Manga artist and writer Kaori Tsurutani’s BL Metamorphosis is a sweet story of a cross-generational friendship forged over an unusual pastime. Ichinoi Yuki, widowed, age 75, and high schooler Sayama Urara bond over a mutual love of Boy Love manga.
Manga literally means “comic” in Japanese, but has come to represent a very specific type of comic book or graphic novel style mostly produced in Japan. Boys Love or Yaoi (shortened to BL for this title) is a particular manga sub-genre featuring gay romance. In Japan, BL is almost exclusively produced by female artists for a mostly female audience.
In volume 1, Ichinoi stops in the bookstore where Urara works part-time and picks a manga to read based on the beautiful artwork on the cover. When she reads it, she is so hooked on the romantic plot that she returns to the store to buy more of the series.
Urara, a BL fan herself, feels isolated and unable to discuss her favorite manga because of the topic. But when she and Ichinoi connect over their love of the books, they start spending time together, even attending a fan convention to meet the artist.
The unlikely pair show the wide appeal for this particular type of manga, but it also reveals our need for human connections. This series gently touches on issues such as the isolation of the elderly and the young. As their relationship grows, they find themselves growing in ways they didn’t foresee. Urara lamented that she didn’t have anyone to talk about her favorite series, but she recognizes the chance with Ichinoi and enthusiastically, if awkwardly, begins sharing her own collection of BL manga with the older woman.
In some very amusing ways, volume 2 reveals a few issues BL fans face. Some of the material is explicit—and Ichinoi’s adult daughter is shocked to find copies of the manga in her mother’s home. When Urara tries to buy a self-published manga at the con, she is unable to because it’s adult material and she is underage. But many of the plots of BL manga revolve around the romance. And the attraction to its audience is undeniable.
The metamorphosis in the title is subtle. Urara lacks confidence and experience in talking to people. She recognizes Ichinoi’s experience and wisdom and wants to ask her advice on dealing with real-life relationships. Ichinoi, who is retired but teaches children calligraphy, is encouraging and urges Urura to try her own hand at drawing.
Tsurutani’s artwork is soft and sweet. The elderly are not often represented in manga so it’s refreshing to see an older face. There are panels of the pair’s favorite manga between chapters and as a manga-within-a-manga. There is also a bonus chapter in volume 2 featuring the manga artist whose work Ichinoi and Urara enjoys.
I am an unabashed fan of Boys Love manga and especially of this cleverly layered series. It’s not condescending or comical, but a warm, witty story of an unlikely, but believable friendship. It’s rated for teens but will have real appeal for adult manga fans, especially fans of the Boys Love genre.
BL Metamorphosis is published by Seven Seas Entertainment and a third volume is scheduled for publication in December 2020.
BL Metamorphosis, vols. 1-2 By Kaori Tsurutani ISBN:
The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese has a lot more going for it than just the very unique title. This gay, romance manga by artist and writer Setona Mizushiro breaks a lot of stereotypes of the genre.
In this adult drama, salaryman Kyoichi Ootomo is busted by a private investigator for cheating on his wife. The private dick just happens to be Imagase Wataru—an acquaintance of Kyoichi’s from university. And not just any acquaintance, he’s a gay man who has been been suffering from a bad case of unrequited love for the oblivious adulterer, Kyoichi.
Imagase decides to use his leverage against Kyoich. If he agrees to have sex with Imagase, the detective won’t reveal the other man’s indiscretions. This is a typical plot device in manga. A gay character pursues a straight man and they end up having incredibly dubiously consensual sex. Except, The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese gives readers something that is as rare as gold: A complex, interwoven tale of love, infidelity and a whole batch of (okay, three) female characters with agency! Too often, the characters in gay romance manga seem to exist on a planet inhabited solely by men.
This volume and its follow-up, interestingly titled, The Carp on the Chopping Block Jumps Twice, delves deep into what it means to be in a relationship and how one’s views and actions (or lack thereof) affect a partner.
