.

Tasuku Kurosaki aka Daisy isn’t your average charming male stud, he has an endearing side that he often doesn’t show to Teru, instead presenting himself as a heartless slave driver – getting her to do manual labor while he slacks off with his laptop. At the end of the day he’s probably doing it to toughen Teru up and ready her to be able to deal with the hardships she’ll no doubt face in the future (he can’t be around forever…right?). To top it off Tasuku’s resourceful when it comes to computers and gangster-like in dealing with those who threaten Teru. He cares for Teru a lot but a secret from his past to do with her brother prevents him from being able to open up to her.

A supporting character with a larger role is Rena – the president of the student council. Funnily, she’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a president, mainly because of her involvement in seedy relationships. She’s haughty, snobbish and malicious towards Teru initially, but as they become more involved with one another Teru comes to see Rena as a friend. This sentiment touches Rena too, who begins to warm to her. Rena is actually very insecure and self-conscious, throwing herself onto men and making some naive relationship choices.

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Rena and…a friend

Another character who appears towards the end of volume one is Masumi Takeda, a man around Tasuku’s age. He starts work as a PC instructor at Teru’s high school, but it’s soon revealed he has ulterior motives linked to Teru’s brother and Tasuku’s past. He’s scheming and manipulative whilst putting up a helpful front – suitable villain material for future chapters.

Inking:
I felt Dengeki Daisy, while not doing anything groundbreaking, has a lot going for it. It’s not a reverse–harem for one thing, and isn’t focused solely on romance but also on the gradual building of relationships between its main and supporting characters. The humor is standard yet truly funny, drawing plenty of chuckles from me throughout reading. While not being the gender the manga is aimed at, I could actually feel the alluring pull the artwork and plot has that draws you into the unrequited romance between Tasuku and Teru.

dengeki daisyOne of the points I thought Dengeki Daisy made well is that although Teru truly cherishes and respects Daisy, she finds herself unconsciously drawn to Tasuku in times of need. I thought this was something worth mentioning because no matter how capable we are at navigating and socializing in the virtual realms – a real solid person beside you is something irreplaceable.

Doodles:
The comic moments in shoujo manga are something I’ve come to find endearing about the demographic and there’s no shortage of them in Dengeki Daisy. Particularly worth checking out are some classic moments between the ‘master’ Tasuku and his ‘slave’ Teru!

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Slave driver Tasuku

The Homeless God – Noragami

noragamiDue to the popular anime series Noragami needs no introduction, and whether you’re wanting to try the manga fresh or after having watched the anime, you won’t be disappointed.

Manga Title: Noragami
Mangaka: Adachi Toka
Genres: Supernatural, adventure, romance
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
The first thought that comes to my mind when thinking of Japanese gods is a temple, however that’s the one thing that our homeless god Yato lacks. Calling himself a delivery god (he’s definitely faster than any earthly deliveryman), Yato has dreams of making it big in the god industry by raking in a horde of followers and erecting a massive temple.

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Yato

To accomplish this he scrawls his number all over the place – even toilet walls – in the hopes of landing a case. His messages go unseen by most people except those in dire need or those with spiritual sight. He accepts jobs of all descriptions, from fixing faucets to solving complications with spirits, all for the price of five yen (a common amount given when praying at shrines in Japan).

One day he and his helper, a woman going by the name Tomone, are called by a suicidal girl who needs their help, having been bullied and mistreated by her classmates. Yato points out that the girl’s problems, compounded with the general bad atmosphere created by the tension of taking exams, have summoned what he refers to as the Ayakashi (phantoms).

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Ayakashi

The Ayakashi are creatures from the other side that roam the spiritual realm and are still able to have an affect on humans. They are attracted to living beings emitting a similar dark energy, referred to as ‘gloom’, and can influence them. In some cases this can cause the affected people to behave strangely or even lead to their death.

