Maria the Virgin Witch: A Clash of Magic & Maidenhood || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Winter 2015 anime series “Maria the Virgin Witch,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Gorou Taniguchi, and based on the manga of the same name by Masayuki Ishikawa.


The Peacemaking Witch

A powerful young witch living in medieval France during the Hundred Years’ War, Maria detests nothing more than human violence. With war comes pain, suffering, and destruction, and when the innocent are caught in the crossfire, Maria can take it no longer. Wielding her magic, Maria endeavors to halt the bloodshed by intervening on the battlefield as often as she can. When the heavens finally catch wind of Maria’s plots for peace, however, the archangel Michael is sent to keep her from meddling in the affairs of humanity.

Through direct confrontation, the divine Michael forbids the witch Maria from using her powers, decreeing that her magic will be taken the moment she loses her virginity. Maria, bold as ever, refuses to heed the warnings of heaven and marches on with her plans to disrupt the war. Despite her claims of peace, neither France nor England plan to give up the fight, leading the steadfast Maria to wonder if her noble efforts only serve to prolong the violence. Worse yet, as the Church schemes to take away the witch’s power, Maria’s peacemaking days may soon come to a close.

With the likes of other sex comedies like Yamada’s First Time and Shimoneta, I enjoyed the laughs and toilet humor of Maria the Virgin Witch‘s script. Unlike these others, where Maria finds itself on tricky ground is in the way it attempts to balance bawdy sex talk with sincere human drama befitting the time period. From costuming to ethics and even dialect (at least in the English dub), the story remains weirdly faithful to history as it tries to sell itself as a fantasy romcom with a horny edge to it.

You would try to take an emotional moment between Maria and her human love interest—Joseph—with some seriousness, only for Maria’s familiars to fill the silence with senseless discussion on anything pertaining to the body’s private parts. (Or one character’s lack thereof . . . it’s a long story.) Tonally, the series is kind of all over the place. But thankfully, the characters remain endearing enough to want to love and support—or at least prove interesting enough to want to follow along.

The Virgin Mary

Maria is the main lens through which we view this quasi-medieval France, a country which is undergoing major societal, political, theological, and moral changes as a result of the war. War itself is one theme which the series continues to return to, as it propels Maria to charge into battle with her obnoxiously large monsters and send warriors from both sides home for the day. Yet, without the inevitability of such conflict, the witch Maria, the human Joseph, the mercenary Garfa, and so many other key figureheads wouldn’t have crossed paths on this fateful stage. Although Maria’s efforts do prolong the length of the war, I admire the way she sticks to her values and persists in pursuing peace in spite of most soldiers despising her heretical nature. (And the fact that, yeah, Maria is full-blooded witch living in the Middle Ages.)

Unsurprisingly, our namesake virgin witch also frequently finds herself wrapped up in the politics of gender. In the eyes of men, women of this time period should hold very little power, let alone intervene in the affairs of war–and yet, Maria manages to do both, consistently. She’s not only a threat as a powerful dragon-summoning sorceress, but also as a woman standing up to the petty conflicts of men. The devout of the peacemaking patron witch worship her; the fiends who crave blood and the battlefield curse her. It must be tough being so strong AND beautiful AND virtuous!

Life in Medieval France

I enjoy much of the humor and drama that is to be found in Maria, but what I perhaps love more than both is the production itself. Despite being produced at Production I.G, many of the same talented staff who worked on Code Geass also came out for Maria. This includes Yuriko Chiba, who designed the attractive characters of Maria (along with being chief animation director for Geass), and, of course, the genius Gorou Taniguchi, who directed both. The series boasts bright colors and lots of movement, along with a keen eye for historical accuracy in the various villages and castle towns. Top-notch stuff for a sex comedy!

You all know I love talkin’ music when it comes to anime, and I’m proud to have one of my favorites back for the theme song arrangement: Tatsuya Katou! Not only that, we’ve also got Masato Kouda of KonoSuba and Monster Hunter fame (among several other hits) composing the main series OST. Add ZAQ for a pop of excitement with the OP and the production package is complete. Did I mention that Funimation’s dub work here is also fantastic? Massive props to Caitlin Glass and her team for the vocal direction on this sometimes silly, sometimes serious fantasy series.

A Play of Magic & Morals

What bothers me most about Maria the Virgin Witch is how it transitions roughly between intimate character relationships and a bunch o’ bad dick jokes. Sure, I chuckled a lot when watching, but I couldn’t help but feel that the dramatic elements of the plot far outshine the toilet humor, especially considering the elaborate character work woven together throughout these short 12 episodes. And that’s another point for demerit—the series tries to navigate through all these heavy themes in just a single cour. (Not that I could guarantee I’d actually watch more Maria than this first season alone.)

Despite the tone problems, I was still quite surprised with the overall quality of the series. The show watches like a wacky Shakespearean plot unfolding on an anime stage—a play of human morals, magic, and the divine—and it deserves a first viewing at the very least. I bought the Blu-ray over a year ago, and it’s comforting to know that it will stay on my shelf for at least a little while longer. I’d probably have phased off Maria were I someone who dabbled in this sex-com genre more frequently. But, seeing as I’m not that kind of anime fan, I’d say Maria the Virgin Witch was a fun “first time,” so to speak.


“They’re lucky I’m such a pacifist, or there would be hell to pay!” 

– Maria


Afterword

I haven’t got much else to report on this one. Come for the laughs, stay for the heartwarming bits. Speaking of bits, there’s not a lot of ecchi presentation in Maria, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. Sure, our titular maiden is scantily clad in a few strips of leather. But Maria is a modest woman, and I think most will like her. Maria the Virgin Witch is a “Cake” title here at the cafe, a series well worth your time, if not for a one-time watch. (Or a one night stand . . . ok, I’m done with the awful puns.) You can watch all of the series on Funimation both dubbed and subbed! If you have seen Maria, definitely let me know your thoughts on the series or this review down in the comments. Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

The Four Dragons Assemble: Yona of the Dawn 7-9 || 25 Days of Manga

After years of sitting on my shelf collecting dust, I finally finish reading Yona’s first nine volumes.