Kyoichi is an easy-going philanderer. Alternately falling into bed with women and Imagase because it’s the path of least resistance. And Imagase, with the deeply suspicious nature of a private eye, can never feel secure in his relationship with Kyoichi.
Part romance, part couples-therapy, it can be emotionally traumatic reading. Visually, the manga are quite good. These are well drawn. The realistic visuals lack any gag panels due to the more serious, mature nature of the plot. Muzishiro was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2007. They are stylish and explicitly drawn with clean lines, attractive characters and nice background work.
Some readers take issue with the gay romance manga because it can seem that many of the plots are lifted from teen romances. Which is not all bad. Both genres share a lot of the same tropes and both are (for the most part) written for a female audience. But for readers looking for a dramatic, in-depth story of grown ups dealing with real-life problems in a romance, The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese and The Carp on the Chopping Block Jumps Twice will definitely fill that need.
Please note that both volumes are labeled for explicit material and are for adult readers. They are great additions to any adult manga collection. Interestingly, I wouldn’t consider this a series, even though it is listed as such. Both volumes can be read as stand-alone books and not necessarily in order.
The manga, published in Japan in 2006, is licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment and has been made into a live action film being released this year in Japan.
The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese By Setona Mizushiru ISBN: 9781642757590 Seven Seas Entertainment, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Adult (18+)
The Carp on the Chopping Block Jumps Twice By Setona Mizushiru ISBN: 9781642757606 Seven Seas Entertainment, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Adult (18+)
The daughter of two sensitives and a sensitive herself, Chise Hatori felt like an outcast even before she was abandoned by her family. With no other options available to her, the teenage girl decided to sell herself into slavery in the hopes of finding somewhere to belong, someplace where her ability to see faeries wouldn’t be considered strange, and where she might gain some respite from the teasing of mundanes.
To her surprise, Chise was bought by Elias Ainsworth—a seven-foot tall mage who was neither a man or a faerie but something in between. Though he was capable of hiding his true form behind glamours, Elias rarely bothered to so, allowing the animal skull that is his face to be freely seen when he is among his fellow mages. Chise’s surprise turned into confusion, as she learned that Elias had bought her because of her status as a Sleigh Beggy—a sensitive who draws magic into themselves as easily as breathing air. She was also stunned when Elias freed her of her chains, saying that he intended to make her into his apprentice… and then his bride! Now, Chise is growing into her new role as a fledgling magus, trying to learn what she can of the world around her and the power at her command. She also tries to get to know her new master, though she is quick to realize that human emotions are alien to Elias and that he bought her as much to try and better understand people as to understand her powers. Dark forces threaten them both, as Elias’s duties as a mage place him in peril, and Chise finds herself getting drawn into helping those in need against Elias’s wishes. Still, something seems to be growing between the new master and apprentice, something neither of them have the words or experience to name, but which might be love.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride is one of the most involved and complex fantasy romance manga it has been my pleasure to read. While stories of a young woman falling for a monster who seeks to become more human are nothing new (Beauty and the Beast ring a bell?), Kore Yamazaki builds a complex mythology to support the odd romance between Elias and Chise that mixes elements of traditional fantasy, Catholic/Anglican dogma, and Celtic myth. For instance, in the first four volumes, reference is made to the Wandering Jew, one of the main supporting mage characters tends to a dragon sanctuary, and specific fae such as selkies, Leanan Sídhe and Church grims are encountered as Chise pursues her education.
The artwork is also unique and memorable, with Elias’s design itself being notably alien and eye-catching. Yamazaki’s art perfectly conveys the weird beauty of her world as well as the nightmarish horrors that wait to catch the unwary off-guard. The sequences in which Elias sheds his preferred form and allows the shadows that empower him out lead to some truly horrific imagery.
