The magical realism of anime meets the enchanting wonder of Disney in Academy Award nominated director Mamoru Hosoda’s (The Girl Who Leapt through Time, Mirai) mesmerizing virtual world fantasy that echoes Beauty and the Beast. The tagline of this fantasy thriller states, “You can’t start over in reality, but you can start over in U,” prepping viewers to delve into this alternate reality where the inhabitants adopt identities that mask their true personas, yet draws out their hidden strengths.

Suzu, a reclusive and socially awkward lone wolf of a schoolgirl, leads a melancholy life. At a young age, she lost her mother to a drowning accident, and since then, has been holding onto a fractured relationship with her father. With the aid of her savvy social media classmate Hiro, they enter “U,” an immersive virtual world populated by avatars of every imaginable size, style, and variation. Before long, she rises to stardom as a sensational global pop star, captivating fans with uplifting songs that inspire and heal. In this world, however, lurks a brooding figure known as the Dragon, a monstrous beast who hides in the shadows, isolated and sheltered away from everyone else. Who is this mysterious beast? What secrets does he harbor? In her persona as Belle, Suzu seeks to penetrate the depths of the Dragon in hopes of uncovering his identity to redeem him.

A brilliantly executed rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Hosoda’s fantasy, supported by the creative character designs of Jin Kim (Frozen, Moana, Encanto), orchestrates a story that intersects elements of mystery, romance, and fantasy while touching upon issues of self-identity, trust, loneliness, courage, and hope. Vibrant CGI set designs along with exquisitely hand-drawn scenic backgrounds complement a surrealistic world reminiscent of the dazzling dreamlike sequences in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. In addition to the vibrant fluency and synergy of colors, strategic camera angles capture majestic and iconic shots in homage to Disney’s original animated film. The songs enrich the film’s charming enchantment, transforming it into a semi-musical piece that resonates with warmth and heart.

While not initially apparent, each character plays a significant role that culminates in a riveting climax that propels Suzu to embrace her true identity and purpose, empowering her to uncover the mystery behind the beast’s predicament. Bonus extras include character and set design galleries, insightful interviews with Hosoda, scene breakdowns, and more.

A fine achievement to the ever-expanding films of GKIDS (a division of Studio Ghibli) for family and adult audiences, Belle radiates with heartwarming passion and makes a welcome addition to anime collections .

By Mamoru Hosoda
Art by Jin Kim
GKIDS/Shout! Factory, 2022

Publisher Age Rating: PG

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3

Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum and his buddy Pikachu are back! This time they are joined by a friend called Goh and his Pokémon partners for adventures that have them traveling all over the Pokémon world.

At the start of this series, Ash and Goh meet and are invited to become “research fellows” by Professor Cerise, who runs a lab studying Pokémon. They accept the position, and Cerise Laboratory becomes their home base in between trips that are theoretically about research but also involve lots of Pokémon battles. While most Pokémon manga are set in a particular “region” of the world—that is, the setting of one of the Pokémon video games—this series sees its protagonists traveling between several regions, sometimes in the same volume. In particular, they spend a lot of time in the Galar region, the setting of the games Pokémon: Sword and Pokémon: Shield.

Each volume of the Pokémon Journeys manga is essentially a collection of short stories. While theoretically these stories are sequential, many of them can easily stand alone. The stakes vary from “save the realm from an unstable, overpowered Pokémon with the aid of legendary heroes” to “we found a mischievous little Pokémon, does it belong to someone?” A couple of plotlines come up repeatedly: Ash is competing in a battle tournament called the World Coronation Series, and the goofy Team Rocket villains Jesse, James, and Meowth periodically show up to try and steal Pikachu or otherwise meddle. Neither of these is likely to leave readers confused if they start reading in the middle of the series.

Like most Pokémon manga, this series features optimistic, good-hearted young heroes and lots of creatures with different personalities and powers. There are frequent Pokémon battles, some friendly (like when Ash and Goh’s Pokémon train against each other), some competitive (like the ones to move up the ranks in the World Coronation Series), and some serious (like to defeat villains or control a rampaging Pokémon). There is also silly humor and some character development, as when Goh learns that he has to pay attention to what his Scorbunny wants in order for them to battle effectively as a team.

