The Start of a Long Journey: Yona of the Dawn Manga Volumes 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions and loose thoughts on volumes 1-3 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.


A Terrible, Terrible Birthday

I’m no stranger to the beautiful and cruel world of Yona of the Dawn. I followed the anime when it first aired many years ago. Loved it. Since then, I decided to pick up the first NINE volumes of the manga to hopefully quench my thirst for a sequel we’ll probably never get. Wellll, you know how I do these things—the manga sat on my shelf for a good couple years, untouched, and the dust started to collect.

Until now! My rekindled love for manga has motivated me to tackle my shelves before buying new titles, which naturally placed volume one of this long-awaited read in my hands. And guys, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Yona is a wonderful shoujo fantasy series with a compelling cast of characters living in an interesting Asian-inspired world. BANG. What more could you want?

But in case you know nothing about Yona, the shoujo manga follows the titular Princess Yona, whose bright red hair makes her the crown jewel of the Kohka Kingdom. After her doting father, the king, is murdered in cold blood by her childhood friend and lover, Su-won, Yona flees for her life with her faithful guard Hak. Now, Yona sets out on a journey to reclaim her country with hak, which includes tracking down the four dragon warriors of ancient lore.

Out on the Run

Right off the bat, I think the most striking thing about Yona’s world is the choice to use Korean-inspired names instead of the typical Japanese names. In fact, the series draws more inspiration from Korean culture than it does Japanese, making it an intriguing blend of both cultures. The series carries with it a heavy traditional feel, but also contains a surprising amount of fun and comedic moments despite the tragic start.

Following their flee, Hak seeks out his home village of Fuuga to avoid further pursuit from Su-won’s soldiers. The village’s chief (and Hak’s foster grandfather), Mundeok, is an admirable figure who I’m sure could’ve taken in Yona and raised her very well—but that wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it?

No, instead, Yona puts her foot down and decides to leave the village herself, demanding Hak continue to stay at her side. (The audacity, I know!!) Shortly after, Yona and Hak confront their pursers, and we get the powerful scene where Yona slashes her own hair—which she is adored for—to free herself from Kang Tae-Jun’s captivity. If that’s not symbolic of a woman choosing strength and independence over frailty and vanity, I’m not sure what is. The passing of Yona’s cut lock to Su-won leads him to believing that Yona has truly perished, which deeply hits him, interestingly enough. Like, Su-won isn’t a good guy, but, is he truly bad . . . ?

She with the Crimson Hair

Volume 3 is where we finally start to get a glimpse of the overall plot Yona is about to take up. Now that we’ve become acquainted with Yona’s rare fiery side as well as Hak’s reliability and loyalty on and off the battlefield, we are introduced to Ik-su, a lackadaisical priest who fled the capital when the regime changed years ago, and Yun, a haughty young pretty boy whose talents in cooking, fashion, and herbal remedies will prove incredibly useful on their journey going forward.

Ik-su tells Yona (and the reader) a great deal about the world, the legend of the dragon warriors, and Yona’s role in all of it. He prophesizes the assembly of the four dragon warriors, and how their coming together will awaken the monarch and resurrect the red dragon of dawn. The spirit of the dragons is passed down through four individual bloodlines, each of which still bear fealty to their beloved crimson dragon even to this day.

After a sad parting, we leave behind Ik-su, and Yun joins us in traveling to the White Dragon Village. There, in the land of the wind, we meet the first dragon warrior, a beautiful young man named Gija who possesses the “arm of a dragon,” scales and all. Although Gija bumps heads with Hak, the pain in Gija’s arm makes him realize that joining Yona is his life’s calling—and the destiny that has been passed down his family for generations. Another bittersweet parting between Gija and his grandmother sets us on the long quest to finding the other dragon warriors.

A Fantastic Historical Fiction Drama

Mizuho Kusanagi’s art style is the stuff of legends. Almost flawlessly, she recreates an era in time that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea. Mind you, it’s all historical fiction, so none of the setting is real, but Kusanagi reimagines this period from architecture and fashion style to customs traditional of this period. It’s such, SUCH, a gorgeous manga.

All of Kusanagi’s characters are beautiful (as one might expect in a shoujo manga), but also brazen and fierce. There’s a fire in Yona’s eyes that is unmatched; in Hak’s, a gaze of strength and familiarity; and in Su-won, a dark, melancholic sadness. Each cover piece alone is a work of art, as the coloring is so pretty and vibrant, much like Yona’s captivating red hair.

So, will I be reading more Yona of the Dawn in the future? Well, duh—I already bought the first nine volumes, or did you already forget? Haha! Seriously though, if I didn’t already have them, I would’ve placed an order immediately following the second volume. Yona has a lot of promise, which comes as little surprise given how highly talked about this series is. I’m excited to embark on this long journey with Yona, and I do hope you’ll be tagging along for the ride.