The series is rated 13+ for Teens and I believe that rating to be a fair one. While Elias and Chise’s relationship is odd, there is nothing improper about it and there is no sexual element to the story at all, despite Chise technically being a slave to Elias’s whims. There is no hint of fan service in the artwork and nothing that would be inappropriate for most teenage audiences in my estimation, though some elements of the evil magic Elias and Chise fight (such as a man who sacrificed cats to steal their lives) may disturb some audiences.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride, vols. 1-4 By Kore Yamazaki vol 1 ISBN: 9781626921870 vol 2 ISBN: 9781626921924 vol 3 ISBN: 9781626922242 vol 4 ISBN: 9781626922556 Seven Seas Entertainment, 2015-2016 Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)
In the world of the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) Cross Reverie, no one is as feared as the dreaded demon king Diablo. Yet in the real world, Diablo is Takuma Sakamoto, a shy, shut-in who can’t even talk to cashiers without freezing up. Despite this, Takuma is satisfied with his existence until he suddenly finds himself in a magical realm very much like the world of Cross Reverie. He also finds himself under attack by two young summoners: the elf, Shera, and cat-girl, Rem.
Luckily, Takuma has entered the world in the form of Diablo and has possession of all his magic items and abilities. Unluckily, this means that his spell-reflecting ring causes the binding spells the summoners cast on him to bounce-back, leaving them wearing slave collars and subject to obey his every whim. Why is that unlucky for Takuma? Because he is so scared of women and intimacy that he can’t talk to them at all… unless he plays the role of the demon king Diablo.
The situation is equally frustrating for Rem and Shera, who argue about which one of them truly summoned Diablo and should have gained control of his favors. It seems they both had good reason to summon a powerful demon for protection. Throw in the fact that the realm is in need of a hero and it seems that Diablo’s arrival is well-timed and it will fall to him and his slowly-growing harem of heroines to save the kingdom of Faltra!
Based on the light novel series of the same name, How Not To Summon A Demon Lord truly surprised me. Given the premise, I had expected it to be full of fan-service driven artwork and the usual jokes about an awkward otaku suddenly finding himself having gorgeous, powerful women too close for comfort. And it was. Yet it also showed a surprising amount of heart and a healthy respect for its heroines that I did not see coming.
Author Yukiya Murasaki gives Shera and Ren fully developed backstories and personalities, far more involved than is typical of the love interests in a fantasy-themed harem manga. Both women have secrets that tie into why they became adventurers and why they sought demonic intervention to deal with their problems. The irony that they both wind up in bonded servitude while trying to avoid similar fates is not lost on them and the fact that Diablo treats them far better as his slaves than they were often treated as free adventurers only makes the two summoners start to fall for him all the faster. Which only further fuels his awkwardness.
The artwork by Naoto Fukuda (based on the character designs of Takahiro Tsurusaki) is skillfully handled. Fukuda proves capable of depicting a wide variety of body types and characters and there is never any difficulty in telling the various characters apart. The monsters are all memorable and the action sequences well-choreographed.
Fukuda also shows tremendous versatility, often switching the story up into different styles as Takuma daydreams and imagines himself and his companions in non-fantasy situations, such as when he imagines himself as the hero of a slice-of-life school anime and the Adventurer’s Guild master as the principal, when he is called to a private meeting. Naturally Shera and Rem show up in schoolgirl uniforms and turn into the Betty and Veronica fighting for his attentions.
The series is suggested for Older Teens and I consider this a fair rating. While there is little outright nudity in the first three volumes, there is a lot of skimpy costuming and sexual content. The BDSM implications of Rem and Shera’s servitude is explored in-depth and assuming the concept of the series itself isn’t problematic for some readers, the details of Shera’s mysterious past (in which she was fleeing a deranged older brother who wished to claim her as a concubine) may trigger unwanted memories for some survivors, though the story itself does nothing to glamorize the idea of sexual slavery outside of some clearly consensual slave-play.
How Not To Summon A Demon Lord, vols. 1-3 By Yukiya Murasaki Art by Naoto Fukuda vol 1 ISBN: 9781626927605 vol 2 ISBN: 9781626928657 vol 3 ISBN: 9781626929654 Seven Seas Entertainment, 2016 Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
With its themes of mentorship, nostalgia, coming of age, and plenty of art training, Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey by Akiko Higashimura is a powerful autobiography with many life lessons to impart. Readers with their own dreams of comic or gallery stardom will recognize a lot of the personal growth required to stay on that path as Akiko struggles through art school and repeated early failures. Considering she is known for her hit manga series like Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, there is a guaranteed light at the end of her tunnel, but present-day Akiko is also the narrator, coloring the entire story with a wistful sadness at days gone by.
One of the instantly endearing qualities of this first volume is its authenticity. Akiko determines she will dive head-first into the world of art after loving shojo comics all her life, and slams into the rude awakening that is finding her discipline with a brash instructor, Hidaka. He hits his students on the head with a wooden sword and is unrelenting in his criticism. His classroom environment is stark, and classmates are often found crying to themselves. This is exactly the kind of tough-love approach Akiko needs in order to thrive creatively, and she… actually sneaks out, because that much ego death is too much to handle.
Akiko’s willingness to expose the flaws, vulnerabilities, and petty grievances of her younger self is both a comedy goldmine and relatable doorway to readers young and old. I am reminded of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer, which adult readers felt would go over the heads of teenagers, but teenagers felt would go over the heads of adults. Everyone feels validated! Akiko does go back, though, because despite all the physical and verbal abuse Hidaka unleashes, he cares about his students. If they’re sick, he’d rather carry them to a bus stop than risk them falling over. When he labels a student a monkey and her lunch turns out to be a banana, he laughs so hard the entire class can’t help but join him. Hidaka’s role in Akiko’s education is a mixture of her younger perspective in the moment, older perspective looking back, and the reader’s perspective as a third party to everything. In the latter half of the first volume, when Akiko isn’t selected by one of her top three schools, he takes her out for a consolation beer. She, a minor, only takes a sip, but reflects on the moment as an adult, supposing if she could revisit that day she would gulp it all down.
The art school training and entrance exams, while involving exercises such as drawing live models and statues (not manga), don’t include any especially technical expertise about illustration or art appreciation. This is not a how-to guide for drawing, but a tracing of the stubborn maturing of a young artist. Young Akiko is always swiping at canvases with a pencil, while present day Akiko beholds a range of tools rendered in detail. The clarity of detail could be said to be tied to the nearness of memory. Comedic and dramatic beats are true to Akiko’s style in her fiction series, and her ability to swap between them at will highlights the talent in her storytelling. She captures the helplessness of children struggling to find their artistic chops as well as the shock of a confident artist upended by a harsh judgment.
If this volume ended with an epilogue about going to art college and winding up in a manga career, the arc would be credibly self-contained. As it stands, with four more volumes imminent, Akiko’s journey should be a rich fount of frank observations, self-deprecation, and hard-learned lessons. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey is an excellent autobiographical tale that belongs wherever teens can find it and make a funny artist friend.
Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey, vol. 1 By Akiko Higashimura ISBN: 9781642750690 Seven Seas, 2019 Publisher Age Rating: T
Tasaku has been found out: his classmates spotted gay porn on his phone and now the boys in his class call him a homo. Unprepared for being so suddenly outed, he contemplates taking his life by jumping off a ledge. He hesitates when he sees a woman appear to leap to her death before him, and catches up to where she would have landed only to find an LGBTQ support house. He reluctantly spends time there trying to depressurize from the social cesspool that is his school life, and in the process gets to know some of the other housemates better.
Our Dreams At Dusk pulls off the delicate balancing act of depicting internal and external LGBTQ struggles and emotional development without becoming didactic. Non-binary creator Yuki Kamatani deserves accolades for their careful depiction of all the housemates and their varying approaches to Tasaku’s newfound presence among them. While they function as a support group and safe space for one another, they’re not structured like a group therapy session and act in a much more open-ended manner. When Tasaku wants to sit in the corner and stew, the rest of them give him his space and go about their creative activities. In one striking scene, a quieter old gentleman in the group who loves classical music plays a record for Tasaku, which transports him through wavy effects.
Readers may recognize the antagonism of Tasaku’s classmates and the arguments they make about their so-called friend whom they also label “homo.” Much like A Silent Voice, Our Dreams At Dusk nails that feeling of being caught between personal expectations and others’ judgment. Tantamount to Tasaku’s frustration is the feeling that everyone else is weighing their own perceptions of what “homo” behavior is on his shoulders, as well as how he should explain himself. Characters experience multiple no-win rhetorical arguments in their daily life, such as “Whoever says it’s discrimination is the one who is discriminating” and excusing homophobia as an “old school” mindset. Kamatani’s detailed backgrounds transform into stark, isolating voids when societal pressures mount against the cast’s sense of self. Tasaku doesn’t want to be outed, and he doesn’t want to sit in a circle and talk out his feelings—so he doesn’t! This manga has greater ambitions than that.
The other main plot in this volume involves a lesbian member of the group, Haru, who freely tells people about her girlfriend Saki, even though Saki would rather they keep their relationship 100% private. Their dynamic is a tension of personal preference, with both of them motivated by their feelings toward each other. One of the book’s more powerful visual metaphors is a structure that the group house’s owner wants torn down and rebuilt as the members see fit. Haru tearing down a wall stands in for her getting up the nerve to express her true feelings to Saki. Tasaku has a similar moment, but removes a single nail before feeling the personal progress it represents.
This leaves the one element of the story that feels a little confusing, though maybe it clears up in later volumes, and maybe some readers won’t mind this at all. The lady who seemingly jumped to her doom is the same person who owns the group house’s property: “Someone-san.” The other housemates describe her as a mysterious figure who only raises more questions the more she is observed. Is she a ghost? A myth brought to life? In a story that is otherwise brimming with sensitive depictions of realistic circumstances, Someone-san represents (so far) a paranormal element that could use a little more context.
Our Dreams At Dusk is a must-have for your manga collection. The artwork is largely realistic and without a shred of fanservice—Tasaku crushes on a boy, but nobody’s ripping off anyone’s shirt. We never see what was on his phone that outed him. Shelve this alongside My Brother’s Husband and Princess Jellyfish for maximum impact. A description of the second volume indicates that gender identity will also be explored. Under Kamatani’s careful pen, these issues and characters are brought to life with a special tenderness that will fill readers’ hearts to bursting.
Our Dreams At Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, vol. 1 By Yuhki Kamatani ISBN: 9781642750607 Seven Seas, 2019 Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Japanese Lesbian, Gay Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator
Nina is delighted to move to the tiny country of Ruberia with her aunt and uncle. Bullied at her previous school, she hopes for a better life in this fantasy country covered with rare roses. She’s a little worried about whether she will fit in among the wealthy inhabitants. She is also concerned about Abigaile, the strange island prison in Ruberia.
Her sojourn in the country is brief, though, since she almost immediately falls into danger. Helping to chase down what she thinks is an escaped convict, she instead finds herself bitten, transformed into a luga, or werewolf, and shipped off to Abigaile. There she discovers some of Ruberia’s hidden secrets. The country is built on the slave labor of the luga, who are trained at the brutal academy inside Abigaile. Although terrified and confused, Nina nevertheless can’t resist defending some of the children prisoners and immediately comes to the brutal attention of the Nazi-like guards as well as three very different luga alphas. Will she survive her detention on Abigaile and return to her family? Will the luga attack her if they discover she was originally human? What other dark secrets are Abigaile and Ruberia hiding?
This small volume packs a confusing amount of story into its pages. Nina is a typical shoujo heroine, spunky and willing to fight back, but also petite and helpless. She wears short skirts and is often shown with wide-eyed astonishment, giving her a childlike air, but she also quickly forms crushes on the various luga, shown by sparkles in her eyes and romantic swooning, even when they’re threatening her. Her bushy tail and ears add to the cute aspect of her character.
The luga themselves, while sometimes shown in a more frightening beast-like form, mostly conform to paranormal romantic expectations, with “bad boy” images to maintain, from collars and chains to fangs and fashionably ripped clothing. The different “homes,” or packs, are all unique. The most powerful, the student council, are shown elegantly dressed and with hidden undercurrents of power. The largest home, that of the rebellious wolf Roy Balfour, who bit Nina, is scruffier and quickly drop into their more animal natures, threatening and even attacking Nina.