Yato decides to take care of the Ayakashi with the assistance of Tomone, who turns into his regalia called a ‘shinki’ (a spiritual weapon), on command. Tomone can become a shinki shaped like a dagger and cut through the ghost-like flesh of the Ayakashi. Using Tomone, he slices the phantom up, obliterating it.

noragamiTomone parts with Yato after resolving the girl’s case, refusing to be his shinki anymore. Yato once again wanders about, indulging in delusions of becoming powerful. He takes on another job to rescue a lost cat given to him by a child who is able to see his spiritual graffiti within a phone book. Whilst searching for the creature, Yato comes across a girl who will become an important part of his life – Hiyori Iki.

noragami

Hiyori Iki

Hiyori is a high-school student from a wealthy family; she spots Yato as he carelessly crosses the road pursuing the cat and unwittingly runs in front of a bus. Attempting to save him, Hiyori leaps to push him out the way, only to be hit by the bus herself. Her bravery was hardly necessary as Yato has no real physical form so to speak, however she is injured by the accident and temporarily jolted from her body.

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Soul slipped

Unknown to her she has now become a borderline walker (called a hanyou) – one who can traverse between both sides of life and death, yet is fortunate enough to still have a physical body. Recovering consciousness in a hospital, she thinks it was all a dream until Yato comes to her, telling her what happened. She follows him, and discovers that far from only being able to leave her body, she is even able to tackle Ayakashi in the spiritual realm.

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Jungle savate

Hiyori begs Yato to return her to normal, which he takes as a formal request from her, but he claims he’s unable to start until he gains possession of a new shinki. Thinking to help Yato, Hiyori searches about for a lost soul to become Yato’s shinki. After a dangerous run-in with a malicious Ayakashi, Yato comes across a  recently deceased spirit and decides to turn it into his shinki.

noragami

Yukine

The soul belongs to a teenage boy; Yato names him Yukine and in his regalia form his name is Sekki – a long, beautiful white blade. Yukine seems far from impressed with Yato, showing disdain for him straight away. Like it or not, all three of their fates become intertwined – for better or worse.

Pencil Sketch:
Volume one of the manga is pretty short, only introducing Yato, Hiyori, Yukine and Yato’s previous shinki Tomone. True to the name Noragami, (nora meaning stray and gami – god) Yato is like a stray – homeless and sleeping on the streets or outside other gods’ shrines. His character is refreshingly different from gods in a lot of fantasy stories; although he has delusions of grandeur – dreaming of being doted on by female devotees – he’s down to Earth in dealing with his clients, and is responsible despite being a freeloader.

Hiyori is from a well-to-do family who treasure her (though it seems like they see her as a delicate object). She’s a wrestling fan, idolizing a famous wrestler which  makes her stand apart from her pop-idol loving friends. Immediately she shows herself to be self-sacrificing, bailing Yato out of trouble twice in one chapter (though he technically doesn’t need it). Sometimes naive, she’s bold and quickly adapts to her new, bizarre situation.

Making his appearance at the end of the volume, little is known about Yukine, except for his distaste for Yato and brattish temperament.

Not much is revealed about Tomone either, whose actual name is Mayu, apart from that she dislikes Yato – calling him dirty and useless. This doesn’t stop her from showing concern for Yato though, revealing that she still has a soft spot for him.

Inking:
After watching the anime (which I presume will cover the content of most of the first volumes), I still found myself enjoying the revisit to these characters and their universe. Whilst obviously lacking the atmospheric music and color palette of the anime, the manga makes up for it in extra details and art.

In my opinion the manga stands on its own as a strong story – it has enough originality and appealing characters to make me want to continue reading. Also, viewers of the show will be able to continue the unfinished tale they saw started in the animation.

Doodles:
Yato’s powers are something I found particularly interesting. When he uses a shinki, kanji characters appear, making the name of the particular regalia. I found this part fascinating as it’s a recurring theme in magical and spiritual practices I’ve encountered since living in the east.