Loose thoughts on volumes 7-9 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 4-6


History is Made at Night

Unlike the past few volumes of Yona, volume 7 opens with action. Yona and Yun begin their escape to the upper deck of Kum-Ji’s human trafficking ship along with all the other women aboard. I love this opening chapter because it gives us a glimpse into Yun’s calculated thought processes. He really is a strategist, always assessing the situation for both himself, his enemies, and now, his friends. Before, all he had was Ik-su the shepherd. Now, Yun doesn’t just look out for himself; instead, he worries about Yona, Hak, and everyone else in the party. Point is, he’s already grown a lot from when we first met him. Even though he can’t save the princess on his own, we all know that Team Yona would’ve been doomed from the start without Yun’s genius. Praise for the pretty boy!

Anime watchers will immediately recognize the downfall of Kum-Ji as the moment where Yona takes on the mantle of power and courage, officially making a name for herself among the Awa port town residents. This scene is drawn so impressively. The backgrounds may be plain, but this allows Yona to literally leap out of the page with with her sharp gaze and even sharper arrow tip. Such a legendary scene. And I’m witnessing Kum-Ji die for the second time is just the icing on the cake.

A startling reunion with Su-Won tosses the main conflict at hand–reclaiming the thrown–back into the picture. The new king sure does have a handsome face, but Yona has changed a great deal herself. Though she crumbles after their encounter, she did muster the courage to attempt reaching out for Su-Won’s sword. I don’t think she could’ve killed him. Well, maybe . . . The remainder of the volume is full of joyous celebration and, likewise, bittersweet goodbyes. The scene of Yona running back to Gi-Gan to embrace the maternal figure one last time will never fail to break my heart.

War Games

Volume 8 is by far the most different volume in the story, both in terms of narrative focus and storytelling style. The first few chapters introduce a normal campfire evening with the party. Suddenly, Yona is joined by an innocent traveler radiating the light of the sun. Little does she know that her new companion is actually the Yellow Dragon! His name is Zeno, and he’s a bit of an oddball (which is really saying something, given that this is the same team with Gija and Sinha in it). But he’s kind, caring, and observant, and these qualities mark him as a dragon even if his abilities are yet to be realized. The anime ended with Zeno’s introduction, so I’m excited to see what he does from here on out.

Shifting focus, the next few chapters are told from Su-Won’s perspective. His ventures traveling the Kohka Kingdom have shown him small ways to make major changes in a village’s prosperity, as seen in the work he does in the Earth Tribe capital. The general there, Lord Yi Geun-Tae, has enjoyed a lazy lifestyle since King Il took the throne. Lately, however, the general craves combat, as battle is the only way Geun-Tae believes he can prove his worth to the kingdom. Su-Won provides him this long desired action, but in the form of a festival celebrating the Earth Tribe and its general. We get a laydown of the festival war game rules, the entire “battle,” and even the aftermath. It turns out the festival was a way to stimulate trade in the capital once again. Whether for tea, minerals, or even soldiers, Su-Won sure knows how to encourage the masses.

Off in the forest, Team Yona reunites with Ik-Su to seek instructions on the prophesy originally bestowed upon Yona. I’m not sure if the “Shield” and “Sword” they will eventually meet refer to Hak and Su-Won(?), but regardless, Yona wants to train. Desiring to take up the sword, she is met by humorous resistance from the party. However, we all know that our dear princess always gets what she wants–even if it’s skill of swordsmanship!

The Dark Dragon and the Happy Hungry Bunch

Despite taking a dark turn in the middle, this is by far the funniest volume in the series yet. Each chapter had something that made me laugh out loud, or at least crack a pretty big smile. We get to know more about Yun, how he grew up trading with local villages in the Fire Tribe lands while also supporting them with food and health needs. Watching Yona, Hak, and the Dragons bumbling through the village insisting on helping was just the sort of mood-lightener we needed.

Quickly, Yona resolves to put together a team of “bandits” to push out greedy Fire Tribe officials. In the name of happiness and hunger, the crew strive to protect inhabitants in this roundabout way so that they can prevent the villagers themselves from rebelling (which is punishable by the selling of one’s children, yikes!). I find it interesting how Yona’s team endeavored to bring safety by wounding (but not killing) the officials’ guards. This is in direct–and definitely deliberate–contrast to the previous volume, where Su-won essentially brought the same results without the use of any violence or manipulation. Is this what the power of the true king can do . . . ?

As previously stated, volume 9 does take a brief dark detour in the midst of the action. Forced to use his forbidden ability for the first time in 14 years, Sinha awakens to a newfound desire for power spurred on by his dragon eyes. The imagery here of the giant shadow dragon devouring the guards was the stuff of legend, I absolutely loved it. It’s nice to see best boy get the glow up he deserved, though the cost is surely great. Lastly, Fire Tribe prince Kang Tae-jun is up to no good once again–especially considering that he’ll soon find out that the princess he “killed” months ago actually survived the fatal fall!


IK-SU, THESE PEOPLE YOU PREDICTED WOULD SHAKE KOHKA UP ARE ALL IDIOTS. BUT, THEY’RE IDIOTS WHO CAN LAUGH EVEN WHEN THEY’RE HUNGRY. WHEN THEY HAVE TO DEAL WITH BIGGER PROBLEMS DOWN THE ROAD, I BET THEY’LL FACE THOSE WITH A SMILE TOO.” — YUN


Afterword

After YEARS of these books sitting on my shelf collecting dust, I’ve at last finished reading the first nine volumes of Yona of the Dawn. Although I’m done for now, you can bet my next RightStuf purchase will include the next dozen or so, as I simply love this series and its characters with all my heart! We’re finally getting past what the original anime covered (I believe . . . it’s been years since I saw it), and I’m excited to see where the story goes. If it’s as my fellow blogger and mangatuber friends are telling me, I’m in for the ride of my life! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

WE’RE BACK on the Trail: Yona of the Dawn Volumes 4-6

After several months, we return to the story of the girl whose blazing hair boldly paints the dawn crimson red.

Loose thoughts on volumes 4-6 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 1-3


Finding the Blue Dragon

It’s been FOREVER since I last talked about Yona and the crew (or blogged in general, yikes)! But fear not, we’re back on track with the manga volume “reviews.” I wanted to count volumes 7-9 of Yona as part of my 25 Days of Manga reads, only to realize that I never covered 4-6 here on the blog! It’s been a minute, but I hope you’ll enjoy reading these loose thoughts.

Alright, so volume 4 basically serves as our transition volume from the Gija story to the introduction of the Blue Dragon. Gija proves his worth to the team with his ability to sense the presence of other dragons. This will be useful, especially in the start, as Yona and Hak (and Yun) have essentially NO clue where the other dragons are residing. Unlike Gija, the others seem to have deserted the typical ways of the tradition, which make them particularly tricky to find in the vast countryside.