The small home that Nina ends up joining is heavily stereotyped: the alpha, whom she originally thinks is a girl, wants to be a fashion designer, and the members are obsessed with make-up, clothes, and have highly-affected mannerisms. The guards, toting guns and whips, are universally cruel, treating the luga like disobedient animals. Their dark uniforms and weapons, matched with evil expressions and hair that is often shown styled to hint at devil’s horns, clearly show the danger and cruelty humans represent to luga.
For readers who like paranormal romance manga with a lot of drama, this seems like a promising series. There are several fairy tale-like stories included and many hints at future revelations and secrets. There’s a very dark aspect to this fantasy romance, though. Nina is treated brutally by both the guards and the alphas, even those who are at first kind to her or show romantic interest. There is clearly cruel treatment, not only of the lugas by the humans, but among the lugas themselves, as they harass and brutalize the weaker members of their groups. There are a lot of trailing plot threads in this first volume; Nina herself is introduced with very little backstory. Why does she know karate? Why did bullying at her former school necessitate this move? Among the scattered plot lines, it’s unclear whether her family is aware of the dark basis of Ruberia’s prosperity. There are also hints that it’s impossible for a human to change to luga with a single bite, which raises questions about Nina’s transformation.
If your library has a large audience for manga and is able to expand its shoujo offerings, this is an interesting addition. The darker aspects of the “romances” Nina is beginning to be involved in make this series more suitable for older teens.
Beasts of Abigaile, vol. 1 By Spica Aoki ISBN: 9781626925359 Seven Seas, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: OT
Akira is a teenage werewolf whose family has a long tradition of being loyal bodyguards for vampire royalty. When he is seventeen, he is taken to meet the ruler of all vampires, Mina Tepes. They met once when he was a child, and he promised to stay by her side forever. Mina has taken him at his word and used her vast wealth to take over the national debt of Japan in exchange for the creation of a special district in Tokyo Bay: the Vampire Bund, an area in which vampires can safely live without being hunted or discriminated against. Enemies both human and vampire attempt to kill Mina, but she has an abundance of strength and cunning. In fact, it seems that her only weakness is her kind heart, especially her affection for Akira.
A closed-off area for vampires that exists as a legal district bordering a major city (along the lines of Hong Kong or Macau) is such a good idea with so much potential that I am really disappointed it isn’t explored in the way it deserves in the first three volumes of this series. In general, the world-building is sloppy and, instead of providing details to flesh out the setting, it depends on readers’ preconceptions of vampires and werewolves. Readers are not told what kinds of vampires and werewolves we’re dealing with; we are just shown people with fangs and vaguely militaristic clothing and told to run with it. The narrative feels forced and there isn’t a lot of set-up for the reader; for example, an important bit of lore—a vampire must obey the “Master” who turned them by drinking their blood—was not explained until it emerged as an important plot point. Too bad, because there are also fantastic original ideas; for instance, a newly-turned vampire would be able to hide a bomb in their body by simply taking out all their internal organs, which was new to me and very refreshing. However, the artwork is generic: competent, but nothing extraordinary.
It should be noted that while Mina is capable of transforming into an older body, which is presumably her true shape, she looks like a ten-year-old in her everyday existence. Her frequent nudity around Akira in this form is framed as fanservice. Akira himself often loses his clothes due to werewolf transformations or explosions. Abduction by vampires serves as an excuse for thinly-disguised depictions of gang rape (twice). One of the victims of the aforementioned abduction is a high school student who subsequently bites and enters a sexual relationship with a child friend; this is depicted as a happy event.
If you want an entertaining manga featuring nonhuman characters, there are many better titles. Instead of Dance in the Vampire Bund, I would recommend Black Butler, a recent title; Hellsing, a violent classic; Vassalord, an unashamedly sex-oriented trashy title with fantastic artwork and better writing, though it also features minors and rape; Shiki for absolute horror; Chrono Crusade for emotional storytelling; or Durarara!! for a contemporary setting and sheer wackiness.