If it were a person . . . if this were a battlefield . . . I’d need my arrow to fly true. Drawing your bow means taking a life—or letting someone take yours.Yona


Afterword

I could talk on end for how much I love Hak, how much I love Yun, and how endearing of a protagonist I find Yona to be growing into. But, I’ll save that for future manga write-ups. After all, this is only the first three volumes, and there are well over 20 volumes available in English! I do hope you’ll continue with my reading of Yona of the Dawn. What are your thoughts on this highly beloved series? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Our Dreams at Dusk: Ending Pride Month on a High Note || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the manga series “Shimanami Tasogare” or “Our Dreams at Dusk,” story and art by Yuhki Kamatani, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present.


“My Life Probably Ended That Day”

As the new kid, high schooler Tasuku Kanama was able to slip by his first semester thanks to having friends in the table tennis club. But, his world quickly starts spiraling out of control when the other kids find out that he may be gay. Teased and outed for being found with gay porn on his phone, Tasuku prepares to commit suicide when he sees another woman off in the distance jump off a cliff. Panicked and startled beyond belief, what he find upon rushing to the sight of her fall was not what he expected . . .

At the peek of this steep countryside hill, Tasuku finds a “drop-in center” with a lounge open to all who enter. The people there are unusually friendly, but what catches Tasuku’s eye first is seeing woman who jumped off the cliff there, completely unharmed from her fall. The others introduce her as “Someone-san,” and remark how although she’s mysterious and keeps to herself, she is in fact the owner of this fine communal establishment.

Drawn to her presence, Someone-san offers him an ear only if he is willing to talk about his problems. Through speaking to her and reflecting on his own actions, Tasuku realizes that what hurts the most is his own inability to accept his sexuality. An emotional introduction to a much larger story, Our Dreams at Dusk follows Tasuku and all the other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people he encounters as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality.

our dreams at dusk chapter 1

“Why am I Like This . . . ?”

This first volume does a beautiful job at illustrating Tasuku’s pain and anguish as a closeted gay kid. Anyone who’s ever been in his shoes know the frustrations of having to hid their sexuality from others. Whether to parents, friends, or even simple acquaintances, it doesn’t matter—in a society that shuns the notion of being gay, coming out can be the most relieving OR excruciatingly painful thing, and Tasuku knows this. He’s constantly weighing the relationships he’ll have to give up in order to gain what he wants, and it’s that toxic mindset that haunts Tasuku day-in and day-out.

Tasuku is gay, no doubt about it. He’s in love with a classmate on the volleyball team, or so we are led to believe in this first volume. I’m sure we’ll get more on this in the next volume. Until then, we just have Tasuku and his new friends at the drop-in center. We don’t know much about them either, except for Daichi Haruko, a young outgoing woman who greets Tasuku everyday with a smile. She invites him on her non-profit work, which involves tearing down dilapidated buildings and renovating them for the city.

He likes working out in the summer sun, and he likes Haruko, too. But what throws him into a bit of shock is finding out that she’s a lesbian. Not only that, but Haruko also has plans to marry her girlfriend, a kind gal named Saki, whom he meets one day during their outdoor work. I loved hearing Haruko’s story, especially how she left her old job and moved out to the countryside where she met Someone-san (and eventually created the drop-in center we know today). The place really is special, even down to its foundation.

our dreams at dusk haruko

“There’s a Guy I Like”

Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk is a highly expressive and emotional read. This first volume demonstrate’s Kamatani’s strong art style, including her stark use of black in blocking out spaces, using a warped lens view and dramatic lighting for effect, and emphasizing the power of eye contact. Eyes can tell a lot about people, and Kamatani uses strong gazes like such to convey mood and inner turmoil.

Kamatani’s panel construction is also genius; sounds, textures, and feelings carry from panel to panel seamlessly, as if this were a movie printed onto the page. The story moves, even in pages where there is no dialogue. Sometimes the most fantastic or simplest of gestures can be enhanced by the absence of dialogue, like when Tasuku daydreams about touching another man’s face. Even in silence, Kamatani’s magical realism invites supernatural imagery to convey intriguing feelings and ideas (like the sparks that fly whenever Someone-san leaps into the air). These really are some of the most impactful and striking images I’ve ever seen in a queer drama manga!

This is going to be a thought-provoking, psychological read—I can already tell. Looking at Tasuku, I am reminded of the same kind of self-torment that plagues Shinji Ikari of Evangelion fame (the two also look similar). Volume one alone is full of serious meditation and self-reflection, highlighting the importance of inclusivity with Tasuku finding the drop-in center and Haruko extending her job invitation to him. Where the story goes from here, I have no idea. But, I already know for a fact that Tasuku’s coming out will bring with it a powerful coming-of-age tale.

our dreams at dusk imagery


I’m a kid. I’m not brave. I’m always confused. But I felt pretty glad that I didn’t kill myself. I felt that at Someone-san’s drop-in center . . . as the heat of August scorched me. — Tasuku Kaname


Afterword

It’s a shame I didn’t get my rear in gear during the first week of June. Otherwise, I would have been able to provide for you a full series review of Shimanami Tasogare today instead of just a first impressions post. If and when I get around to writing that full review, I hope you will come back to see how my thoughts on this fantastic series have changed. Should my hunch prove correct, I definitely think Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk is a masterpiece in the making. Again, I’ll be able to confirm that later, but I DO have the other three volumes and plan on reading them ASAP! I’d love to hear your thoughts on these gorgeous publications, too—just no spoilers, please!

Well there you have it, friends. My Pride Month celebration has officially concluded with the publishing of this post. It’s been an absolutely incredible month full of amazing reads, and I’ve learned so much through reading all these different stories. I WILL be writing a follow-up post (and filming a video!) wrapping up all of June’s Pride reads and watches, so stay tuned for my proper reflections with that. Thanks for reading—it was a sprint to the finish, but we did it! Haha! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Goodbye, My Rose Garden – A Poignant Victorian Romance Between Women || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the yuri manga series “Goodbye, My Rose Garden,” story and art by Dr. Pepperco, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present. 


A Victorian Romance

England, the early 1900s. Hanako traverses the great seas to England to follow her dream of becoming a novelist. Things don’t work out quite as planned, however, and she finds herself saved by Lady Alice Douglas. The noblewoman offers Hanako a position as a personal maid, and their relationship is fairly normal . . . until the day Alice asks Hanako to kill her. Confused and distraught by her fair lady’s most unusual request, Hanako tries to figure out why her mistress would make such a shocking plea. As she reads deeper into the situation, Hanako and Alice grow closer until something miraculous begins to blossom between them.

Goodbye, My Rose Garden is a historical shoujo-ai drama that is certainly more than your average Victorian romance. Contained within this first volume are the initial attempts made by Hanako to understand her mistress, the reasons for Alice’s wish, and the struggles the two face living in 20th century England. Even with her bountiful library of books, vast intelligence, and enviable presence, Lady Alice still feels a pain that few other upper-class woman could even begin to understand. It is a pain of the heart, feelings of forbidden love: Alice likes women, but she cannot let anyone know or else risk tarnishing her entire family’s distinguished name.

Dr. Pepperco (interesting pen name) handles Alice’s situation with wonderful delicacy and respect. We see not only how Alice’s hidden desires stretch her to the breaking point, but also how her stress starts to take a toll on those who care about her, namely Hanako. One can tell just by the first few pages alone that creation of this manga was also incredibly well-researched. Dr. Pepperco nails the social nuances and public affairs of the time, down to the very stitch styling of the maid outfit’s shoulder fabric. I love the Victorian era for its aesthetics, but I would agree that it wasn’t the best time in history to desire a same-sex relationship.

Alice hug

A Passion For Literature, And Also . . .

The maids of Rosebarrow House are each fun and quirky on their own, but Japanese-born Hanako is by far the most interesting asset to Alice’s fine staff—it’s no wonder Alice takes a liking to her. What drew Alice to Hanako in the first place were her golden eyes. If Hanako’s eyes shine like the sun, Alice’s eyes reflect the deep sapphire blue of the endless sky. I love their character designs so much. (I’m a particular sucker for long blonde hair, so . . . ) Alice and Hanako really do make a cute, complete couple.

Throughout this first volume, we come to see some of Hanako’s hobbies and character traits. For one, she’s an avid reader of English literature, and aspires to be a novelist despite the limitations of the language barrier. Hanako is also innocent, hardworking, and very grateful to Alice for giving her a home in this foreign land. She may be a little naive (as in when she proclaims that “love is free” to a local bookshop owner after Alice tells her that first), but she means well, and only wishes for Alice to be free from her own pain.

To me, though, Alice carries the true heart of this series. To the public eye, she is everything a gentleman would want out of a mistress—what they don’t see is how lonely and sad her expressions become whenever her heart pains her. She calls herself a sinner, but her soul is beautiful and kind. Alice is well-read, well-respected, and highly valued within her elite circle of noblemen and women. But, she’s nothing like those greedy, wealthy pricks who think of nothing but their own reputation. Alice extends her grace to those in need, as she did Hanako, and always holds the value of others before her own well-being. I mean, she would rather choose death than risk ruining her family name. Always holding her head high, Alice is the rarest breed of royal, exhibiting authority and integrity just as much as she does compassion and empathy.

