Samurai 8: the Tale of Hachimaru Vol. 1

In his first big manga series since Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto, welcomes readers to a world of samurai, bushi, and princesses, but also cyborg bodies and robot animals who can change shape and fly. This is the world of Hachimaru, a very ill young man who wants nothing more than to become a great samurai and live a life of adventure. Unfortunately, he can’t even leave his house. But that just might change soon. Hachimaru’s great adventure is about to begin, whether he’s really ready for it or not.

First and foremost, the setting of Samurai 8: the Tale of Hachimaru is phenomenal. I love the feel of the bio-organic samurai and their animalistic companions; this is not a world where robots and technology equals harsh, straight lines that feel cold. Instead, everything is very rounded, and flows together in ways that feel natural. Just in the first page or two, the reader gets a strong feeling for the setting of this story. The one caveat is that facial expressions and faces aren’t as highly detailed, so characters’ faces and expressions can feel kind of blank or flat in comparison to all the riotous detail around them.

Though the world of Samurai 8 is exciting and a fun take on the classic samurai adventure story, the storytelling sometimes holds everything back. The reader is thrown into this world, with names and concepts equally tossed with no context at first. Then, the names and concepts are brought up again to explain them. In some cases this works out well, but there were more than a few awkward moments in the story that could’ve been avoided if they’d just been explained at the start. The plot also jumps in escalation, though I don’t want to go into details as that would run into spoilers. Essentially, it’s the kind of thing typical in adventure stories: the young protagonist finally gets what they want, so they immediately jump in, disregarding any parental figures around them (who also mysteriously don’t put up much of a fuss), and almost immediately get into a fight that shows their remarkable abilities. Otherwise, there’s definitely heavy use of the tropes of samurai stories, such as the character with a mysterious past and the unusual looking character that turns out to be a famous samurai. I enjoyed that, but I could see it being frustrating for some readers.

I’ll admit, I was concerned that Kishimoto might not be able to shake his lengthy past of writing Naruto, and create something new. There are certainly parallels that can be drawn, but many of those are, like I just discussed, part of the typical adventure story, so aren’t necessarily strong comparisons to Naruto itself. Instead of a focus on ninja and ninja culture, we’re looking at samurai and samurai culture, which are fundamentally very different. There’s also the simple fact that Samurai 8 is most definitely sci-fi, with talk of other worlds and space travel. And honestly, there’s a greater sense of destiny and focus on the story’s direction than Naruto generally had. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to picking up the next volume. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for a new high action adventure manga that’s less dark than titles like Demon Slayer and less set in the real world like Fire Force.

Samurai 8: the Tale of Hachimaru Vol. 1 
By Masahi Kishimoto
Art by Akira Okubo
ISBN: 9781974715022
VIZ Media, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits:

Seven Days: Monday-Sunday

Can you fall in love in just one week? There may not be an easy answer, but Yuzuru Shino and Toji Seryo are determined to find out.

This is the premise of Seven Days, the latest yaoi, or “boy love” manga, from author Venio Tachibana and artist Rihito Takarai. The story centers on two high schoolers, third-year Shino and first-year Seryo, who attend a posh academy in the high-class Yamate District.

Seryo, an irresistibly handsome rich boy, is infamous for his week-long dating escapades. And while the girl may be different each time, the end is always the same. By Sunday, the whirlwind romance ends in a breakup as he continues to search fruitlessly for his soulmate.

Things begin to change, however, after archery phenom Shino asks Seryo out on a whim. When the halfhearted joke turns serious, the two begin to explore their unexpected feelings for one another, their own insecurities, and what it means to be in love. Will their attraction have what it takes to last more than seven days?

The book’s main conflict centers around the misunderstandings that happen when people aren’t able to say what they really feel. After the unlikely couple begins to realize they truly do care about each other, their lack of communication makes things complicated. Shino’s insecurities about disappointing others comes across as careless mockery, while Seryo’s quest for someone who truly gets him is confused for a playboy mentality.