Noragami

Mayu transforming into ‘Tomoki’

A lot of talismans made for protection, good luck, exorcism and the like involve the use of characters which hold a power of their own. Even over new year, auspicious words and phrases adorn the walls of homes and public places.

Adachi Toka makes poetic use of the mysticism of Japanese kanji, incorporating it into the characters’ names too. For example Yukine’s name (雪音) combines the characters for ‘snow’ and ‘sound’ – Yato having heard Yukine’s sound and he looked like a snowflake when he first appeared. Additionally Yukine’s name as a regalia is ‘Sekki’ (雪器) which is a combination of the characters ‘snow’ and ‘vessel’ (or weapon in this case) which I thought was a nice touch.

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

What a Wonderful 3D World – Tonari no Kashiwagi-san

tonari no kashiwagi-sanManga Title: Tonari no Kashiwagi-san
Mangaka: Kinusa Shimotsuki
Genres: Comedy, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
High school student Sakuraba Yuto is a lover of anime and manga with a particular taste for moe art.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Sakuraba Yuto

Although Yuto’s a real otaku he’s quite open about it, believing that if you like something you should just say it. In his spare time when not gaming, watching anime or reading manga, he browses an art sharing website. He takes a liking to one particular artist’s moe style, who goes only by the name Sayane.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Sayane’s illustrations

At the start of the story we find that he’s landed his dream job – to become an attendant at a store that sells anime and manga merchandise. On his first day there he bumps into a student who sits next to him in class – Kashiwagi Kotone- a girl he thought hated everything otaku.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Kashiwagi Kotone

On recognizing Yuto, Kotone runs away, embarrassed and extremely concerned that he will reveal to their classmates that she’s a closet otaku herself. The next day she confronts him about it, explaining that she does love anime and manga, and begs Yuto not to tell anyone. We later discover her reasons behind this are that she saw some classmates insult another student for liking anime and manga, and she fears being ostracized.

Yuto agrees to keep her secret and after the suggestion of Kotone’s best friend Fukuda Sayaka, they decide to secretly meet and talk about their interests.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Fellow otaku

A budding friendship blooms between the two very similar main characters, spending their breaks discussing their mutual love of all things otaku.

One day Yuto brings up the artist Sayane, telling Kotone about her enthusiastically. Initially Kotone is nervous about revealing the fact that she is Sayane, merely keeping quiet and agreeing while Yuto praises her art.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Budding friendship

As the story progresses Yuto’s feelings for Kotone blossom, as do those of two of their close friends. Still, even though Yuto sits right next to Kashiwagi-san, it seems that her heart couldn’t be further from his reach…or maybe not?

Pencil Sketch:
Being a completely character-driven story, Kinusa Shimotsuki has made maximum usage of the characters’ facial expressions, body language, and often-inserted ‘chibi’ versions of them to bring out the comedy in their ongoing life stories.

While focusing mainly on the slowly developing love story between Yuto and Kotone, Tonari no Kashiwagi-san also branches off to into the romantic lives of their best friends Sayaka and Kazuki Kusano.

Yuto is breaking into the 3D world after having spent a considerable amount of time focused on 2D. For the first time in his life he finds himself attracted to a real girl and it’s an experience he doesn’t know what to make of. The combination of his lack of experience, over-thinking and somewhat shy nature make for some comic moments as he tries to win Kotone’s heart.

Kotone is equally inexperienced and unaware about everything regarding love; she misses even the most absurdly direct hints that Yuto gives. Gradually she begins noticing Yuto’s advances, yet is still indecisive about how to deal with them.