Alice library

Love Among the Thorns

Surprising things can blossom in the garden. Dr. Pepperco paints a vivid, highly detailed painting of Victorian England where, naturally, not all flowers are allowed to bloom under the sun. Historically, things like same-sex love must be kept in the dark. It’s unfortunate, and it’s sad. But it’s true to life, and whatever ending Dr. Pepperco has in store for Lady Alice and her handmaid Hanako, I’ll be in this one until the very end.

This is perhaps one of the most compelling and sincere historical dramas I’ve ever been invested in, and I can’t wait to see what feelings may unfold as the story goes on. Will it end as tragically as its dire, foreboding title tells, or will we perhaps be blessed with a saccharine sweet conclusion? Only time will tell for this poignant tale about two women falling in love in historical Britain.

alice umbrella


You have nothing to thank me for. I merely wish to believe that love is free. — Alice Douglas


Afterword

The first volume of Goodbye, My Rose Garden was even more lovely than I thought it’d be. And yet, it would seem to me that no one is talking about this yuri manga! Why is that?? It’s a wonderful title, even from this volume alone, and I can’t wait for the second to be released in July. If you’re one of the few who have decided to pick up this book, please do let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Surely I’m not the only one reading this marvelous series!

My next Pride Month post will be over Mita Ori’s highly anticipated Our Dining Table, which has been recommended to me like no other these past couple months! I look forward to reading it, and I hope you will stick around to read my thoughts. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of Isaku Natsume’s yaoi manga series “Candy Color Paradox,” initially published in 2019 by SuBLime Manga.


Pictures and Pride

Satoshi Onoe is an honest-to-goodness reporter at a weekly magazine company. He takes great pride in his writing and is valued for his ethical approach to reporting. In an industry that is all about chewing people up and spitting them out, it’s no wonder a total softy like Onoe would struggle with exploiting celebs and exposing back alley dealings.

Although he does well at his job, the one co-worker he can’t stand is Motoharu Kaburagi, an ill-mannered photographer who’s done nothing but steal Onoe’s time in the spotlight since day one. When the company chief decides to shuffle around the stakeout teams, Onoe is forced to partner with Kaburagi or let the man ruin his career. Kaburagi’s unethical reporting methods and his streak as a ladies’ man bother Onoe to no end. But, perhaps a little time and experience in the field will show Onoe a side to Kaburagi that’s a bit sweeter than anyone’s ever seen.

I love occupational romances. The office setting is one of the quickest ways to make your story relatable, and the drama is enhanced when our characters are trying to “make it work” while on the job. There may not be much explicit content until the last couple pages of this first volume, but I guarantee subsequent volumes will only get spicier.

What I don’t particularly love about Candy Color Paradox, however, is the nature of our main characters’ work. To me, news tabloids and articles that are only out to “expose” people are full of bullshit. I don’t like reading them, and I certainly don’t like reading about them. This kinda made both Onoe and Kaburagi difficult for me to like, as I find the work they’re doing—despite the tireless effort—to ultimately be full of crap. While the story isn’t about “what is right” or “what is wrong” per se, finding the “next big scoop” for their weekly magazine is a core element of the story, and often the segue for deepening Onoe and Kaburagi’s precarious relationship.

CCP intro

Writer x Photographer

Along with not loving this field of work, I immediately disliked how Natsume framed Onoe’s stance on attraction. The dude literally had a girlfriend and even proclaimed “I’m not gay!” in a bar, and I find that incredibly off-putting given that he’s supposed to be our MC. I get that this is a story from 2009, so Natsume is probably playing this off more as a joke, but c’mon, this is such a stereotypical thing to say. Unless it’s with the intent to explore one’s sexuality, I’m over characters that deny their sexual interests.

In typical uke style, Onoe gives us constant poutiness and confused gay crying. He’s full of pride in his work, and isn’t afraid to take a jab at Kaburagi whenever he can. Some will find his loud personality and flustered antics annoying—I know I did. But, despite his notoriously unscrupulous occupation, Onoe remains dedicated to his honest writing, and I can at least appreciate him for that.

On the flip side, Kaburagi can be a frustrating guy to get behind, both for Onoe and the reader. His scruffy appearance and initial attitude toward Onoe immediately leapt out at me as toxic masculine behavior. Unlike Onoe, Kaburagi uses his looks and charmed words to draw out the scoop he needs to land him the cover page story. As we quickly realize, he’s also an avid liar, which is a turn-off for me. The end of this first volume had me believing that there may be much more to Kaburagi than this initial assumption, but as it stands, I only really like Kaburagi because he seems just as lost in this newfound love as poor Onoe does.