Complicating matters is Seryo’s former flame, a beautiful girl who continues to lead Seryo on while also pursuing his brother. Interestingly, her name also is Shino, and both namesakes bring the drama as their jealousy of one another leads to conflict. Luckily, Seryo likes the dominating, possessive type, and readers will be kept guessing as to what will happen next.

Throughout, I enjoyed watching the characters evolve. While a week is definitely not a long time, the characters show a lot of growth as they explore what it means to date, and possibly love, someone. Both young men are known for their good looks, but they soon learn that true connection goes beyond the physical. Falling in love is complicated, and when their feelings disturb the normal dating “protocol,” they begin to question everything.

Perhaps Shino sums it up best as he notes “No one can understand what they can’t see. Like a person’s heart…”

Thematically, archery plays an important role. In fact, the characters for Yuzuru’s name are “bow” and “string.” It seems to come naturally, then, that he is a standout archer on the high school team. Seryyo, on the other hand, is notorious for not showing up to practice despite his clear talent for the sport. As their relationship progresses, we see a clear parallel in their performance. From steady and strong to confused and off-target, their shooting is a metaphor for their inner feelings.

Stylistically, the artwork is strong. The main characters standout with their elongated, flowing bodies. Background shots boast dynamic and strong lines, while close-up portraits reveal intense emotion with just the turn of a smile or curve of an eyebrow.

Overall, I thought the romance was really sweet. It captures the awkwardness, confusion, and giddiness of a new relationship. While I am still skeptical about a seven-day time limit to finding love, it did add suspense and a sense of urgency. With that said, the relationship still unfolds somewhat slowly. Some will find this pace boring, while others will enjoy the subtlety. I am definitely in the latter.

I do wish the supporting characters would have been explored a bit further. While they are great for providing background information, they do not play much of an active role. For example, Koike, a girl who previously dated Seryo, seems to have a lot more going on under the surface. I wish we would have gotten to know her better, especially since she is one of the few female characters in the story.

This book is appropriate for teens, and the publisher recommends ages 13 and up. Unlike other yaoi, this book does not contain sexually graphic content. In fact, sexuality does not play into the story much at all. It is more focused on the individuals, and their connections with one another.

Seven Days: Monday-Sunday
By Venio Tachibana
Art by Rihito Takarai
ISBN: 9781974709274
SuBLime Manga, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Pansexual

Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life?

After two years, the long-awaited Snotgirl series is back! Fans have become anxious to see new Snotgirl content from creators Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung, as single-issue releases seem to be fewer and farther between. In fact, just after the release of this volume the creators of Snotgirl announced an indefinite hiatus. With that said, let’s take a close look at the latest from Snotgirl, as it may be the last look we get for quite a while.

Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? continues the saga of Lottie Person. Lottie—affectionately referred to as “Snottie” by her beautiful, elusive Coolgirl crush, Caroline—is a fashion blogger, social media influencer, and personal disaster. Lottie’s allergies and runny nose pose a constant threat to her image. After being prescribed a mysterious new allergy medication, Lottie’s reality begins to change. A sequence of strange occurrences turn this series from a millennial melodrama into a supernatural mystery thriller.

Though Lottie is your archetypal vapid, self-absorbed influencer, Is This Real Life? highlights the most growth of Lottie’s character thus far. In preceding volumes; Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care and Vol. 2: California Screaming, Lottie was simply a fun trainwreck. However, Is This Real Life? shows the audience a slightly more likeable, more complex version of Lottie. She is no longer just a fashion sensation with a lot of self-imposed personal issues. Lottie is a 20-something woman dealing with both the mysterious circumstances surrounding her and her overt desire to confront her sexual identity. Though previous volumes have hinted at Lottie’s sexual identity, this volume provides the most in-depth exploration. As Lottie’s relationship (and unhealthy fixation) with Caroline develops, so does the enigma of Caroline’s existence. Is This Real Life? adds a new layer of supernatural mystery that fans will either love or find frustrating due to the lack of substantial answers to readers’ ever-expanding list of questions.

Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? is an excellent addition to the Snotgirl series. Hung’s artwork is consistently high-quality. Her attention to detail is impeccable. Every chapter is filled with beautiful clothing, designed in conjunction with the personal style and social media presence of each character. In addition, O’Malley, notable for his Scott Pilgrim series, writes dialogue filled with colloquial language, quippy back-and-forths, and tons of homoerotic subtext. O’Malley’s writing paired with Hung’s illustrations have earned the Snotgirl series a well-deserved cult following. Snotgirl is a great purchasing choice for any library collection. Given that, thus far, only three Snotgirl volumes have been released, purchasing the series for library patrons is an easy feat. Though fans have no idea when the Snotgirl hiatus will end, Snotgirl, Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? will hopefully tide over both old fans and new until the return of Lottie Person.

Snotgirl Vol. 3: Is This Real Life? 
By Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung
Art by Leslie Hung
ISBN: 9781534312388
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/182773-snotgirl (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Bisexual
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

A Dose of Love

The hot and heroic doctor, the one you’ve spent five years becoming a nurse in order to meet again, rejects your confession of love on the very first day of your new job, working with him. What’s a girl to do? Nanase Sakura finds herself in this exact situation in the first pages of Maki Enjoji’s new series An Incurable Case of Love, a light and upbeat romance from Viz’s Shojo Beat.

The manga follows the story of Nanase Sakura, who is beginning her training as a nurse after finishing exams. Shown in an early flashback, Sakura decided to become a nurse after witnessing an elderly woman collapse. At that time, Sakura didn’t know what to do to help the woman until a man—a very handsome one—came across them. His medical knowledge and confidence saves the woman and inspires Sakura to pursue medicine in order to ultimately meet said handsome man—revealed to be Dr. Tendo—again. Back in the present, Sakura’s training just so happens to be at the hospital where Dr. Tendo works. And just as it seems the stars are aligning in Sakura’s favor, Dr. Tendo rejects Sakura’s confession, admitting he doesn’t even remember her from so many years ago, leaving Sakura crushed.

The confession, and subsequent rejection, earns Sakura the nickname Valiant One from the other nurses, who view her confession as a brazen act of bravery. But rather than basking in any sort of glory, Sakura instead has to grapple with the reality; she fell in love with the idea of Tendo, rather than who he actually is. And, according to all the other nurses, who Tendo “actually is” is a cold, impersonal doctor, possibly a womanzier, that is focused on his patients, his work, and little to nothing else.

What ensues are chapters that develop and explore Sakura’s navigation of her feelings towards Tendo, oscillating among continuing adoration, attempts at indifference, and finally friendship. Teasing out what happens to our plucky heroine when the “love-at-first-sight” trope fails to deliver a happy ending is probably the most redeeming aspect of this otherwise fairly run-of-the-mill romance. The artwork smoothly and deftly communicates the emotion and romantic tension of the story, and expressive faces and eyes are definitely the standout of the manga’s art.

But fans of more experimental or highly stylized art won’t find much here, as will those those looking for new or subversive takes on romantic stories. An Incurable Case of Love, instead, is a solid but typical romantic story. A few chapters turn into damsel rescues, and those familiar with the Enjoji’s other prominent work, Happy Marriage?!, will notice some slight similarities with the use of these tropes. Dr. Tendo is protective, at times to the point of possessiveness, over Sakura that can be a bit troubling as well as reinforce some stereotypical gender roles. Those stereotypical gender roles also manifest in the doctor/nurse division: all the doctors are male and all the nurses, save one, are female.

These tropes, along with alcohol use and a chapter dealing with sexual harassment in the first volume, push An Incurable Case of Love to a mature rating best suited for an adult audience. I would generally recommend the series; it’s a satisfying, well-paced romance that doesn’t fall into too many of the more uncomfortable or unsettling tropes, especially when compared to Enjoji’s other work, Happy Marriage?!. I felt compelled to keep reading after finishing a chapter or volume, but, like a lot of romantic fluff, it didn’t stick around too much after I set it down.