In keeping with the atmosphere of the manga, not much is revealed about the pasts of each character, maintaining its focus on their current relationships. This may be considered a weak point of the series, however it’s never bothered me, after all that’s not what the story’s about.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Chibi Yuto, Kotone and Sayaka

Inking:
Overall Tonari no Kashiwagi-san is a light hearted, cute, humorous and slow paced tale about two teenagers whose remarkable alikeness make them an unlikely match. Whilst observing the love of their friends grow around them they start to take baby steps out into the world of their own feelings. It’s no heartrending romance, but it’ll leave you feeling warm and fluffy after each chapter.

tonari no kashiwagi-san

Doodles:
In a way Tonari no Kashiwagi-san has been pretty educational for me with its notes on otaku issues and references to general aspects of the anime and manga culture. For new readers I’m sure there are some interesting tidbits of otaku information you’ll find and for the more experienced there are plenty of familiar tropes that are explored.

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

She Lives on Cat Street

Cat.Street2

Manga Title: Cat Street
Mangaka: Yoko Kamio
Genres: Drama, Romance, Slice of Life
Demographic: Shoujo

In a similar way that our protagonist Keito Aoyama finds herself in a world quite different from what she expected – so did I after beginning to read Cat Street. Despite the title, this manga doesn’t involve cats like Nineteen, Twenty-One, but is rather about a haven where human strays akin to cats go.

The story follows Keito, a 16 year old girl who has become withdrawn from her family and social circles because of an emotional incident that occurred when she was young. From when she was small, Keito was pushed by her mother to be a child actress, and her mom was so focused on Keito’s success that she neglected the ordinary, basic social needs her daughter had. Shunting her from one audition to the next, Keito’s childhood was scarred by loneliness and longing for the simple things that most other kids have.

Missing out...

Missing out…

Eventually securing a part in a well-known musical, she worked hard to help a new friend of hers, who was also aspiring to be a famous child actress. Something occurred between them that froze Keito emotionally and physically, and on the day of her performance she stood motionless on the stage, unable to carry on.

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Frozen…

From there, her subsequent life as a teenager went downhill; she isolated herself from people at school, having a reputation as ‘the child actress that froze up on stage’. She also became estranged from her mother and sister, who took her silence and anti-social behavior for arrogance. In this traumatizing situation, Keito meets a man out of the blue one day.

He introduces her to El Liston, a free-school where the students come and go as they please and aren’t bound by ordinary school regulations (wish there had been one in my neighborhood). Initially reluctant, she’s befriended by the amiable Rei Saeki, a boy who’s quite upfront with her about what he thinks of her situation and invites her to go to El Liston once again. Persuaded, she gives it another try and meets up with people that are very similar to her there. All these teenagers have become ‘strays’ from society due to various emotional circumstances.

Keito, Kouichi, Momiji, Rei

Keito, Kouichi, Momiji, Rei

For the first time, Keito begins to have experiences she yearned for as a child – walking home with friends, chatting, hanging out, watching the sunset and barbecuing. She also notices the internal turmoil her peers have gone through, and comes to a deeper understanding of them and herself in the process. She starts changing, coming out of her shell in a slow transformation that’s touching to read.

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The art is truly shoujo in style – the girls are drawn with large eyes and pupils, whereas the boys are portrayed slightly more realistically and are all handsome. Yoko Kamio (also the mangaka behind the popular Boys over Flowers) adds her own individual touch to each volume with cute personal anecdotes drawn in the side panel that are really amusing.

Yoko's thoughts

Yoko’s thoughts

One aspect that stuck out strongly is that the focus in Cat Street is mainly on the characters and their development. I found this kind of character driven story to be a refreshing change too. You start to get into Keito’s inner world and thinking right away; her struggles, emotions and the personal backgrounds of all the characters play a major part in the story.

Yoko also has a wonderful ‘less is more’ style in her narrative; she doesn’t reveal too much at once and there are plenty of short sentences inserted perfectly that come across powerfully.

In all, Cat Street is like a journey to a different realm. It goes deeper into the heart and innermost thoughts of a girl coming out of hiding, exposing her faults as well as her good points with the friends alongside her. They’re all growing, changing, becoming closer and less and less like strays – on Cat Street.

– Thanks so much to Blue Variance for this suggestion! Check out her awesome anime and cooking blog Itadakimasu Anime here!

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

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?

 

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.

meiko taneda

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?