But obviously, Gija manages to find a way. We enter the Blue Dragon’s village, which is interestingly imbedded in a series of mountain caverns. (Seems like a difficult way of life to me, but hey, I know many cultures have done it in the past.) Shunned for his cursed eyes that supposedly turn people to stone, the Blue Dragon lives with the other villagers, although away from them at the same time. His story is a sad one, filled with drama, loss, and curses from his previous master. The villagers don’t like him much (which is their loss, seeing as how the Blue Dragon is my fave), but they want to protect him all the same. Weird. But it will all work out in the end, right?

A Name is Given

I love volume 5 of this series so much. Yona moves at a decent pace, quickly assimilating the Blue Dragon into the party and moving on to find the Green Dragon. Of course, this comes after escaping collapsing tunnels, gaining the trust of an entire village, and earning respects from the Blue Dragon himself. Speaking of, we finally have a name for him–Sinha! It was Yona’s idea, that lovely girl. With his silent charm and fluffy quirks, Sinha is right at home with Yona’s crew. It’s almost as if they were destined to be together . . .

After overcoming a bizarre little sick moment, Gija sniffs out the location of the Green Dragon. The good news? He’s relatively close. The bad news: His position changes frequently, almost as if he’s flying around like a madman. Though not far from that truth, the hunt for the Green Dragon comes to a hault when Hak causes trouble in the port town of the Green Dragon. His wanted poster goes up, and now it’s incognito mode for Yona’s bodyguard. It’s a good thing that Gija can still detect the Green Dragon’s position–their encounter is one of the funniest moments in the series yet!

The fault doesn’t like completely with Hak, however; unbeknownst to the party, the Green Dragon himself also joined Hak in taking down a few local hothead officials belonging to Lord Yang Kum-Ji. They are in many ways the same, both driven recklessly by their sense of justice. Heavy taxes imposed by Kum-Ji alone make him a pretty terrible guy, but the moment we find out that Kum-Ji is the leader of a human-trafficking ring, I immediately want him taken out. Thankfully, Jaeha, the Green Dragon, and his Captain, a local pirate woman, see eye-to-eye on this, and they form a crew–and a plan–to take Kum-Ji down.

A Test of Courage

Jaeha’s captain, Gi-Gan only agrees to accepting Yona’s help if the girl can prove herself in a challenge. Yona’s test involves scaling an imposing cliffside to retrieve a healing root which only grows in the cliff. Determined (as our girl always is), Yona takes on the challenge. Though Jaeha has to come to her rescue, Yona obtains the root and returns safely, thus passing the Captain’s test. The Captain sees a rare strength in Yona–the same fire in herself–and it’s these guts which convince the Captain that Yona would never betray her friends.

During Yona’s sidequest, Jaeha starts to feel the pull of the Red Dragon residing within Yona’s blood. He resists completely joining her quest of uniting the kingdom, but now he’s at least interested (both in these sudden feelings of loyalty and the young maiden herself). Romantic tensions between Hak and Yona also increase. We find that Hak has the HOTS for our beloved red-head princess, and that he’s been holding himself back for as long as he can remember. WOW Hak, way to reign it in. At the same time, I don’t think licking Yona’s wounds is convincing to anyone that you don’t love the princess. >.<

At last, a plan to take down Kum-Ji is drafted. It will involve all of the Captain’s noble pirate crew and everyone in Team Yona. (Lady Yun returns!) Before we move on, I just wanted to say that I actually really like the Captain’s crew. Gi-Gan herself, aged and stubborn, is a rare kind of admirable elder in shoujo manga. She’s the mother Yona never had, a role model that will no doubt influence how Yona views comradeship and hardship in this difficult world. Hopefully, the Captain has taught Yona enough in this short of time to be able to pull off the hardest role in this entire operation–being taken hostage by Kum-Ji himself!


SHE GREW UP SHIELDED FROM THE WORLD’S HORRORS, BUT SOMETIMES, SHE HAS THE LOOK OF THE SOLDIER ON THE BATTLEFIELD. SHE’S LEAVING ME SPEECHLESS. — CAPTAIN GI-GAN


Afterword

Forgive me if my blogging is a bit rusty, it’s been too long. I should have taken a formal break, but instead I let the nagging pressure of eventually needing to return agonize me for weeks. I’ll try to notify you guys next time I decide to take a break. Yona’s adventures are only beginning. I’ll start reading the next three volumes tonight, and will hopefully have the next post up soon. I’m glad to be back, and I’m thankful for your continued readership. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Sakurada Reset: Supernatural Mysteries and Missed Opportunities || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode Spring 2017 anime “Sakurada Reset” (also translated as “Sagrada Reset”), animated by David Production, directed by Shinya Kawatsura, and based on the light novel by Yutaka Kouno.

Haruki can reset time but forget she ever did. Meanwhile, Kei remembers everything.


A Town of Supernatural Gifts

Sakurada isn’t your average seaside town. Unknown to anyone else, its inhabitants are born with strange psychic powers. Upon being summoned to the school rooftop one day, Kei Asai meets Misora Haruki, a quiet apathetic girl with the power to reset time. Her gift comes with certain limits, however: she can only go back up to three days, and she can’t use it within 24 hours of the last reset. To make matters more complicated, she doesn’t ever remember using her power when she resets time!

This is where Kei comes in. His ability to remember everything and anything allows him to recall changed timelines and Haruki’s resets. Together, they wield their unique powers with their Service Club friends to aid the problems of others. As the club starts taking on increasingly difficult and crucial missions for the mysterious Administration Bureau—an organization which manages all the abilities in Sakurada for the sake of justice—Kei finds that the machinations of eerie organization go far beyond simple acts of service.

I love time travel stories. I know many people dislike the trope, but it never ceases to entertain me. When paired with a plot like Sakurada Reset‘s—saving others, government conspiracies, romance drama, etc.—you basically get a knock-off Steins;Gate (which is one of my faves). The only problem is that, aside from the last couple episodes, the series is really, really boring. Given that I find everything else about the series to be incredibly interesting, I’m chalking up Sakurada‘s slow and lackluster nature to the direction. At least our time traveling heroes are somewhat inspiring, right? Right???!

sakurada characters

Apathy is Contagious

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kei is one bland dude. Despite possessing one of the coolest abilities in the series, photographic memory, the gift does very little to make him likable. Like, he’s not rude or disrespectful, but he’s not exactly exciting to be around, either. I suppose he’s a SAFE option as a lead, but I’d rather my time travelers have a screw or two loose (like they tend to do) or have one overwhelmingly eccentric trait than be completely nonchalant about everything.