CCP mid

Maybe it Gets Sweeter

As a license rescue release from 2009, Candy Color Paradox embodies the essence of yaoi rom-com workplace dramas popular during its time. Natsume’s art style also reflects this era of BL where tall skinny men and cartoonish expressions dominated the series. For me, it’s kinda bland to look at, but if you like the look of The World’s Greatest First Love or Junjou Romantica, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of the rivals-to-lovers trope in my BL manga specifically, but Onoe and Kaburagi are quicker to admit their feelings to one another than most BL couples are, so I can bear it.

By the end of this first volume, our characters have made their way to the bedroom. The beginning may not be explicit, but I can see the next volumes being full of smut. So, if explicit BL is your thing, just know that you’ll want to pick up at least the first two volumes.

As to whether I will be getting more Candy Color Paradox or not, I’ll probably hold off for now. Between not caring for Onoe and Kaburagi’s field of work (which is essential to the plot) and finding Onoe a bit too over-reactive, I found myself rushing through this first volume just to finish it and read something else. Whenever next I’m feeling up for a steamy, less-than-serious workplace drama, I’ll consider picking this back up again. until that time, however, Candy Color Paradox just isn’t my taste.

CCP end


I wish that I really had been fooled by that charismatic mask he wears. Then I would be able to tell myself that I was just infatuated with a lie. — Satoshi Onoe


Afterword

I find that Candy Color Paradox is supposed to be a sophisticated read. It pokes fun at “being gay” whenever it can (e.g., Onoe getting overly flustered every time they have to do a stakeout from a love hotel room), but otherwise is just a fun and simple little BL title. I’ll pass on reading more for now, but don’t be surprised if I decide to pick this one back up again. If you’ve read Candy Color Paradox, what do you like about it? Let me know in the comments! My next Pride Month read, Claudine, will dip into the story of a transgender man and his struggle with identity and sexuality. You won’t want to miss it! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Fire Force MANGA Vol. 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions for volumes 1-3 of Atsushi Ohkubo’s manga series “Fire Force,” initially published in 2016 by Kodansha Comics.


Heroes, Devils, and the Inferno

Shinra Kusakabe’s enlistment in the Tokyo Fire Force was by no means an accident. After losing his mom and brother to a household fire, Shinra sets his sights on becoming a hero of the flames so others do not have to go through what he did. It’s a noble goal for sure, but not one without its difficulties. For one, he’s got a creepy little smile that appears whenever things get too intense, which often sends mixed signals to the people he saves. Additionally, his unique pyrokinetic ability shoots fire straight from his feet, leaving behind a literal wicked streak wherever he goes, the so-called “devil’s footprints.”

The Fire Force isn’t just responsible for squelching household fires, though. To fight the inferno in this elite force also means releasing the souls of those who ignite from spontaneous human combustion, a rare dysfunction that can cause an ordinary person to burst into flames on the spot. It can be hard to purge someone who was perfectly fine and healthy just a moment ago, but better to put out the flames quickly than to draw out their suffering. Thankfully, the special force is equipped with many other talented pyrokinetics who also use their powers for good.

The concept of spontaneous human combustion certainly brings with it its pathos, which the Fire Force respects with a humble prayer, “látom,” and a swift, efficient termination of the victim. However, it is certainly odd that the Sun God would punish his own subjects with the flame. As Shinra and his Company 8 comrades start investigating the other companies and their research, they quickly find that while fire brings light, it can also cast terrifying shadows.

Explosive From the Start

While the world and story of Fire Force is full of potential, it’s the quirky characters that make the series shine. From the same mind that created the equally wacky Soul Eater (which I thought was mediocre at best), I honestly love everyone I’ve met in these first three volumes. Shinra’s got this natural charisma to him, a chiseled edge that I find more captivating compared to other shounen protagonists. At the same time, he’s a little doughy boy whose just trying to do his best, and I like him for that.

His friendly fire rival and bunk-mate Arthur Boyle is a delusional dunce who’s convinced he’s a knight. Arthur’s antics get a little annoying at times (HOW DOES A MAN NOT KNOW WHICH HAND TO HOLD HIS SWORD IN I–), but like Shinra, he’s a lovable idiot, even if stupid to the core.