The visual style will be familiar to readers of other Pokémon manga series. The art is black and white, the book reads from right to left, and there is tons of action—much of it the over-the-top superpowered action of Pokémon battles, which can involve things like lightning, fire, and significant damage to buildings.

There is not much explanation here of how things work in the world of Pokémon. Battles, Pokéballs, and Pokémon evolution, for instance, may confuse readers who are brand-new to the franchise. For those who know the basics, however, this is an accessible entry point to the Pokémon manga universe, not requiring readers to know the events of many other volumes to understand what is happening. The “journeys” aspect may particularly appeal to fans of the games, who will recognize the different regions but may not be used to seeing characters travel between them.

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3
By Machito Gomi
VIZ, 2021
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974725748
vol 2 ISBN: 978197472652
vol 3 ISBN: 9781974730094

Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese

Heterogenia Linguistico: An introduction to interspecies linguistics

Hakaba is just a student, but when his linguistics professor is injured on his way to field work, he gets pulled in to take over. There’s just one catch: The professor researches the languages and communication styles of the inhabitants of the Netherworld and there’s a lot more to communicating with werewolves, harpies, lizardfolk, and other cultures than Hakaba ever imagined!

His first surprise comes when he meets his guide, half-werewolf Susuki, and the challenges come on quickly as he begins to travel with Susuki and a varying group of Netherworld peoples. Just when he thinks he’s gotten things figured out, there’s always a new language, creature, or cultural practice waiting to surprise him and remind him to put away his human biases and conventions and explore with an open mind.

Seno’s fine-lined art style reminded me of the art of Ryoko Kui, creator of Delicious in Dungeon, and there are several similarities between the two series. Like Kiu’s adventurer Laios, Hakaba is not your typical traveler, a fair-haired young man who is more eager to learn and experience than he is to fight or conquer, spending most of his time observing with wide-eyed interest all he sees around him and keeping copious notes in his journals. Susuki is adorably fluffy, both childlike and puppy-like at the same time. Hakaba’s sometimes abrupt introduction to the different habits and communication styles of the Netherworld peoples often leave him sweating with nerves and bewildered and hurt by what appears to be indifference or anger, but once he’s managed to relax and investigate, he discovers that most of the creatures he meets are simply not that interested in him, or in humans in general. Although Seno focuses on a few specific persons from each group, they’re often difficult to distinguish from the others of their species, letting the reader look through Hakaba’s eyes, trying to see the differences between various lizardfolk, a minotaur, or dragons.

While this is a narrative, with Hakaba traveling towards a definite point, it is much more in the nature of fieldwork than a quest. Each new creature is introduced with an exposition of their communication styles and carefully drawn sketches of things like kilns, food production, and various shelters, make it clear that this is an academic journal. Like Kui’s analysis of dungeon creatures as food sources, Seno delves deeply into the complex communication styles which may include scent, various movements, or even ranges of color that humans cannot comprehend, often shown simply as sketchy shadows on the page, or blurred movements. A little spice of romance and humor is added by the inclusion of notes from the professor’s journal at the end of each volume.

This is a rather dry narrative, with little action and much repetition of Hakaba’s efforts to view other cultures objectively, rather than through the lens of his own human experience and cultural mores. The introduction of different species and explanation of their language and cultures may be of interest to readers who like detailed fantasies and I personally found this a peaceful and interesting fantasy of linguistics, but it’s unlikely to appeal to the teens for whom it is rated. It’s most likely to appeal to adult readers or those who are more academically inclined, as well as serious fantasy fans who like to invent and play with languages.

Heterogenia Linguistico: An introduction to interspecies linguistics Vol. 1-3
By Salt Seno
Yen Press, 2020
ISBN: 9781975318079


Publisher Age Rating: T

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese,