No. 5, vol 1

No. 5 exists in media res (Latin for “in the midst of things”), demanding that readers navigate a series of interpersonal relationships and backstories from a perpetual step behind. Whether this is an exciting or bewildering perspective (or both!) is up to the reader. The basic premise is that a Rainbow Council of numbered, super-powered beings is hunting down a rogue member named No. 5. The prelude is about one of the Council hunting a supposed deity elk with a pair of children. The first proper chapter has No. 9 chase down No. 5 in a desert (the Earth, in this tale of the future, is mostly desert), with other Rainbow Council members making appearances. The second chapter gives a somewhat more formal introduction to the numbered members, while chapter four provides a “summary in brief” page that may lead to more questions than answers. Chapter five opens in the style of a retro 60s anime that portrays the Rainbow Council like the heroes of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009. These descriptions should give you some idea of the density of the plot, which is tied in knots that become rewarding the more thought is put into understanding how they came to be. Lines of exposition such as “One is as feared by the Rainbow Brigade as Snerferu was in the royal palace of Memphis” pass like puzzle pieces spaced miles apart.

No. 5 has absconded with a woman named Matryoshka, who is often shown eating or relaxing. This is not unique to her character: the richness of No. 5 as a manga largely comes from how these larger-than-life characters exist in their own bubbles. A few are devoted to fighting and destruction, but others wish to lead peaceful or caring lives. A map of the world shown early on helps ground each chapter in a geographic region, but each Rainbow member’s bizarre citadel fortress, combined with Taiyo Matsumoto’s unique art style, makes this manga’s Earth a world unlike any other.

Truly, Matsumoto’s art is the biggest draw here. Any dozen shonen artists could take the premise and make a decent fight manga out of it; Matsumoto is too observant and inquisitive to settle. His use of shading, paneling, juxtaposition, and dimension is endlessly playful. A panel of a battle-livened No. 6 leaping from an aircraft on horseback and declaring, “A view only the gods have!!” is immediately followed by a view of a cup being poured out in another scene. In several cases, if a character shouts or yawns or makes a personal observation, you can bet the paneling will tighten on that mouth or face. If a panel here or there looks sketchy by comparison, the reader must forgive Matsumoto, because another jaw-dropper is right around the corner. There are dozens of wide panels in which a character stands against a landscape or building among multiple happy animals. No. 7, who has dark skin and an afro large enough to support a resting cat, resists orders to fight No. 5, preferring to fish in peace among some islanders. For Matsumoto and the more empathetic characters, superpowers are no excuse for losing sight of the natural world.

Why is so much of this future Earth composed of desert, anyway? The Rainbow Council seems to be in the employ of a global military force, who spend a significant portion of their budget maintaining the Council’s presence. A public television show host says, “It seems clear that most of the laws governing our world exist only to please the military.” In another scene, among the wreckage of an old city, a character declares, “Those old-timers broke their backs building all this. It’s all ruins now. That’s a pattern that will repeat over and over again, forever.” The Rainbow Council’s presence is meant to inspire, but they seem more like puppets of an established order. A brilliant scientist who goes by Papa invents hybrid creatures for fun while dressed in a full-body rabbit suit.

This all sounds wacky, right? It totally is! Through the first volume, readers only get glimpses of No. 5 as a character. Matsumoto has a design for it all, though. Readers expecting a straightforward jaunt through a tournament arc of power creep will be sorely disappointed. Patient readers who pick up the separate vibes of each character and chapter will piece together the bigger picture and savor what is a truly unique comic. Starting with one of Matsumoto’s more accessible but no less stylized works, like Ping Pong, Sunny, or Cats of the Louvre, will help readers calibrate their expectations. I predict teens with an appreciation for the strange will pick up No. 5’s frequencies quicker than most. Some gun violence is the only content consideration, plus a panel of a smoking child. The first few pages plus a fold-out poster are in color, otherwise the other pages originally published in color are in black and white.

No. 5, Vol. 01
By Taiyo Matsumoto
VIZ Signature, 2021
ISBN: 9781974720767

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Japanese

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

For those seeking to indulge in the spooky imagination of Junji Ito, the renowned “Stephen King” of Japan, his collection Lovesickness serves up an extra delectable treat that will whet voracious appetites for past and present fans. Marketed as a collection of ten stories, two of them are actually segmented into multiple chapters and drawn out as mini-novellas that occupy more than half the book.

The titular “Lovesickness” centers on a young boy named Ryusuke who returns to his hometown of Nazumi to discover a series of suicides among girls. What could possibly drive them to take their own lives? They wander through an ancient folkway in hopes of receiving an auspicious “crossroads fortune” from a mysterious handsome young man. Those who receive an ill-fated pronouncement on their love life kill themselves. This rash series of incidents propels Ryusuke to investigate these mysterious deaths. Combining the allurement of mystery, folklore, superstition, and urban legends, Ito unpacks a tale that crosses the realms of unrequited love and relentless passion, ultimately unleashing the deadly effects of human obsession.

In another twisted story, dark humor runs rampant in the dysfunctional family of orphaned brothers and sisters in “The Strange Hikizuri Siblings.” The grotesquely drawn siblings include an overweight, gluttonous brother, a fiendish, pigtailed young daughter, and a morbid young boy who may harbor a deadly secret behind his diffident facade. Their activities are equally outlandish: Their elder sister Narumi is driven to emotional distress when her siblings accuse her of indulging in a secret love affair; a dinner of conversations revolves around inventive methods to punish Narumi’s secret lover; and the family conducts a séance to conjure up their deceased parents with riotous effects.

Rounding out these protracted stories are shorter self-contained one-shots. “The Mansion of Phantom Pain” features a sickly, incapacitated boy confined to a mansion, whose pains are strangely connected to remote areas of the house. A woman considers undergoing surgery to remove her ribs in exchange for a beautiful physique in “The Rib Woman,” but at what cost?  The one story that doesn’t quite hit the mark is “Memories of Real Poop,” though some readers may still enjoy this lighter slice of edgy humor. Human obsessions with love, beauty, vanity, and greed permeate these gruesome stories—their plots often rising to a hyperbolic and feverish pitch.

From fog sketched panels and haunting sound effects to characters driven mad with desperation, Ito’s visual narrative images produce an eerie atmospheric mood and tone in “Lovesickness,” signifying the intoxicating spell under which the young girls have been bewitched. The abnormally drawn Hikizuri siblings wearing exaggerated facial expressions in the second story present a bizarre spectacle akin to the Addams Family.

Although not as prolific as previous collections, Lovesickness compensates by offering two extensive stories that afford more time for character development and will complement manga collections for readers with a penchant for the macabre tinged with black comedy.

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection
By Junji Ito
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 9781974719846

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

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

Creepy Cat, vol. 1

A young girl named Flora has just inherited a house in Cotton Valent’s Creepy Cat. What she doesn’t know is what other inhabitants she has inherited with it. There is a ghost cat which she refers to as the “creepy cat” that is intrigued by her and pops up everywhere she goes. At first, she is weirded out and scared by the cat and spends a lot of time trying to trap him. Eventually, she gives up and becomes used to his presence. Ghostly figures are not the only things attracted to Flora. A policeman by the name of Oscar is also interested in her. Just like the creepy cat, he shows up in unexpected places, but he’s more helpful than spooky. Comical adventures then ensue with the main characters.

The story continues with many vignettes of Creepy Cat being a goofball. These sequences went on a little too long for my taste. I was expecting more plot and some explanation for the multiple cats and specters that abound. In one scene, she looks like she will be attacked by a vampire but Creepy Cat charms him. In another scene, a boogeyman-type character is about to break into the house, but Creepy Cat sneaks up on him and scares him away. One scene puzzled me and that was when Flora and Creepy Cat are enjoying a candlelight dinner together. She remarks about not feeling alone because they have each other, while behind her are seven specters with blacked-out eyes. We have no idea how these specters are a part of this story, and it added to my frustration of mysteries being teased with no hints to what it might mean. Alas, it is the final moments of the graphic novel where we get a hint of where the story might go. I was also disappointed in the love interest, Oscar, as he never gets developed as a real love interest. He comes across more like a stalker than a dreamy police officer.

The one thing that I found impressive about the graphic novel was the artwork. You can tell what the artist drew their inspiration from. The story is drawn in gothic tones and looks very Tim Burtonesque. The lead character, Flora, has a vampire princess look with long flowing black hair, big oval eyes that are highlighted by a dark eyeliner. Oscar looked more like a butler or a chauffeur to me than a police officer in his suit and tie. He has a cone-shaped face with a pointy chin. Another influence for Cotton appears to be the anime My Neighbor Totoro. Creepy Cat looks a bit like a marshmallow with an elongated body and short limbs. He earns his name “creepy” due to his red eyes that glow.

In the end, Creepy Cat will probably find fans with a tween audience who will giggle at Creepy Cat’s antics. This graphic novel won’t find the same admiration with a mature teen or adult audience. It’s hard to judge by a first volume if a series is worth collecting. You need to read about three volumes to get a sense of where the story is going. The end of this volume hints at something intriguing, but it is hard to tell if it will lead to a satisfying storyline.

Creepy Cat, Vol. 1
By Cotton Valent
Seven Seas, 2019
ISBN: 9781648277870
Publisher Age Rating: 10+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Japanese

Boys Run the Riot, vols. 1-2

Boys Run the Riot is unique for a slice-of-live manga. It tells the story of a transgender high schooler named Ryo Watari. When we first see him, he’s switching out of his school uniform and into his gym clothes in a train station bathroom. He hates his uniform for more than the usual reasons—his uniform is a girl’s uniform and reminds him daily that he was born female.

Ryo navigates the pitfalls of high school with the added stress and complications that come with being transgender. Besides the uniforms, the social situations are fraught. The guys tell him he’s a girl and needs to hang out with girls, and the girls call him a slut for hanging out with boys all the time. He doesn’t fit in. And in Japan, “the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.”

The only time Ryo feels like himself is in his street clothes. He’s fascinated by fashion and he can indulge himself by dressing as masculine as he likes with no judgement (besides his mother’s). Suffering from body dysphoria, lonely, and unsure of himself—how to act, whether to come out at school, at work, not to mention what changing room to use—he feels alone. 

Enter transfer student Jin. He presents himself with an air of confidence that makes Ryo jealous, with unconventional hair and piercings (a big no-no in Japanese high schools). But these two outsiders find each other in a clothing boutique seeking out the newest fashion label.

It’s an unsurprising plot that these two form an unlikely partnership and decide to make their own fashion brand in the first volume of the series. Writer and artist Keito Gaku has created charming, honest characters in a tightly paced, well plotted manga that will hook its readers. 

Rather than instant success and smooth sailing, these young entrepreneurs will face adversity. But they will not do it alone. They add to their ranks with a photographer, as well as a social media influencer. They will meet dubious adults who scoff at the idea of teens running a fashion brand, and deal with their own doubts and insecurities as well. They meet those challenges with a plan, some guts, and a little bit of luck.

Gaku is transgender himself and his heartfelt insight is all over the page. Ryo’s story is dramatic, yes, but punctuated with humor and humanity. The amazing part of the production of this manga is that the entire English translation and localization team at Kodansha Comics are transgender as well, a dream team that is creating work that will resonate with any reader.

I was blown away by the first two volumes in this series and can’t wait to see how far Ryo goes. The publisher rates this series for older teens (16+), which makes perfect sense for the age of the characters. The translation notes provide information not only on Japanese culture, but on transgender issues like binding, as well. 

This series needs to be on high school and public library shelves everywhere.

Boys Run the Riot, Vols. 1-2
By Keito Gaku
Kodansha, 2021
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781646512485
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781646511198

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)Publisher Age Rating: 16+

Creator Representation:  Japanese,  Gender Nonconforming
Character Representation: Japanese, Gender Nonconforming,

Yakuza Lover

Yakuza Lover, a new series by Nozomi Mino, follows the romance between a college girl, Yuri, who gets swept off her feet by the young underboss of the Oya crime syndicate, Toshioma Oya.

In the first volume, Yuri, feisty and beautiful, attends a party in search of a boyfriend. After being hit on by rude guys, she and her friend decide to leave, only to walk in on some illegal drug use—and that is where the trouble starts. Although Yuri is prepared to defend herself (through violence if necessary), they are interrupted by a suave, sexy yakuza named Toshioma Oya, who takes care of the problem, wraps Yuri in his coat, and gives her his business card. Oya is immediately smitten by the headstrong, gorgeous woman and Yuri is undeniably drawn to the handsome, gallant gangster. 

Name your romantic trope and Yakuza Lover has it. In spite of that, this shallow-sounding romantic plot works. Oya is not your typical yakuza. He’s slim, stylish and romantic, rather hulking and thuggish. Yuri is brave and capable and smart enough to not immediately fall into bed with him. The romance proceeds apace and the reader isn’t kept waiting for the good stuff. The only refreshing original plot point in Yakuza Lover is that Yuri exercises her sexual agency without being manipulated or forced. Oya, in a dangerous line of work, seeks to live his life to the fullest—he sees what he wants and goes for it, but it’s left up to Yuri to make the last step and cross the line into a sexual relationship with Oya, even though it may put her in danger.

What fun would it be if she played it safe? 

It’s not a love story for the ages but the manga is well drawn and enjoyable enough. The characters are gorgeous and volume 1 ends in a cliffhanger that will be enough to keep me interested in the second installment. Only time will tell if the plot is sustainable over the long run.

Yakuza Lover is for mature readers (18+), featuring violence and on-the-page sex (although not full-on nudity). It’s a great, modern romance for fans of titles like Midnight Secretary, An Incurable Case of Love, or Happy Marriage?.

Yakuza Lover is published by Viz Media and a second volume will be released in September.

Yakuza Lover, vol. 1
By Nozomi Mino
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 9781974720552
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Bounce Back

Thirteen-year-old Lilico has a picture-perfect life in Japan. She’s captain of the girls’ basketball team, which is headed to win their final competition, and she and her teammates are best friends. Then her parents break the news: They’re moving to New York! After a whirlwind of travel, Lilico lands in an American school, completely out of place, and somehow offending Emma, the most popular girl and leader of the basketball team, on her first day.

Lilico’s misery slowly abates. Her parents, also struggling with culture shock, never really support her, but she manages to work things out with the help of her guardian spirit, who manifests in her cat, Nicco. Even more, she’s helped by the cheerful friendship of Nala and Henry, the nerdy kids who befriend her first. But when she becomes the school’s star basketball player, she feels like she must be there for her teammates, even if that means leaving Nala behind. When Lilico’s choices hurt Nala, she will need all the help of her old and new friends to bring everyone together and finish the year successfully, in basketball and in a new home.

Although the art style has many manga trademarks, such as Lilico starting out the story as a stereotypical Japanese school girl in sailor suit uniform with perky pony tail and oversized eyes, she’s gradually toned down until she looks slightly more realistic in the final pictures. The new students she meets include a variety of characters with light brown skin tones and their hair varies from short and curly to long and wavy. Readers will see glimpses of Japanese food and culture in some parts of Lilico’s home, such as her father’s clothing and interest in katanas, but they are usually explained as her parents being embarrassing or passed off with stereotypical remarks from the Americans about how the Japanese are “so polite.” There are kawaii elements and lots of emotional drama is signaled with stars, tear drops, etc.

This OEL (original English language) manga is being published by an American/British publisher, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, and I think it is intended to be a combination of manga tropes with the U.S. style of graphic memoir, à la Raina Telgemeier, but I did not find it to be very successful in either arena. Lilico never really thinks deeply about her actions and when she manages to reconcile Nala and Emma in the end, it’s by exploiting Nala’s sewing abilities to create free costumes for the basketball team. Nala and Henry, in their turn, befriend Lilico in the beginning because of their obsession with Japanese culture and Nala seems more excited over getting a genuine sailor suit school uniform than learning about Lilico as a person. Lilico’s parents are almost completely absent, both emotionally and physically, and make no comments on Lilico popping out in New York for a date with an unknown boy. Most of the text is told in brief, exclamatory sentences with lots of dramatic declarations and, while it might pass for a school drama manga, it’s hard to see this as representative of a US-based school story. The students appear to be attending a privileged school, with plenty of access to technology, fashion, and entertainment, and no issues of race or economic status.

The author speaks very briefly about her own life, coming to the US from Japan and teaching students how to draw manga, and includes character sketches and some information on her art tools. I think this might have been stronger if it had been a series, following up a on number of things that are quickly passed over, like the initial disagreement between Emma and Nala, on Emma and her friends virtually bullying Nala, Lilico’s comment that her father thinks he’s the reincarnation of a samurai, and the school’s lack of a coach for the girls’ basketball team.

Although not an outstanding example of either realistic graphic memoirs or manga, this is notable in being appropriate for middle grade readers; there is no language stronger than the occasional “crap” and one or two brief kisses between Lilico and her new boyfriend. Kids may not learn much about either basketball or Japanese culture, but they will appreciate seeing that kids with many different interests can be friends, and Nala’s elaborate costumes will please cosplay fans. This might also convince some readers to explore the manga genre a little further, or to take a break from manga and try out some different graphic novels.

Bounce Back
By Misako Rocks!
Feiwel and Friends, 2021
ISBN: 9781250806291
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 9-13

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Sasaki and Miyano, vol. 1

Sasaki and Miyano is a delightfully fluffy teen romance manga. It falls under the Boys Love or LGBTQ+ genre and is loaded with typical romantic tropes: the bad boy upper-classman matched with a cute, but oblivious younger boy, who happens to be a secret BL manga fan at an all-boys school. 

Older Sasaki is a tough older student who seems to fall hard for the innocent, awkward Miyano. The first volume is a sweet introduction to this slice-of-life, meta, romantic comedy. Sasaki starts borrowing manga from Miyano, calls him Miya-chan (a cute diminutive in Japanese), and visits the younger boy in his classroom.

This manga is a great introduction for manga readers interested in LGBTQ+ romance. It’s chaste enough for younger teens and artist-creator Shou Harusono touches all the bases for the genre. It’s a slim volume, and features the main plot with short pages following a secondary plot about the school cultural festival (a mainstay in Japanese high schools). Harusono’s artwork is very good, with well-drawn characters, solid background work, and the art backs up the slow, sweet burn of the burgeoning romance.

Sasaki and Miyano was originally serialized as an online comic on Pixiv—a Japanese-founded site for creators of anime and manga to upload and share their work. Picked up by Japanese publisher Kadakowa and released in Japan in 2016, it’s been licensed and translated in English by Yen Press for their growing LGBTQ series line. The English translator includes a very helpful explanation of terms common in manga and Japanese to clear up any misunderstandings about the forms of address, plot, or tropes used in the manga.

Sasaki and Miyano will continue in a short series of four volumes and I am already personally invested in their story. Miyano, as a fan of BL, doesn’t seem to realize he is actually IN one. Sasaki, with his growing regard, also seems determined to make their own BL plot line work out in real life. This is a great addition for a teen manga collection and it will be a hit with LGBTQ romance fans. All of the characters are male and none of them identify as LGBTQ. It’s recommended for ages 13+ by the publisher.

Sasaki and Miyano, vol. 1
By Shou Harusono
Yen Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781975320331
Publisher Age Rating:  Teen (13+)
Series ISBNS and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Weathering with You

He left home to search for a life of meaning in Tokyo. She wanders the streets of Tokyo bringing warmth and sunshine wherever she goes. Amidst the backdrop of climate change, this unlikely duo of Hodaka and Hina somehow altered the course of history that resulted in a flooded, present-day Tokyo. Makoto Shinkai, writer-director of the phenomenal romantic hit Your Name, conjures up a story infused with kindling love, relentless rainstorms, and miraculous magic in Weathering with You.

Summer time has arrived, but a gloom-filled Tokyo remains drenched in rain for the past two months. This tale of cataclysmic proportions begins when Hodaka Morishima, a 16-year-old runaway gets swept into a vicious storm aboard a ferry headed to Tokyo. Rescued by Suga Keisuke, a scruffy editor of a magazine of bizarre stories, Hodaka hooks up with him to write articles and gets his big break one day. He encounters a teen orphan named Hina Amano who has the magical ability to stop rainstorms with a single prayer. He later learns that she is a “sunshine girl,” a figure from Japanese myth and legend possessing the extraordinary gift to quell storms, clear the skies, and summon forth sunshine, if only for a short while. However, with this gift comes a great price, for repeated use of these powers will weaken her and send her back to the heavens.

Makoto Shinkai plays around with the destructive forces of nature in Weathering with You. It’s another mystical piece worthy of Miyazaki’s brilliance. Shinkai captures scenic landscapes of Tokyo with panning aerial shots of cascading rainstorms that range from torrential downpours and rippling puddles to floating iridescent fish-shaped droplets. Hina works her magic to summon forth rays of sunlight that beam down with elegance, ushering in breathtaking ocean blue skies that resonate with exhilaration. The plot revolves around themes of belonging, sacrifice and loss, and embracing youthful yearning in a hostile world of grown-ups. The story shifts to a darker tone when the star-crossed lovers become separated, turning into fugitives from the law: Hodaka has run away from home, and Hina lives with her younger brother Nagi without parental support, thereby prompting the cops to track them down.

While the characters’ backstories remain shrouded in mystery, their mutual passion crescendos into an intense climax played out to the tearful yet uplifting tunes of the Japanese rock band Radwimps. Shinkai orchestrates an elaborate fusion of revolving arc shots rendered against a beautifully wrought background played to an upbeat theme song. Despite the environmental catastrophe closing in on Tokyo, Hodaka and Hina rise above the impending turmoil, buoyed by the power of their love and heartfelt longing to unite with each other. An expressionistic coming-of-age film forging the union of two distant souls and search for meaning mixed with magical realism, this animated romantic fantasy makes a fine addition to any library anime collection.

Weathering With You
GKids/Shout! Factory, 2020
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
112 minutes
Company Age Rating: PG-13

NFNT Title Details
NFNT Age Rating: Teen (13-16)

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, vol. 1: The Ways of the Monster Nation

Fans of the light novel series That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and its anime and manga adaptations will likely enjoy this sequel series that incorporates some familiar characters but focuses on a new protagonist. New readers, though, will feel a little lost among the inhabitants of the magical kingdom of Tempest. Framea is the daughter of the Chief of Rabbitfolk, and unlike most beasts, she was given a name. One day, while perusing a takoyaki stall in her village, she impresses the salesman with her keen sense for obscure ingredients. She is invited by the demon lord Rimuru, the founder and ruler of Tempest, to craft a travel guide to the food, shops, and other attractions Tempest has to offer.

Tempest is a diverse nation, full of humans, hobgoblins, demons, and beasts like Framea, all of whom commingle without the levels of social stratification to which Framea is accustomed. Her catch phrase is “three stars!!” which she exclaims whenever she meets an experience she greatly enjoys—and she enjoys basically every experience she has in Tempest. In the final two chapters of this volume, Framea is joined by three adventurers on a mission to investigate Tempest’s monster-infested dungeon. These chapters read like screenshots from a Legend of Zelda game; though I would rather have been playing the dungeon crawl video game myself, I still found this part fun. The cliffhanger ending ensures readers will want to pick up volume 2.

The illustrations are consistent with the original That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime manga and anime. Beasts are depicted as almost identical to humans, with only slight differences: a rabbit tail and ears in Framea’s case, or horns in many other cases. Most characters are depicted in  manga style, with lanky bodies and big eyes. Sound effects and other exclamations remain in their original Japanese characters, with transliteration into English letters as well as translation written in small text nearby. This is a fun way to learn Japanese onomatopoeic expressions, like kachi for click or pishi for pssh.

Though the perky character of Framea and the dungeon scenes are likeliest to appeal to middle grades and tweens, I agree with the publisher’s target age range of teen. The opening scene with Framea’s recently-showered body covered in water and a towel barely covering her ample bosom is fairly sexualized. Additionally, Framea is seen getting drunk on ale and wine (which, of course, she gives “three stars!!”). I found Framea annoying, and I have two lingering questions. If Framea enjoys everything so greatly that she gives everything in Tempest three stars, how is she an effective travel guide writer? Visitors to Tempest will want to know the best things to do, and they will probably find it frustrating if everything in the travel guide has the same rating. Also, why would a travel guide writer be assigned to sweeping a dungeon of monsters? Is the opportunity to slay monsters in Tempest’s dungeon one of its tourist attractions? I recommend this series for teen collections where the original That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime was popular, or for libraries with extensive manga collections. For smaller collections, I would pass on this title.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, vol. 1: The Ways of the Monster Nation
By Sho Okagiri
Art by Mitz Vah
Yen Press, 2020
ISBN: 9781975313500
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: Japanese


Rumi Hara has dedicated Nori to her two grandmothers, and it is obvious why; this dreamy graphic novel is a loving portrait of a grandmother and four-year-old granddaughter navigating life’s adventures.

We get to know Nori and Grandmother through vignettes from their everyday life in 1980s Kyoto as they run errands, go to local festivals, and adjust to the rules and routines of nursery school. Nori is a wanderer, always taking advantage of a brief lapse in her grandmother’s attention to follow a cat or some other enticing distraction. Nori welcomes the jarring good luck omen of bats in the house, races after a band of rabbits headed to the moon, and befriends a gang of boys playing in a muddy ditch. Everywhere she goes, Nori encounters magic, from the grinning bats to a playful tadpole who offers to trade his tiny sneakers for Nori’s new sandals. 

Hara strikes a natural balance between the magical realism of Nori’s world and the realistic tensions of her family. On one page, we’ll see rabbits take to the sky, and on another, her mother and grandmother will argue about how best to raise her. Nori’s Grandmother takes care of her because Nori’s mother works, and the tension this creates in the family will be familiar to many. Nori is awakened every morning by the slam of the door as her mother departs for work, and the day begins with Nori’s yell of “MOMMY!” Things calm down from there, but Nori wants to be carried and Grandmother’s back hurts too much to carry her far. When she’s put down, Nori runs after a cat and disappears. Grandmother scolds Nori’s mother for picking her up at the drop of the hat, but scolds her again when Nori cries at being put down. Nori’s parents are late for her nursery school play and miss her performance. These tensions, so common in busy, multi-generational families, run through each chapter without detracting from the playful tone.

Although Hara’s people and settings are rendered lovingly in ink with a monochrome wash, her drawings are never romanticized or overly pretty. Nori‘s end papers are decorated with illustrations of the commonly overlooked objects of a child’s life: a plastic watering can, a snow globe, a favorite jacket, a rubber duck. Hara depicts Nori’s life the way some people remember their childhoods: in tiny vivid details that add up to something larger. The visual style sometimes floats into manga tropes, as when Nori’s new classmate insults her lunch bento and Nori punches him in the mouth, causing a tooth to shoot out.

Nori will appeal to readers who enjoy nostalgic childhood stories, those interested in Japanese culture and history, and even manga fans looking to branch out. Retailing for over $20 US, Nori is a better purchase for medium or large graphic novel collections. Smaller collections might consider it where dreamy childhood tales or manga are popular. Nori will be shelved with adult collections, but should also be recommended for young readers with an interest in imaginative stories or Japanese culture.

By Rumi Hara
ISBN: 9781770463974
Drawn and Quarterly, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: Japanese