And sadly, Kei’s partner in crime isn’t much more interesting than him. In fact, Haruki’s hallmark is her absolute BLANDNESS, which allows Kei to tell her whatever he wants and she’ll do it. While I appreciate the sense of mutual trust that slowly starts to develop between them, I did notice that this kind of just left Haruki to be another tool for Kei to use (and not in the fascinating way that Code Geass‘ C.C. is to Lelouch). I’ll say that she’s reliable as a heroine, but not much else.

The rest of the cast ranges from similarly bland (man, apathy sure is contagious!) to unnecessarily complex. One example of bland is Kei’s best friend, Tomoki, whose abilities as a telepath makes him little more than the series’ top CHAD. Another is Seika, a girl who can communicate with cats, but is a weirdo and hard to converse with. On the flip side, Eri Oka, a punkish girl introduced later on who can implant memories, did nothing but make me want to pULL MY HAIR OUT, she’s so annoying. Same with Murase, a girl with an amazing power that basically makes her invincible, but boy is she a grade-A B*TCH to deal with sometimes. I could go on with describing my frustrations. Point is, they’re all good kids (kinda), just needlessly stubborn.

sakurada ocean

Calm and Quiet Seaside Energy

As Kei and friends continue to explore the city, I did slowly start to fall in love with Sakurada. Many sights became familiar, almost nostalgic, and I do think that the seaside setting does wonderful things for the story. Having the plot unfold in a smaller community than, say, Tokyo, allows characters to conveniently run into each other on the streets (which happens quite often) without seeming far-fetched. Plus, they have the ocean, and the sea is always a magical place for me.

If I had to describe the art and animation, I’d say what I have been about basically everything else—it’s safe. Not below average by any means, but decently pleasant, if not stiff and stale. (It sure doesn’t help that the MC’s script is boring as hell.) David Production took zero risk in making the powers in Sakurada look cool or exciting, which is SUCH a missed opportunity given how intriguing espers can be. Bummer. At least the music was good.

I couldn’t find credits for any other well-known work, but Rayons’ orchestral soundtrack compliments the pace of Sakurada Reset very well. The way some of the sad piano pieces transition to some of the series’ more casual, slice-of-life moments almost feels more like it’s music for a visual novel than an animated series. (There’s one particular piano/vocal track that really tugged at my heart.) This becomes more apparent when you start to realize that, for some reason, the music plays at a consistent volume THE ENTIRE TIME. No one “heartbreaking” moment felt more dramatic than the next, and I strongly believe that’s because the sound direction here—like the rest of the series—is so friggin’ lame. Again, good OST, just missed opportunities. WEAVER’s work on the second OP was BANGERS though!!

sakurada op

A Series of Missed Opportunities

For a supernatural school drama anime with mystery and time travel at every turn in the road, Sakurada Reset comes together as a strikingly unremarkable package. Its direction is steady (and sometimes quite artistic), but otherwise too slow to convince me to get excited about anything. Despite possessing unique super powers, the characters’ personalities are either disappointingly ordinary or straight-up noisome. And that’s too bad, really, because nothing about the series is terribly bad. It’s just average, and probably forgettable give or take a month or two.

If you came from a show like In Search of the Lost Future (wow, now THAT takes me back) and were hoping for something a bit more, Sakurada Reset will serve you well. It explores living with regrets, human longevity, and trust much better than other time travel romances do. However, if you came expecting a masterpiece like Steins;Gate, prepare to be disappointed—you won’t gain much from these long 24 episodes.

sakurada tree


We’re connected by our abilities. Since we have abilities, the two of us were able to stay together all the time, automatically, as a matter of course. Kei Asai


Afterword

In continuing to tackle my never-ending backlog, I was happy to be able to cross this one off the list. It sure was mediocre, but not something I regret watching. For all those curious, I consider Sakurada Reset a “Coffee” rating, and only recommend it if you’re longing for a particular kind of feeling, something transient and fleeting but, also, not wholly unenjoyable. If you have taken the one-way train to Sakurada by chance, be sure to let me know your thoughts about the series in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’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

Hitorijime My Hero: Unrequited Feelings & Forbidden Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Summer 2017 anime “Hitorijime My Hero,” animated by Encourage Films, directed by Yukina Hiiro, and based on the manga by Memeco Arii.


Forbidden Love

Few teenagers are more hopeless than Masahiro Setagawa. The poor kid got roped in with the wrong crowd from a young age and now serves neighborhood thugs as their errand boy. He may have believed in heroes as a kid, but not anymore. His life takes a drastic turn one day when Kousuke Ooshiba, a local menace dubbed the “Bear Killer,” swoops in to take down the other gang members, saving Masahiro from their grueling low-life ways.

Time passes for Masahiro, and as he and his former friend Kensuke Ooshiba start attending high school, Masahiro is once again reunited with Kousuke—only this time, Masahiro is a student and his childhood hero has become his math teacher! First a hero, then a best friend’s older brother, and now “Mr. Ooshiba!?” To make matters even more complicated, Kensuke’s childhood friend, Asaya Hasekura, returns to his life with the request to be more than just friends this time around.

It’s starting to look busy in the Ooshiba household, and while Kousuke’s own feelings urge him to protect Masahiro like he once did, this sudden entanglement of the boys’ lives creates quite a complex web of relationships. As Kousuke’s lover, Masahiro will eventually have to decide for himself: to resign himself to his unrequited feelings, or to pursue a forbidden love.

This is one of those anime where the 3-episode rule most definitely doesn’t apply. The opening episodes of this shounen-ai school drama hone in on the relationship between Kensuke and Asaya, which is actually the parent story of Memeco Arii’s manga. After that quickly gets resolved, we shift the focus back to Kousuke and Masahiro’s “Teacher X Student” romance for the remainder of the series, which is significantly messier. Obviously, it’s an age-gap romance, which isn’t my thing personally, but at least the characters carry the weight of the show well . . . I mean, they do, right?

masahiro and kensuke

Poor, Poor Masahiro

I really need a shirt that says “Masahiro did nothing wrong, y’all are just bullies,” cause MAN, this guy has it rough. Living alone (save for his prostitute mother), Masahiro is one of those kids who was forced to grow up fast. While he cooks fantastic meals for Kensuke and his school friends and diligently cleans the Ooshiba household better than momma Ooshiba even could, these are conditioned responses. With his mother out every night, Masahiro has to cook for himself, and when she comes home a drunken mess, it’s Masahiro cleaning it all up the next morning. He doesn’t belong out on the streets with those thugs, but he doesn’t belong in his own home, either.