A Dose of Love
By Maki Enjoji

VolumeISBN
19781974709311
29781974709328

Viz, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Mature (18+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
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Classic Fantastic: Blade of the Immortal

What It’s About?
It is the mid-Tokugawa era in Japan, and wandering samurai Manji’s body is infested with healing worms that make him extremely difficult to kill. This “gift” of immortality is actually a curse for his bloody history of killing 100 men, including his sister’s husband. He has been told by a mystic that the cure is to kill 1,000 evil men, so when a young woman by the name of Rin begs him for protection and vengeance against an upstart martial combat school, Manji and Rin’s paths become one. For the first omnibus or so, this is the gist of the series, but the cast, setting, and motivations blossom and take on lives of their own, and blessedly so.

By the end of the series, there are several perspectives separately driving the narrative, each applying different moral standards to the problems at hand. As the body count rises, cycles of vengeance are set in motion and allowed to drive characters to the point of obsession and mutilation. The initial “villain” of the series, Anotsu, seeks to break the established, relatively coddled order of peacetime sword discipline, attracting a motley crew of anything-goes killers. The Japanese government, in turn, hires agents and assassins to counter their movement, leading to Manji and Rin stumbling into conflicts far greater than they imagined. Selfishness, duty, ambiguity, ambition – watching characters clash as they pursue and escape one another is a perpetual highlight of the series. The story’s heights often involve pushing a conflict to its absolute boiling point then swapping to another scene and letting the reader’s dramatic irony detector in their brain go off like fireworks as the scenarios converge. The effect is downright Proustian and never gets old.

As the series goes on, there is a kind of a meta element in tracking Hiroaki Samura’s storytelling style and observing how he breaks out of his own conventions. Really cool sword fights as dramatic climaxes go a long way—Samura takes “swordsman passes by an opponent at the moment of evisceration” to a whole new level. As that effect becomes regular to the point of predictable, Samura sidelines the immortal Manji in order to focus on the motives and checkered pasts of ambitiously doomed characters, elevating the series to something admirable. Just about everyone is participating in a suicide squad of sorts for different reasons, and readers might find themselves rooting against Manji by the end. Shonen tropes like “fighting for my friends” or “proving I’m the best” sometimes apply, but character arcs also delve into how to let go of hatred or commit oneself to selfless acts.

Notable Notes
Samura’s style is one of a kind, and tracking its evolution throughout the series is another joy. He dropped out of art school to make Blade of the Immortal, and he cites classic art in interviews about his inspirations.There are pages that set a scene just so, that are more exhilarating than the standout duels and close calls. Samura and his team are masters of using touches of white to create highlights across landscapes, rooms, and faces that will stop you in your tracks. A spot of moonlight in a starless sky, a slice of brightness on the edge of someone’s cheek, a glowing torch advertising safety off in the distance – the fights are fast and heavy, but the quiet moments know how to command attention, too.

Consider this series rated M with good reason, and it’s not just lopped limbs and four-letter words. Characters have sex, including with prostitutes, and one long-running sadistic antagonist in particular derives pleasure from raping while murdering. Women are not strictly victims in this series—several are skilled, principled fighters who absolutely hold their own—but there are nonetheless a lot of violated women.

Having said that, the drama and carnage sometimes serve as a backdrop that makes the chapters of traveling and humor utter delights. The series earns big laughs whenever it slows down to show characters commenting on their journeys thus far or airing rumors about characters they haven’t seen in a while. Manji, Rin, and the rest are prone to exclaiming out loud when a situation gets out of control or downright weird (such as having to retrieve Manji’s body parts following a fight), which is another humorous highlight.

The “Demon Lair” arc is one of the greatest sustained combinations of setup, confrontation, and payoff I’ve ever read in action manga. It’s the culmination of Blade of the Immortal’s unique mixture of realism, anachronisms, sci-fi, and horror. It will spoil your expectations for arcs to come, for slow-burn schemes in other manga, and even for D&D campaigns.

Significance
Blade of the Immortal has been adapted into two different anime series, a live-action movie, and a novel.
The series won Japan’s Media Arts Award in 1997 and an Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material in 2000.

Blade of the Immortal influenced Naruto’s creator, Masashi Kishimoto, in a number of ways, including his style, plotting, and character design.

As if you needed more proof this series came about in the 90s, the English release reads left to right! This is no simple mirror flip – a “cut and paste” method was used to manually move panels around. Each volume contains a deeper explanation of this as well as Samura’s sound effects and anachronistic dialog.
Manji wears a giant Buddhist swastika on his back, and every volume of the series includes a lengthy disclaimer explaining the honorable history of the symbol and how it’s different from the Nazi swastika.

Appeal
Uninitiated readers may gravitate toward the bloody sword action and Manji’s cocky attitude, but the picaresque plotting and elegant dramatic build-ups are what usher this manga into the Classic Fantastic.

Why Should You Own This?
Each three-in-one omnibus is $22, which is a great deal for one of the best samurai manga ever made. And for the dedicated collector or librarian with money to spend, Dark Horse will be releasing a deluxe, hardcover omnibus edition in October of 2020, which will retail for $49.00.

Classic Fantastic: Blade of the Immortal
By Hiroaki Samura

VolumeISBN
Omnibus I9781506701240
Omnibus II9781506701325
Omnibus III9781506701721
Omnibus IV9781506705699
Omnibus V9781506705675
Omnibus VI9781506705682
Omnibus VII9781506706559
Omnibus VIII9781506708171
Omnibus IX9781506708188
Omnibus X9781506708195

Dark Horse, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blade_of_the_Immortal (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
Related to…: Comic to Movie, Comic to TV

Blue Flag Vol 1

In this very cute, romantic slice-of-life manga, shy and timid Futaba enlists the help of Taichi, a boy she barely knows, because he’s friends with Tomo, her crush. Taichi gives Futaba accidental advice in his clumsy efforts to help be a match-maker, and realizes by the end of volume that he might have a crush on Futaba! What could go wrong? Even more surprises await Taichi as more characters are added and this love triangle becomes a romantic quadrangle.

This was a great story for a shonju romance manga. Futaba is a very typical, shy Japanese girl, and Taichi is the typical on-the-fringe Japanese boy. But, somehow, the stereotypes blend together to make a story that is easy to read. At the end of the day, I am driven by the connection I made with characters, and this volume got me caring about Futaba and Taichi. The writing style is engaging, and each character was given their own, distinct personality. Kaito has some edge-of-the-seat moments where readers are sure to expect a confession of feelings, but as this is only volume one, the satisfaction and release we seek will be put off for a little while longer.

Kaito’s art style is simple but sophisticated. Plenty of detail is spent on the background, especially when that includes other characters. Some of the scenes look like they could be black-and-white photos of neighborhoods in Japan. There is a lot of shading and texture to each character and scene.

VIZ has this rated at Teen Plus. There is some discussion of boobs, relative sizes, and how to make them bigger; as well as bullying and dealing with grief, but there is not much else in volume one that would not be accessible to all high school students.

Blue Flag, Vol. 1
By Kaito
ISBN: 9781974713011
VIZ Media, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus

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

Given Volume 1

As a subgenre of manga, boys love (or yaoi) has a wide spectrum of content. It is (mostly) romantic in nature, although there are industry-wide issues in portrayals of consent and LGBTQ+ representation. Some titles are chaste romances, some are sexually explicit. Plot quality varies widely, as does the art. But once in a while, a gem emerges from the genre that layers a well done plot, great character development, and beautiful artwork in a compelling romance that feels real. Given is one of those gems.