The rest of Company 8 is shaping up to be an entertaining and endearing bunch. Obi commands the squad with overwhelming authority and love for his crew, despite not possessing any fire abilities himself. (Perhaps that makes him even more commendable.) I’m sure we’ll find out more about him as the series goes on. His second in command, the sharp-eyed Lieutenant Hinawa, seems to share a past with Obi. The same goes for Maki, a talented second generation pyrokinetic who can manipulate the flames into cute little fire sputters, but could also squat Shinra and Arthur with her strength. I hope we learn more about Company 8 as the series goes on.

Lastly for noteworthy characters, the first three volumes conclude the Princess Hibana arc. A leading research force into human combustion, Hibana rules over her subjects with a much colder hand than Obi does. Ohkubo has this tendency to give characters certain speech quirks that get annoying fast, and Hibana’s use of the word “gravel” to describe every single human she comes across gets old quick. However, Hibana’s encounter with Shinra changes her perspective a little, and as she joins Company 8’s goal of uncovering the secrets of human combustion, Hibana becomes a beautiful ally worth having.

Saved by the Flame

My only big gripe with the series so far is the strange fanservice timing. I know it was an apparent problem for those watching the anime, but the manga has it too. Most of these unfortunate scenes revolve around a Company 1 cat girl named Tamaki, whom which Shinra or Arthur constantly stumble into through weird action stunts. For example, Shinra goes to raise his hand for a greeting, but “accidentally” slips it IN HER BRA. Like, WHAT?? I don’t get the appeal, but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often.

Where this quirky fanservice has be annoyed, I can at least admire Ohkubo’s iconic character art style. Again, maybe it’s just a matter of subject, but I am enjoying this series TEN times more than I did Soul Eater. With their shimmering blue reflective tape and puffy coat, the signature Fire Force uniforms are what first caught my eye. This design choice has me absolutely LIVING, and I can’t wait to cosplay it someday soon!

Fun, intense, and fast-paced, Fire Force depicts the great wonder of the flame with artistic fury and creativity. The world is crafted with immense intrigue, and I’m dying to know what secrets the top dogs in Company 1 are holding. Given Shinra’s fiery spirit and determination, I bet it won’t be too long before we find out.


It doesn’t matter who you are–it doesn’t matter if you broke the law. If someone’s in trouble, we go to help. The Fire Force isn’t like the military. Isn’t that what heroes do? — Shinra Kusakabe


Afterword

So, where do I stand on Fire Force after three volumes? Guys, it’s great. Tons of fun. My only concern is whether to continue reading the manga or to just watch the anime. I had impulsively bought the first NINE volumes in a sale a while back (I know, you’d think I’d learn . . .) but I did this because I didn’t think we’d get a second season. Well, now it’s a thing, and from what I understand, the anime does a pretty good job at staying faithful to the source. If anyone who has dabbled in both has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. For now, though, I’ll read what I have, and who knows, maybe I’ll find the answer for myself! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Click here to read my thoughts on volumes 4-6!

A Second Chance to Shine: Land of the Lustrous MANGA || “First” Impressions

First impressions for volume one of Haruko Ichikawa’s manga series “Land of the Lustrous,” published in 2017 by Kodansha Comics.


So, I Was Wrong . . .

This is a bit of a weird post, but hear me out. The story goes like this: I’m sitting here ready to sell the first five volumes of Land of the Lustrous that I own because I wasn’t going to continue reading it. Ever since the anime enchanted me back in late 2017, I have been eager to find out what happens in the story beyond the adaptation. Everyone online is always hyping up the manga each time a new volume is released, and I wanted to join in on the fun. (This all began when the manga started being released in English, of course.)

But as soon as I flipped open the cover, I didn’t understand any of it. The characters all looked the same, the art style was visually attractive but hard to follow. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t even get past the first chapter. So, I put the book(s) back on my shelf, thinking I just wasn’t in the right head space for reading manga.

Months pass. I distinctly recall trying out that first volume again, but didn’t get beyond the opening act. A year goes by, and this series is still sitting there looking pretty. Before I know it, 2020 is here. At some point I tried again—couldn’t do it. What was I not understanding? Was the writing beyond what I could contemplate? Why was everyone raving about this series each time a new volume was released when I couldn’t even get past the first fifty pages?

“A Perfect Adaptation”

Just the other day, Jack of Under the Scope over on YouTube put out this video titled “Land Of The Lustrous: A PERFECT Adaptation.” Now, I know Jack to be a pretty smart and reasonable guy. But this was a pretty big claim, even for him. So I watched it, eager to hear what he had to say—and what I, apparently, was not picking up.

Through his tight-knit, formal analysis comparing the anime and the manga, I walked away having entirely different thoughts about Land of the Lustrous than I held going in. I was reminded of all the wonderful things the anime series did, and why I wanted to pick up the manga in the first place. Really, my kudos go out to Jack and his editor.