AND THEN you have a dude like Kousuke who comes in all grown-up and “mature” just to toy with Masahiro’s heart and throw him into gay panic mode. I don’t really know how to feel about Kousuke. Like, he knows Masahiro is immature in life and in love, and yet Kousuke continues to mislead Masahiro with his words episode, after episode, after episode. He’s supposed to be the “hot teacher seme,” I get it, but I couldn’t help but find some of his actions to be somewhat disrespectful.

The other couple of Hitorijime My Hero doesn’t make things much better for Masahiro. Kensuke is your typical fluffy uke who enjoys snacks and fun, innocently going about his friendships with the youthful naivete of a shounen protagonist. I suppose he is the first to accept Masahiro and his older brother’s forbidden love, which is heartwarming cause #family. And Asaya may be the best-looking boy in this series, but DAMN, the dude is HEARTLESS. I think it was supposed to be funny how Asaya would adamantly give Masahiro the cold shoulder and instead demand he cook for him, but I never laughed. (The other male classmates also used him like this, umm, the heck??) All the guys in Hitorijime My Hero besides Masahiro just felt so selfish. Fear not, there’s a happy ending waiting for everyone, but the road to getting a smiling Masahiro has its fair share of irritating bumps.

hitorijime school

Big-Chill BL Energy

Let’s talk art. Encourage Films is a new studio for me, but Hitorijime My Hero appears to be their leading title—and that’d make sense, because the series is one good-looking BL anime. Seeing Memeco Arii’s original character designs fully animated and chasing after their lovers is really something special. Had I watched this series years ago, I probably would’ve fell even harder for the characters. If you’re wanting a more down-to-earth shounen-ai romance, I would pass Hitorijime My Hero based solely on animation alone.

The entire soundtrack is also fits the mellow vibe of the series. Takeshi Senoo (most notably known for his work on the equally chill Aria the Animation) provides amazing orchestral magic to accompany the drama of the series. He balances the slice-of-life energy of quiet lo-fi beats with the more intense romantic pull of gentle string harmonies, almost as if the OST were for a feature film and not a series. It’s simply wonderful, just like the aesthetically pleasing OP “Heart Signal” by Wataru Hatano and the soft ED theme “TRUE LOVE,” which is sung by the various seiyuus from the series.

Now, it IS Pride Month, and it’d be a crime if I didn’t give special praise to the incredible dub directed by none other than David Wald! (He also directed the Love Stage!! dub and voices the bartender in this show!) Austin Tindle’s Masahiro is just a friggin’ gem, I love how nervous and klutzy he sounds all the time! David Matranga’s Kousuke is BIG SEXY energy (the way he said the F word, woah), which feels surprisingly natural for his character. Hearing Daman Mills as pretty boy Asaya was the biggest surprise for me, and I love how he kept the guy so snide and cruel towards others but would call Kensuke nicknames like “babe” and “Kenny” like it was nothing. Speaking of, Alejandro Saab can do NO WRONG as Kensuke, the purest boi!! Even if the characters were hit-or-miss for me at times, I cannot deny that they had superb VAs behind the mic with excellent scripts to follow, too.

masahiro crying

Not the Best, But a Huge Step Up

While I seem to be pulling these LGBT titles out left and right, I actually haven’t watched that many BL anime. Maybe that’s because I know that BL anime kinda have a rep for not being nearly as good (or respectful) as their manga counterparts. That said, I’m not trashing BL anime (if anything, we can only use more!), but Hitorijime My Hero feels like a huge step in the right direction.

Despite the rudeness of the characters towards poor Masahiro, Hitorijime My Hero feels like a very real, human story (unlike the absurd comedy that is Love Stage!!). I know friends who have gone through exactly what Masahiro did, and maybe that’s why I felt so strongly for this kid. He’s a real boy. Fictional, but also just like that one confused, caring, love-struck individual we may know in our own lives—and even through smiles, that person doesn’t actually have the happiest life. It happens, but if we can be there for people like Masahiro—much as how Kousuke, Kensuke, and everyone else was there for him—hopefully we can become our own kind of hero for these people.

masahiro and kousuke night


Don’t worry about what the world wants from you–worry about the world you want. Sometimes, when your heart is telling you what it wants, you just have to listen. — Kousuke Ooshiba


Afterword

I feel like I did this one dirty, but sometimes you just gotta call ’em out when you see it. (I mean, I get that Kousuke was a “bad boy,” but he literally BROKE A GLASS DOOR to enter Masahiro’s apartment JUST because he didn’t answer his phone, I can’t with this guy.) But what did you think of Hitorijime My Hero? Do you also stan Masahiro or did you think he had it coming for him? Let me know down in the comments. I welcome Hitorijime My Hero as a “Coffee” title, and recommend it if you’re looking for a BL anime that’s probably better than most, but still not as good as Love Stage!! IMO. Maybe I’m wrong—you tell me!

My next Pride Month post will be over another yuri manga, the first volume of Dr. Pepperco’s Goodbye, My Rose Garden, so please look forward to that! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Love Stage!! – A Coming-Out Worth Celebrating || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode Summer 2014 anime “Love Stage!!,” animated by J.C.Staff, directed by Kenichi Kasai, and based on the manga by Eiki Eiki.


A Shocking Reunion

Izumi Sena comes from noble blood. Not the stuff of knights and kings, but family fame. His mom’s a famous actress, his father’s a successful producer, and his loud, obnoxious older brother is currently Tokyo’s biggest rockstar. It would surprise anyone to hear that the youngest Sena wasn’t in showbiz. But Izumi didn’t ask for any of this. Instead, Izumi aims to become a manga artist, despite possessing no talent for the craft! In fact, the only way he’s been able to completely avoid the limelight is thanks to his reclusive otaku hobbies.