In Given, artist and writer Natsuki Kizu tells the story of the members of a band by the same name. High schooler Mafuyu, a quiet, withdrawn, young man carries around an expensive Gibson guitar that he doesn’t know how to play. When he meets classmate Uenoyama, a naturally gifted musician, he begs Uenoyama to teach him. Although Ueonyama is a brilliant guitarist, he balks. As his skill and experience has grown, his inspiration and interest have faded—and not only in music, but other activities he loves. But this strange boy is determined and relentless. Something about him drives Uenoyama to take him to a band practice where he introduces Mafuyu to his older bandmates. Laid-back bassist, Haruki and playboy drummer Akihiko are in college.

Mafuyu, whose withdrawn personality is hiding deep, emotional secrets, throws himself into learning the guitar and even gets a part time job, in order to earn money for his new hobby. Uenoyama becomes more and more fascinated by the shy boy. Uenoyama’s interest in music starts to return. But when he hears Mafuyu’s voice sing a melody, it sparks a fire of inspiration and he begs him to join the band. By watching Mafuyu’s talent bloom, Uenoyama rediscovers his love for music, and possibly for Mafuyu. There is unresolved sexual tension between the older band members so this series has a lot of room to branch out with the drama.

The musical instruments are rendered beautifully, and there is a lot of gorgeous action in the music scenes. The only thing this story lacks is sound. Fortunately, the series has been made into an anime series with a soulful soundtrack to match the dramatic story line.

This first volume of Given is off to a great start. It’s published by Viz Media’s boy love imprint, SuBLime, and on an ever-growing list of titles, this one ranks very high. I am careful about recommending boys’ love titles for teens but Given is similar to I Hear the Sunspot, with it’s sweet, romantic story line. It’s less explicit than SuBLime’s slice-of-life, college story, Escape Journey. It’s rated for older teens (16+) and is a great acquisition for a YA or adult manga collection. With the success of the television anime, a sequel theatrical film release featuring the older characters will be released later this year by a new boys love studio, Blue Lynx.

Given Volume 1
By Natsuki Kizu
ISBN: 9781974711826
SuBLime, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Given_(manga) (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow, vols. 1-2

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow is the first manga series by author and illustrator Makoto Hagino. It is a shojo manga, which means the story is centered around young girls and their interpersonal relationships. It’s a slice of life school story focused on the shy friendship between two lonely girls.

Introverted and dramatic Konatsu Amano is new to the seaside town of Nagahama. Her father’s work has sent him abroad and she has been sent to live with her aunt. The slower-paced town is a big change from her life in Tokyo. As she navigates through the first day at Nanahama High, she meets Koyuki Honami, the sole member of the Aquarium Club. Konatsu doesn’t catch her name at first because the first day of school is such a blur. They literally run into each other on the beach and have adorkable introductions. Koyuki is the pretty and aloof girl that all the teen boys ask out, yet she turns all of them down. Her aloofness is just her shyness and Koyuki feels more comfortable with the creatures in the aquarium until she meets Konatsu.

Much of the first volume revolves around Konatsu learning about Nagahama, her new school, and her responsibilities in the Aquarium Club. There is a storyline where Kaede, Konatsu’s other new friend, invites her into the Home Economics Club. It’s a requirement in their school that everyone must join a club. Konatsu had already joined the Aquarium Club, and in the moment freezes. Kaede has a very outgoing, bubbly personality and just moves onto the next subject. Konatsu then agonizes over telling Kaede. When she finally works up the nerve, Kaede is fine with it and doesn’t even remember inviting her to the Home Economics Club.

In second volume of A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow, the plot revolves around our introverts catching feelings for each other. As their friendship grows, they finally work up the nerve to swap phone numbers while on a fishing trip. Later Koyuki agonizes about texting Konatus to invite her to the Summer Festival. Konatsu, of course, thinks Koyuki must not like her very much and keeps checking her phone while she’s hanging out with Kaede. She ends up going to Koyuki’s house, where Koyuki’s father spills the beans about the Summer Festival, and they make plans to go. Progress! The day of the festival, Konatsu’s father surprises her, which would be great normally except she really wants to spend her time with Koyuki! He accompanies them to the festival and makes dad jokes. They’re able to break off and do their own thing until they get separated by the crowd. They are finally able to find each other just in time for the fireworks, where they finally hold hands.