I’m only writing this post now because, as you can imagine by the title, I finally completed volume one of the series—and all in a single sitting, no less! Thanks to watching Jack break down how Haruko Ichikawa constructed the manga (even if it was only his interpretation), I was able to understand so many new things about this book I had neglected for the past couple years.

For one, the panel composition is brilliant. (And no, I’m not just saying that because Jack did.) I get why it’s intelligent compositing; the word bubbles naturally guide the reader through the page, following the action, emotions, and anticipation built up before flipping to the next one. Some of Phos’s dialogue actually had me grinning, whereas many of the comments made by Cinnabar and Diamond made my heart ache with sympathy.

And the fights between the Lunarians and the Gems are unbelievably gorgeous and fluid, nightmarish and dreamlike. Ichikawa’s mastered a strong eye and steady hand for crafting all kinds of tectures: glossy hair and glassy eyes, brittle arms and blowing fields, viscous liquids and vile substances. I seen now that Land of the Lustrous is a tactile experience as it is a narrative one. Much of this is accomplished by the stark use of flat black vs. round white shapes to catch the reader’s eye, but it’s also the Gems themselves that carry the weight of this unique story.

It Was Always This Good

As graceful as the action and writing may be, a common criticism of the manga series is that it’s hard to tell characters apart. But, as YouTube friend Simply Gee pointed out, perhaps that’s part of the point. Phos lives in a world where their individuality is a stunningly hard thing to achieve, despite there only being 27 other Gems to compete against for Kongo-sensei’s attention. They all have the same body shape, wear the same clothes, and live in the same construct. Thus, it’d only be natural for characters to gradually become more defined—physically and emotionally for themselves AND the viewer—as the story progresses. Everyone will have their chance to shine eventually.

I realize this post was less of a “first” impressions and more of a commentary on the series as a whole, but the bottom line I’m getting at here is that Land of the Lustrous is very intelligently designed—and that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying to enjoy it. Heck, still I don’t know a thing about mineral hardness and Moh’s scale, but I love Dia’s caring personality and Jade’s stern, no-nonsense attitude nonetheless.

Elegant, unique, and bizarrely stylish, Land of the Lustrous is about searching for purpose in life. However, as one might expect, the book reads very different than the adaptation. In this instance, it took me needing a little push to understand why the manga is so beloved by others. But I believe learning what makes a work of art “good” will always be worth it. After all, I’d certainly rather be in the club that enjoys reading Land of the Lustrous than not—because it’s very good. Then again, I suppose it always has been.


What if you tried making a big change in yourself? Maybe try something you never do would help? — Diamond


Afterword

I can’t recall if I’ve ever written a manga first impressions before, given that I don’t read much manga. If this is the first, however, I’d love to hear what you thought, as well as whether you’d be interested in more of these! I’m definitely keeping Land of the Lustrous on my shelves, and will continue reading until at least until I’ve read those five volumes I bought a while back. After that, well, I suppose we’ll see! I imagine the series only gets better, though. Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Deus lo Vult: The Saga of Tanya the Evil | Light Novel First Impressions

A brief, spoiler-free review of the first volume of the light novel series “The Saga of Tanya the Evil,” or “Youjo Senki,” art by Shinobu Shinotsuki, written by Carlo Zen.


Anything BUT Your Typical Isekai 

Out on the front line, a little girl with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes dominates the battlefield. Soaring higher than all her fatherland’s foes, Tanya Degurechaff rules the skies, rifle in hand, and victory on her mind. But Tanya didn’t always have this life in the trenches. Once an elite salaryman in modern day Japan, life caught up with his arrogance and before he knew it, he was shoved in front of a moving subway train. After angering a mysterious being X in what can only be described as the afterlife, this “God” grants the man a second chance at life to learn a lesson on humility and faith.

And so, in a horrific twist of fate, “Tanya” was reborn in a World-War-I-esque alternate reality where magic exists. Still retaining her consciousness as a cold, calculating, and resourceful salaryman, however, Tanya secretly wields the intelligence and experience from her former life to not only survive in this new harsh landscape, but to climb to the top of the military’s hierarchy.

Rife with cruel irony, political banter, and struggles for life during a time of untold death, Deus lo Vult chronicles Tanya Degurechaff’s rise to power and lays the groundwork for the explosive world war that is blazing on the horizon.


War is only fun when you’re winning. — Tanya Degurechaff


What sets Tanya apart from other “transported to another world” titles is the narrator’s relationship to young Degurechaff. Plus, I mean, the gender transition, which oddly enough doesn’t seem to perturb the narrator as much as one would think. Carlo Zen writes the novel as if a distance exists between the shell of the young girl, Tanya, and the twisted personality behind her actions, the salaryman or “narrator.” Unlike other isekai titles where the protagonist is placed in another world (or another body) and actively takes in their surroundings and exists in it, the narrator constantly addresses the two separate entities of Tanya and himself.