Dance in the Vampire Bund Omnibus 1, vols. 1-3 by Nozomu Tamaki ISBN: 9781937867041 Seven Seas Entertainment, 2012 Publisher Age Rating: OT(16+)
Grimm Otogi is the descendant of the famous Brothers Grimm. While he has grown up learning the famous fairy tales he, like most everyone else, has never believed them to be anything more than stories. He is shocked one day to receive a letter from his presumed dead father instructing him to move to a new town, enroll in a new school, and move into the family mansion. Due to his unusual “family circumstances” and the recent death of his mother, he decides to follow the letter’s instructions. Once in his new home, he discovers that the Grimm legacy is rooted in reality—not fiction. The Brothers Grimm were demon hunters and all the characters and weird creatures of their stories are not only real, but out for revenge on relatives of the Brothers Grimm.
With the help of an old bound book, Otogi discovers the original Cinderella—in this world, he’s male—stuck in his chimney. Cinderella becomes Otogi’s protector, helping him learn the ropes when it comes to fighting the fairy tale demons that are out to kill Otogi. Thankfully, as a descendant of the Brothers Grimm, Otogi can wield the book and trap the demons within its pages. On his first mission, Otogi and Cinderella explore the old school building on campus, supposedly haunted by a long-haired lady. In the process, Otogi befriends the outcast Sorimachi Yuma, who got kicked out of his previous school, and the nerdy Hiyori Hatsushiba, who just so happens to be a master of martial arts. The climax of the first volume comes when Hatsushiba gets kidnapped by Snow White, a male demon who embraces the female side of his fairy tale (he wears costumes that border on lingerie, paints his nails, wears makeup, etc.). The volume ends with Otogi’s fight with Snow White and the betrayal from a close friend!
Cinderella will appeal to the yaoi fans—he is very feminine looking and, at times, his conversations with and protectiveness of Otogi borders on the flirty side of things. However, Cinderella is also a total masochist, which plays into the fictional story of Cinderella having to do all the chores that her stepmother and stepsisters required her to perform. In “reality,” Cinderella LOVES to be told to clean, so there are some slightly naughty jokes as Cinderella basically begs Otogi and others to boss him around. Also playing on the cleaning theme of the original Cinderella story, there are some funny moments when people anger Cinderella because of their actions. For example, while walking with Otogi on the school campus one morning, Cinderella sees a boy throw some trash in a trash can, ignoring the recycling bin right next to it. Cinderella proceeds to throw the bottle so hard it gets embedded in a wall near the boy, yelling, “Next time it’s your face!” Cinderella also can’t help but stop whatever he is doing to clean up a mess; it is his one weakness.
One element of manga art that can really diminish my enjoyment of a story is if the characters are not easily differentiated in the art. Too often, I read series where all the boy characters have the same large, dreamy eyes and the same hair color and style which can make it confusing in determining who is who in a given scene. Kanou’s art does not suffer from this problem at all. Cinderella has his long, flowing blonde locks, while Snow White has short, dark-colored hair. When Robin Hood shows up, his costuming and hood help keep him distinguishable from other dark-haired characters.
Dictatorial Grimoire was much better than I expected, and I enjoyed the dark spin put on the stories of the Brothers Grimm. It will appeal to a wide variety of fans: those who like magic stories; those who like strange takes on fairy tales; and those who like boys’ love stories (while this isn’t a big focus of the plot, there are some little hints of attraction between the various boys). I really liked Hatsushiba—a nerdy outcast girl who was able to hold her own in a fight and didn’t need saving from anyone—and the gender-swapped versions of the fairy tale characters. The series only runs three volumes (or one omnibus edition), so the whole series takes up far less of your shelf space than other manga series.