I suppose “completely” isn’t the right word, though. Technically, Izumi cross-dressed as a girl for a wedding commercial skit ten years ago, which still haunts him to this day. But, a decade after the shoot, the same wedding company wishes to put together a 10th anniversary ad—and staring the original child actors for the project, no less!

This reunites Izumi with Ryouma Ichijou, who’s gone on to become a popular actor. Little does Izumi know that Ryouma’s been looking forward to this day ever since he fell in love the first time they met! As he did then, however, Izumi’s feminine appearance and unisex name still have Ryouma believing that little boy was actually a girl. BUT, even after discovering the truth, Ryouma can’t seem to shake off his feelings. Thus kicks off a series of troubles for Izumi’s big coming out—and in more ways than one.

Love Stage!! is a short romance comedy series based off the original BL manga. Most of the fun in watching comes from the hilarious drama that ensues between Izumi and Ryouma. Whether you’re a fan of BL or not, these two idiots will make you squirm and squeal—and I mean that in a good way. They’re genuinely funny and good-natured, as well as have an amazing chemistry together (even if their initial meeting would technically be viewed as an assault).

Even then, Ryouma spends the entire series redeeming himself and righting this wrong by actively trying to support Izumi and his personal endeavors. Ryouma loves Izumi, no two ways about it. It now becomes a matter of whether Izumi is willing to return that affection or deny the country’s favorite rising star actor.

izumi and ryouma romance

Lovable Leads, Hilarious Heart

As I mentioned above, the leads of Love Stage!! are easily what make this series so enjoyable and accessible, too. Izumi is a lovable character. His earnest dreams of being a mangaka (when clearly he has no skill whatsoever) probably ring true to many fellow otaku. Izumi just wants to give back to the medium that has given him so much, and his pursuit is a noble one, if not a tad far-fetched. Still, he works tirelessly and dedicates his entire being to making the manga of his dreams, and I admire his unwavering perseverance.

In contrast to Izumi’s cute appearance and large round eyes, Ryouma’s leading features are his charm and captivating presence. The guy is straight SEXY, no doubt about it. But, as we get to know him beyond his actor persona, we see that he’s also just as hardworking and determined to achieve his dreams as Izumi. This includes, of course, getting together with the crush of his childhood.

There’s this ongoing gag in the series that Ryouma is bad at everything he does for the first time, but quickly improves with dedication and experience. Whether allowing people to meet his true self, making friends, or moving things to the bedroom (heh heh), you can only imagine the hilarious outcomes from Ryouma’s “first time” with anything!

The two also have their own family, friends, and industry rivals that spark plenty of entertaining dialogue. For instance, the Sena family manager, Rei Sagara, has a no-nonsense tolerance for anyone’s shit (except when he’s willing to let cute little Izumi slide past him). As a caretaker of sorts, Rei acts more as a doting mother than his own mom, which I suppose doesn’t say much since she’s so full of herself (in the most fabulous way possible). As he realizes his own feelings, Izumi slowly starts coming to Rei with all his questions about life, love, and sex with another man. Their relationship is adorable and handled with surprisingly good guidance.

Rei also helps manage the relationships between Izumi and his brash brother, Shougo, Ryouma’s own manager Shino, and even Ryouma himself sometimes! He’s seriously great, and as the series progresses, we find that many of the cast actually share relationships with one another behind closed doors. Such developments really up the character drama and intrigue!

izumi rei shougo

The Best-Looking (and Sounding) BL Anime

I admittedly haven’t seen much BL anime, but from what I understand, this has got to be one of the best currently out on the market. J.C.Staff really went ham on this one. Bright colors constantly dominate the screen, enhancing the light romantic feel for the series. The characters themselves look very attractive, what with their bold expressions, blushy cheeks, and rainbow-colored hair and eyes. It’s nice to see a simple BL anime adaptation look just as amazing as most other high quality rom-com titles.

A lot of people don’t talk about it, but the music is also shockingly good. Yes, the ED “CLICK YOUR HEART!!” by Kazutomi Yamamoto is an absolute bop, but I’m talking about the OST. Composer Ryousuke Nakanishi is probably most famous for his work on The Devil is a Part-Timer!, so you already know he’s got the balance between comedy and drama down pat. I often found the music to carry the emotions almost better than the dazzling visuals did—but then again, I would be remissed if I didn’t talk about the fantastic English dub performances.

This is probably THE best Sentai Filmworks Dub I’ve ever listened to, PERIOD. (Ok, maybe one of them. They’ve really knocked it outta the park recently!) Even with his squeaky voice, Greg Ayres does a fantastic Izumi, providing just the right tinge of embarrassment and self-pride for each of Izumi’s little stunts. Adam Gibbs’ Ryouma is the real winner here, though, cause MY GOD, this man made even me all hot and bothered. Gibbs sounds just as brash and big-headed when he should, but also shows off a softer, more innocent side to Ryouma that is just as captivating as his ambitious, energetic side. Izumi and Ryouma were perfectly cast!

But it doesn’t stop there. David Wald—who graciously lent his own experience as a gay man to bring this dub to life—not only directed Love Stage!!, but also voices Rei Sagara with a snappy, matter-of-fact voice that only he could bring. It’s also always a pleasure to hear John Swasey doing the dad thing as the illustrious Seiya Sena, and the very same to Monica Rial’s lovely (if not hilariously self-absorbed) Nagisa Sena. Lastly, Tia Ballard is sprinkled around as various voices, and she’s always a pleasure to hear in any capacity!

izumi ryouma young

A Coming Out to Celebrate

I honestly came into Love Stage!! thinking it’d be a lot more problematic than it was. Thankfully, I found the series to be one of the most fun watches I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. While it has a somewhat rough start, Love Stage!! only gets better as the plot progresses. Almost everyone in the cast means well to one another, and it’s heartwarming to see so many icons watching each others’ backs. My only wish was that we got a second season to complete the story, as these 10 episodes (plus the hysterical OVA) adapt half the completed manga story.

Whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between, you’ll probably love this series if anime rom-coms in general are your thing. The visuals are extremely pretty, the music’s wonderful, and the English dub is cooked to gay perfection (should you choose to eat your anime this way). I know it was a fight to get this thing dubbed, but BOY did they it to ’em, and for that reason alone I find that Love Stage!! is a coming out worth celebrating.

izumi and ryouma close up


Somewhere in this world, there is a door that leads me to my dreams. I don’t know where that door is. I may not find it in my entire life. And even if I do find it, it may be locked to me . . . — Izumi Sena


Afterword

As a blossoming adult, a budding actor, and definitely a gay man, Izumi’s big coming out story is full of ups and downs. I really cannot recommend this series enough, especially now that I’ve finally seen it! So cute, and sooo good!! Because the story has yet to truly finish, I’ll welcome Love Stage!! as a “Cake” here at the cafe, a title too sweet to miss out on—and especially that dub though, wow, we’re really making history! I’m late to the party, but you should let me know your thoughts on the series down in the comments for sure! I think this would make a great intro title to anyone new to BL. My next Pride Month post will be over Ogeretsu Tanaka’s Escape Journey, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

That Blue Sky Feeling: Preciously Queer & Wholeheartedly Delightful || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume manga series “That Blue Sky Feeling,” story by Okura, art by Coma Hashii,, and licensed in English by Viz Media. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


Have You Heard the Rumors?

High school transfer student Noshiro may seem like a cool and outgoing guy to his new classmates, but Noshiro’s big, bumbling heart is his best feature. Although he’s inexperienced in love, he finds himself drawn to Sanada, the school outcast, who is rumored to be gay. While most would get squeamish at the thought, the rumor only further fuels Noshiro’s interest and determination to get close to Sanada. Set in motion is a bittersweet tale of self-discovery, friendship, and first love.

Marketed under the shounen demographic, this school romance drew a lot of its appeal from the relatable character drama presented and Coma Hashii’s soft and cute character designs. With only three volumes, the story reads quickly, but methodically guides us through Noshiro and Sanada’s entire first year together as classmates. Showcased are the attempts made by Noshiro to become friends with Sanada, all of the ups and downs of this rocky relationship, the misunderstandings, and the persistent efforts to grow closer.

From the start, this seemingly simple story of exploring a rumor opens up to much larger contexts, including social pressures and the meaning of “being gay” itself. Using Noshiro’s naivete as a lens for self-questioning, Okura has carefully crafted a cast of characters that investigate the notions of sexuality, attraction, and “liking”—and largely without even being aware of it! This is the kind of title that doesn’t break boundaries so much as explore how these boundaries form, why they do, and how people are affected by them.

noshiro and sanada

Straight, Gay, and Curious

Dai Noshiro is the open-book kind of character. He’s silly, easily approachable, and loud, which (often to Sanada’s dismay) attracts a huge crowd wherever he goes. It’s refreshing to have a lead character in this type of story who isn’t some tall and skinny bishounen. If anything, being built and a little on the round side (or as Sanada calls him, a “country potato”) is celebrated in That Blue Sky Feeling as a body type that characters like Sanada and energetic underclassman Morinaga actually hold as a preference. This definitely met my approval!

Having a guy like Noshiro who knows virtually nothing about the LGBT community (or relationships for that matter) makes him the perfect voice for Okura’s discussion on what it means to be a closeted gay kid—or being gay in general. Noshiro is new to this kind of thing. He straight . . . or, at least, he thinks so—he hasn’t ever given relationships much thought. But we know he’s uneasy, curious even, and I can’t blame him. This really is a smart move on Okura’s part, as now Noshiro functions both as a likable MC and a subtle proxy for self-exploration. Nothing in That Blue Sky Feeling is forced. Like clouds, these musings come and go, occasionally bringing a little rain or blocking out the sun.

Then there’s Kou Sanada. As the quiet closeted kid, Sanada strays away from anything that would draw attention: sports, clubs, even leisurely activities like swimming. He’s standoffish, dismissive, and get’s irritated easily. Sounds like no one would like him, right? Well, that’s where I was wrong, too. Sanada is just misunderstood. He doesn’t fit in with the other boys because he often can’t relate to any of them without fearing they’d leave him for thinking he’s weird. I mean, how regularly do you see gay people hanging out alone with their straight friends of the same gender? I suppose it’s different for everybody, but I get why Sanada distances himself. (I JUST WANT MY SLEEPY BOY TO BE HAPPY.)

If any part of Sanada will be a mixed bag, it’s his past relationship . . . with a 26-year-old man named Hide. I don’t think Okura is trying to condone pedophilia, but Sanada and Hide really did go out, and Hide’s not afraid to poke fun at their past together. Now, hear me when I say that Hide is genuinely a good guy. He serves as a mentor of sorts to Noshiro when it comes to gay stuff, and he only aims to help, not harm. I was uneasy about Hide at first, but—thankfully—I ended up being wrong about him.

dai pushing chair

Subtlety is Blue Sky‘s Greatest Strength

Okura’s story is wonderful, truly, but the biggest draw to That Blue Sky Feeling would easily be Coma Hashii’s art. The series has this wondrously soft aura to it, which is in no surprise thanks to Hashii’s character designs. Fun fact: The Blue Sky I am able to enjoy now is actually a remake of Okura’s original web comic series. When a book publication was announced, Okura brought on Hashii to redraw the entire series with greater quality art and the gentle touch Blue Sky is now beloved for.

Sanada and his dear childhood friend and classmate, a girl named Ayumi Yamamoto, are drawn with a slimmer build and bigger eyes. (Sanada’s cat-like design really accentuates his sleepy aura.) Other characters like Noshiro and Hide are noticably more rotund but still very cute. Like the story itself, the character expressions are never overdone, and that subtlety works to Okura’s writing immensely. I mean, a character turning away from someone—only to reveal bright blush marks on their cheeks—can speak where words wouldn’t quite do those feelings justice.

kou blushing

Unexpectedly Falling in Love

What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be weird? Navigating through the complexities of making friends as a young homosexual in a heteronormative world, That Blue Sky Feeling handles first love and the notion of “inexperience” with surprising delicacy and innocence. Even when things get heated, the characters try to better themselves by digging deep within and honestly asking what it is they want, and how they can present their truest self to others.

Everyone in That Blue Sky Feeling has an unbelievably pure heart. Just as prominent as the exploration into friendship, liking, and being gay is the theme of unrequited feelings. For a series to have such a tangled web of complex feelings, Blue Sky‘s characters hold their heads high and continue to remain friends despite all odds. This kind of content is the exact opposite of “toxic,” and is the reason I fell in love with Noshiro, Sanada, Ayumi, and everyone else.

As the gap between Noshiro and Sanada slowly shrinks, we come to see how two very different high school boys can find themselves unexpectedly falling for one another. Noshiro quickly finds that, perhaps, labels aren’t suited for everything, especially people and relationships. Wishing only for the happiness of these kids, That Blue Sky Feeling is preciously queer and wholeheartedly delightful.

sanada whisper


What does it mean to like someone? Going out. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. I never thought about it, never worried about it. Until I met Kou Sanada — Dai Noshiro


Afterword

Guys, I love this manga with all my heart. ALL MY HEART. If you couldn’t already tell, that means That Blue Sky Feeling is another certified “Cafe Mocha” for me! I can see why people may find Hide and the age gap to be a turn-off, but that kind of stuff happens in real life, too, and we eventually have to move past it. I love Noshiro’s loudness, Ayumi’s sweetness, and grew quite fond of Sanada’s character. (He really is charming when you get to know him!) Viz’s releases of this series are also pretty in pastel colors, I’m so thankful to them for such pleasant publications!

But I’ve talked enough, what did you think of That Blue Sky Feeling? Let me know in the comments. To shake things up, my next Pride Month post will be over the anime Love Stage!!, so please look forward to it! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone manga title “Claudine,” story and art by Riyoko Ikeda, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


19th Century French Romance

Since he was eight, Claudine was convinced he was born into the wrong gender. He grows up beautifully, more so than any of the men and women in Vernon, yet struggles through life with a series of depressing relationships. Only a handful of people reach out to Claudine and see him for who he is, but no one truly understands his heart. Claudine simply wishes to find true love, yet his efforts continue to end in tragedy as he is unable to be accepted as a man by society and his peers.

As a piece of historical fiction, Claudine offers a timeless story full of heartbreak. Riyoko Ikeda of The Rose of Versailles fame paints a picture of France that is rich in culture, but also a bit too melodramatic at times. Characters overreact to the smallest things with vivid expressions that can dominate several panels, which can make the read feel overwrought with agitation.

Without spoiling anything, some characters even dare dedicate their entire lives to destroying the hearts of others—an unfortunate trend which feels straight out of a wild telenovela or K-drama. Or, you know, The Rose of Versailles. This kind of thing might work well with a long-running series. But as a single volume work, the repetition of shocking reveals can feel overwhelming and excessive.

All that said, however, very few manga can make a drama feel as compelling as Riyoko Ikeda does, and to that I applaud Claudine. As a standalone piece, this is the kind of artistic mastery that most short story mangaka may struggle with. Here, the romance feels real, but so does the grief and misery that comes with rejection. Claudine explores sex and gender identity in a way that is poignant, respectful, and anything but forgettable.

young claudine

“But Claudine, You’re a Girl”

Not sure of what to do with her own child, Claudine’s mother takes him to a psychiatrist who reappears at a few major junctions in Claudine’s life. This was customary for the time, as being gay or trans was considered an illness, and thus treated as something that would eventually “go away” just as it came. We know now that this is far from fact. However, this is the best Claudine’s mother could do, and I believe she meant well by it.

Claudine’s father Auguste, on the other hand, was a mostly good man. A “large-hearted, manly dilettante with a variety of interests,” Claudine’s father was the only one willing to raise the child as he saw himself. Claudine expressed interested in equestrianism, hunting, sports, literature, and world history, to which his father only helped to provide the best resources to raise Claudine just as well as his other three accomplished sons. Loving Claudine wholly, Auguste says it himself: “That she doe not have a man’s body is honestly a mistake on God’s part.”

We follow Claudine through childhood flings, teenage romance, and relationships in adulthood. The women he encounters transform his life, although whether these interactions are for the better or not is definitely up for question. There’s one particular childhood lover, Rosemarie, who annoyingly clings to Claudine and causes him nothing but trouble. As he navigates through life, Claudine finds that it isn’t wrong of him to be a transgender person so much as that being trans is just highly ill-advised when no one can accept you for it. His emotions are understandable, and his actions are largely respectable.

Friends, strangers, and even his own family turn Claudine away from them on account of their own ignorance. A deeply seeded disgust for gay and transgender people plagues the populace of 19th century France, and—as it has continues to do today—only serves to ruin Claudine’s life. Despite his graceful air, his love of knowledge, and his deep compassion for helping others in need, Claudine is dejected again, and again, and again by women who have mixed love and kindness with lust and sin.

we are both girls

Why We Have To Do Better

This is a breathtaking manga. Although it was published way back in 1978, so much of this shoujo-ai drama can speak for the view of transgender individuals held by most conservative-minded people today. The story is highly relevant, and I’m so thankful Seven Seas was able to publish it when they did. Their restoration of this vintage shoujo manga is gorgeous, and the large trim format is greatly appreciated.

More than feeling upset, frustrated, or annoyed at the terrible ways Claudine was betrayed, I can only really sum up my thoughts on the ending with this: Claudine’s story is a sad one. It’s tragic, it hurts, and yet it’s an unfortunate end many transgender people find themselves meeting. Guys, it’s tragedies like this that remind me we still have a long way to go. For people like Claudine, for people who are confused or still in the closet, for people who are out and proud of it—We have to do better. So. Much. Better. And that begins with accepting these identities—NOT just acknowledging them.

From cover to cover, Riyoko Ikeda explores gender and sexuality, identity, culture, and self-acceptance in a coming-of-age tale so sorrowful and heartfelt that I can only want to express how important Claudine’s story is. It is works like this that can easily impact people, and even leave behind impressions that can hopefully change lives for the better. Certainly, I won’t be forgetting Claudine anytime soon.

claudine art page


They lived together, deceiving the world, behind the backs of their friends. But like a flower waiting for rain, their caged love finally surged out, shining. I believe this was a true love, surpassing all preconceived notions, entirely moving.Claudine’s doctor


Afterword

What a great read this was. Riyoko Ikeda’s art style is not only iconic, but truly emblematic of early 70s and 80s shoujo manga. Sure, it’s a bit over-the-top at times, but what would a Riyoko Ikeda manga be without her signature dramatic twists and sparkling style? For telling an admirable albeit tragic tale about a respectable transgender man and his struggles with finding love and self-acceptance, I welcome Claudine as a “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating reserved only for the bests out there. Did I mention that the dad is actually a GOOD guy in this one? Normally it’s the other way around, so this was quite a pleasant surprise!

Anyone else read Claudine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this old but classic shoujo read. I’m so glad I got to include a manga with a transgender focus this month with something like Claudine. My next Pride Month post will be over something much more modern, Bukuro Yamada’s Melting Lover, so please look forward to that! ‘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