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow is a delightful read! Hagino does a great job making the reader feel the loneliness and the anxiety associated with making new friends, crushes, and general high school awkwardness. The reader will learn some facts and get to meet the critters who live in the aquarium, particularly the nocturnal clouded salamander. The salamander becomes a metaphor for the two girls, and Konatsu’s class reads a story about a salamander and a frog. She hopes to be the frog to Koyuki’s salamander, which is just adorable. The art is also very well done and is in a cute style associated with current shojo. Hagimo is very good at drawing expressions, so the reader really feels the emotions of the characters, whether it be excitement, loneliness, anxiety, or the butterflies of a new crush. Another cool aspect of this manga is the author includes a little comic at the end explaining her inspiration and process for creating the series. It’s adorable! If you have shojo readers at your library that enjoy school stories, then this is an automatic addition. The content is perfect for middle school and up.

A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow, Vols. 1-2
By Makoto Hagino
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781974710430
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781974710591
Viz Media, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tropical_Fish_Yearns_for_Snow (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Japanese Queer

The Reprise of the Spear Hero: The Manga Companion, Vol. 1

A fantasy kingdom in danger summons four legendary heroes to fight the monsters that threaten the realm. However, those heroes turn out to be ordinary young men from four different parallel universes, each hailing from a different version of modern-day Japan. How can these normal, even slightly nerdy, guys defend the kingdom? Well, it turns out that things in this fantasy world work an awful lot like video games do in their worlds (and ours)—right down to visible hit point bars and leveling up. All four of them have played video games. So maybe they do have a shot against the monsters. But what if the people who summoned them don’t really want them to succeed at all?

This manga volume—a spin-off of a light novel series and manga called The Rising of the Shield Hero—follows Motoyasu, the Spear Hero. It begins with Motoyasu being summoned by the fantasy kingdom… but having a strong sense of déjà vu. He has been here before: has fought to save the world, leveled up, and defeated the villains, but now, somehow, he’s starting over. Events are repeating around him, and he’s determined to stop the betrayals and tragedies he remembers from happening again. Unfortunately, most people think he’s crazy and don’t believe him. But Motoyasu has one big thing going for him: in addition to keeping his memories from the previous go-round, he kept his high level and power-ups. With everyone around him at level 1, he’s now practically a god. But will that be enough to save the day?

If this sounds like a fun mash-up of Sword Art Online and Groundhog Day, it kind of is. Or it would be, except for the unfortunate fact that Motoyasu is so wildly misogynist that he literally does not see women as humans. And when I say “literally,” I mean that, with a few exceptions, he looks at any woman and sees an actual pig wearing human clothes. When women speak, he can only hear pig squeals.

Yeah.

For what it’s worth, the other characters do not sympathize with Motoyasu’s worldview. They see him as crazy and off-putting. Unfortunately, the story seems to validate some of his sexist behavior: the evil plot he means to foil involves betrayals and false rape accusations by multiple women. Most of the female characters who appear are immediately subject to Motoyasu calling them “pig,” “bitch,” or “whore”… and then revealing that they are, in fact, liars and villains. There are a few positively-portrayed female characters, but this is not a woman-friendly story.

This is a real shame, because otherwise, it has a lot going for it. The art is lively and expressive, with cute chibi asides. There are fun video game tropes and fantasy creatures, including the birdlike filolials, with which Motoyasu is obsessed.

As the first entry in a spin-off series, this might be a little confusing to newcomers. There is a character introduction at the beginning; this, along with the asides and summaries of previous events scattered through the volume, might help new readers catch up.

The premise of a quirky comic-relief side character gaining godlike power and the knowledge of everything that is going to happen, then scrambling to create the best possible future, has great comedic potential. You can see this in the scenes when Motoyasu is not around women, as his other oddities make for some fun humor. But “thinks women are evil pigs” is a trait that’s very hard to get past in a protagonist, and “he’s usually right about the evil part” is not a good reaction from the story itself.

This series will certainly appeal to some readers. If you are squeamish about recommending a book with a dramatically misogynist protagonist, though, then I recommend handing fans of video games and fantasy Sword Art Online, the Kingdom Hearts manga, or the less-known but fun Log Horizon manga series.

The Reprise of the Spear Hero: the Manga Companion, vol. 1
By Neet Aneko Yusagi
Art by Minami Seira
ISBN: 9781642730340
One Peace Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating:
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rising_of_the_Shield_Hero

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

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time

If the imaginative worlds of master anime storyteller Hiyao Miyazaki are surprisingly magical, then the creative imagination of Mamoru Hosoda is aesthetically enchanting. From the mind-bending creativity of the acclaimed creator of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and gamified intrigue of Summer Wars (2009) comes an adorable tale of sibling rivalry and family drama played out in Mirai.

Mirai tells the story of a four-year old named Kun who, during his wonder years, has enjoyed the center of attention until he gets a baby sister named Mirai, whose name translates into “future.” From there, the story detours into a Dickens A Christmas Carol-like tale where magical elements materialize, time journeys are undertaken, and life lessons are learned.

The story starts with young Kun indulging in his daily antics until his mom brings home a baby girl. When the spotlight shifts to his little sister Mirai, jealousy erupts, with Kun yowling in a tantrum of titanic proportions amidst Mirai’s frantic cries. Upset at his parents for showering their attention on her instead of him, he defiantly runs off into the backyard, and there he finds a so-called “prince” of the house where he lives, which turns out to be his pet dog in human form. Later on, he meets a young girl who is actually Mirai as a teenager. This turn of events enables him to learn from and interact more closely with various members of his family.

The subplots launch like springboards for each magical journey as Kun meets members of his family at different stages of their lives. Magical surprises weave in and out of the story during his emotional outbursts, the fantastical elements kick in, and he witnesses alternate versions of his great grandfather and mother. With each encounter, Kun gains insight into the pivotal decisions that led them to their present-day selves, demonstrating how decisions of the past connect with the circumstances of the present, while shaping their identities in the process. Imbuing Kun with a vibrant curiosity, Hosoda skillfully captures the integrity and youthful persona of a toddler with heartfelt compassion and delight.

The cinematic animation of Mirai is a distinguishing hallmark of this film. The story revolves around Kun (Mirai being somewhat of a misleading misnomer), the camera focusing on his point of view. Close-up shots highlight his charming, wide-eyed facial expressions, animating exuberant emotions that range from joy and sadness to anger and fear. This film captures the passion of one of anime’s youngest characters, dramatizing a most intimate experience through the lens of a child. Furthermore, the set design features a captivating spectacle as the camera pans between the kitchen, play area, and backyard. This quasi-realistic feel combined with adorable characters inhabiting a world where magic sneaks in at unexpected moments engenders a compelling story that entertains and mesmerizes.

As an auteur, Hosoda commands full artistic control over the spectrum of emotions portrayed by his characters, conjuring forth a story that depicts life through the nostalgic worlds of childhood filled with magical wonder and curiosity. At the heart of Mirai lies a story of conflicting family dynamics, where emotional tensions run high, secrets are revealed, and insightful truths illuminated. This feature film delivers a mixture of comedy and drama peppered with magic, fueled by a child’s adventurous persona. Fantastical elements integrate naturally into the plot, appealing to viewers both young and old, thus making this a fine addition to any library collection.

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment/GKIDS, 2019
directed by Mamoru Hosoda
98 minutes, Number of Discs: 1, Single disc/DVD
Company Age Rating: PG