Dictatorial Grimoire, vols. 1-3 by Ayumi Kanou Vol. 1: Cinderella ISBN: 9781937867935 Vol. 2: Snow White ISBN: 9781937867942 Vol. 3: Red Riding Hood ISBN: 9781937867959 Complete Collection ISBN: 9781626921733 Seven Seas, 2013-2014 Publisher Age Rating: 14+
Kanokon is a nine-volume (or four-omnibus) manga based on a popular Japanese light novel series published between 2005 and 2010. The story follows fourteen-year-old Kouta Oyamada, a shy first-year student who has just transferred to Kunpo High School. On his very first day, Chizuru Minamoto, the school’s most popular girl (popular as in “every boy wants to date her”), passes him a note asking to meet her in the music room after school. Class representative Akane Asahina warns Kouta to be careful of Chizuru, but he meets with her anyway. The last thing he expects is for Chizuru to throw herself on him declaring her love! In a moment of passion, she kisses him, and in the process, Kouta is shocked to discover that Chizuru has grown fox ears and a tail.
It turns out she is a yokai—a monster of Japanese folklore—in the form of a 400-year-old fox spirit. This discovery is interrupted by Tayura Minamoto, Chizuru’s “younger” brother, another fox yokai that Chizuru “adopted” many years ago. Unfortunately, in a fit of misplaced jealousy, Tayura attacks Kouta, who is saved when Chizuru possesses him and they create a foxfire so large it explodes the music room. In the days that follow, Chizuru pleads with Kouta to keep her identity secret. However, Kouta comes under the attention of the local boss of the yokai, Kumada, a bear yokai, who thinks Kouta is half-human, half-yokai. When it is discovered that Kouta is just a regular human, Kumada challenges him to a fight and Chizuru has to admit that the school is secretly a reform school for wayward yokai who are being given a last chance to show that they can cope and co-exist with humans. The volume ends with a slightly ominous comment from one of the teachers, Yatsuka, who remarks that Kouta “just might be the one to save us,” implying that something secretive is going on and that Chizuru’s attraction to Kouta might be more important than anyone realizes.
The art in Kanokon is clean and crisp, which keeps the reader from not getting too bogged down with unneeded background details drawing attention away from the main action. Kouta is a typical nerdy manga boy: short and skinny with dark hair. All the other main characters have a small styling element which helps keep the reader from confusing any of the characters, whether it is Chizuru’s fox ears, Asahina’s glasses, or Kumada’s facial scar. The only artistic element I do not understand is why Chizuru, in human form, appears as a girl with long brown hair, but when she turns into a fox she goes blonde.
Kanokon is a fun manga. At its heart, it is a harem story without the harem. Kouta and Chizuru are together from the first pages and none of the other girls on campus are interested in him (in fact, the couple’s PDA causes many other students to call Kouta a “beast” and a pervert). Most of the harem elements come from Chizuru doubting Kouta’s love for her (although from volume three a wolf yokai will challenge Kouta and Chizuru’s relationship). I enjoyed the high school acting as a reform school for delinquent yokai, as it gave a spin on the typical school story.
While I enjoyed the story for its comedy, I would suggest that librarians look at their current collections and deem the appropriateness of the series for their teen collections. Seven Seas rates this as 16+ and there are a lot of fan service moments throughout the volumes. The most common are up-skirt shots and Chizuru appearing naked after she possesses Kouta (since her clothes can’t come with her). However, the nudity is not graphic—more just curves of the body than detailed body parts. I did not get to read the final volume but, in searching it out, I did see some reviews that stated the last volume is more risqué than the previous ones. Overall, it is a humorous story with well-defined characters that stand out from one another. I think many teens looking for a comedy with a little romance would enjoy this series.
P.S. The name “Kanokon” is short for the phrase “Kanojo wa Kon, to Kawaiku Seki o Shite,” which, in English, translates to “she coughed with a cute little yip.” It is supposedly a play on the sound a little fox makes, which apparently is similar to a little cough.
Kanokon Omnibus: vols. 1-9 by Katsumi Nishino Art by Rin Yamaki Omnibus 1-2 ISBN: 9781937867355 Omnibus 3-4 ISBN: 9781937867362 Omnibus 5-6 ISBN: 9781937867829 Omnibus 7-9 ISBN: 9781626920125 Seven Seas, 2013-2014 Publisher Age Rating: 16+