In other words, the narrator makes Tanya do something, then observes the repercussions of that action from Tanya’s head space. Of course, this calls into question the “Tanya’s” reliability as a narrator, which is the next point I’d like to discuss.

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Kafka and the Unreliable Narrator

The perspective of the story is always written in first person, but Tanya is consistently referred to by the narrator in third. When Tanya kills an enemy soldier or salutes to her superiors, the narrator makes comments about what kind of face Tanya should make, what her posture should be like, what her tone of voice should be, etc. The narrator doesn’t see himself as “becoming” Tanya, but rather as an existence that puppeteers this young blonde child named Tanya.

This unusual narrative style sets up an intriguing relationship between the two, and also tells us that the narrator might not be as level-headed as we are led to believe, perhaps indicating an unreliable narrator reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s writing. Fused together are elements that feel simultaneously realistic and fantastic, and like Kafka’s other works, an isolated protagonist faces bizarre predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers. Explored are themes of alienation, existential anxiety, the impacts of imperialism, the costs of war, guilt, and absurdity.

You can’t always trust the narrator’s sanity, which reflects in Tanya’s feared character. And yet, despite her brutal, unforgiving nature, you don’t want to see Tanya lose. Carlo Zen has created a fascinating dilemma—if only more of the book itself was about our rather dangerous titular soldier. 

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A Dense Read

Although it is the saga of Tanya, many events of the book are not observed directly from her eyes. Throughout the novel, we take on the viewpoints of the various members of the military’s general staff, a few of Tanya’s brothers-in-arms, and even a reporter from 40 years into the future. Not only are these mostly just reactions of the same events seen from different perspectives, but they’re hard to follow as well.

I remember reading a passage talking about the war, only to realize a few pages later that this wasn’t the army’s commander or even an Allied Forces captain speaking, but rather Tanya herself commentating on the philosophy of war. The POV often shifts unannounced, too, so you’ll never know exactly who’s shoes you’re in unless you really have a grasp for the characters!


Bravery, glory, honor—all those ideals get covered in mud as they fight to the death, and a handful of exceptions make a name for themselves. — Laeken


I’ll give it to you straight: Tanya‘s first novel is a difficult book to read. Perhaps this speaks to Carlo Zen’s mature writing style, but this is not a novel you’d casually pop open, read for a bit, then put it back down. It’s going to require a bit more commitment than your average light novel series, and while I know some readers crave that kind of challenge, others would be totally put off by it (which is kinda where I fall on the matter).

With constant walls of tiny text, monstrous chapter lengths, and illustrations that are few and far between, you start to understand why it took me a whole month just to read volume one. It doesn’t help that the book is over 300 pages long! So, in addition to being unlike most isekai stories, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is also unlike most light novels.

If God Wills It . . .

Much like the way Lieutenant Degurechaff leads with an iron fist, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a series that can be very punishing to readers unless they know exactly what they’ve signed up for. It’s a densely packed story with so much going on in it, from the philosophies of war and life, to the increasing global climate of a world preparing for war. Zen uses the dreary historical non-fiction backdrop of a world war to toss Tanya into circumstances of danger, and it is in those moments of insecurity that we see the divine cruelty of one all-powerful, pissed off God.

To say the least, the novel series involves much more than a mad little girl flying around using magic to smite her enemies. If you were coming from the anime expecting action at every bend in the rocky road, look elsewhere. Tanya doesn’t take any prisoners, but to those up for the daunting task: “Spend your days in combat and unfathomable danger. If you return alive, you’ll receive honor and glory.” To those poor soldiers, however, my sympathies—you have no idea that the most dangerous thing on the battlefield is the Devil of the Rhine herself.

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O saints, believe in the blessings of our Lord. Let us be fearless. At the distant end of our journey, let us reach the promised land. — Tanya Degurechaff


Afterword

Looking back on it, I definitely enjoyed this first volume of Tanya. It was a tough read for sure, especially since I was expecting more of something like the anime, but I did like the incredible depth placed in the characters and the world. Should you read it? If you’re wanting a military title with a bit of magic and a more challenging read to entertain you, there’s a lot you’re bound to like in Tanya. Will I be picking up volume two? Yes . . . but not anytime soon. I think I need a bit of a break after just reading this first one! For now, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a “Coffee” title here at the cafe, but I’m sure the story only gets better from here.

Have you read The Saga of Tanya the Evil? If you have, what did you think of it, and if you have not, has the anime ever tempted you into starting? Let me know! ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host