Helter Skelter

If you are aware of fashion in Japan you must have seen Liliko’s face. For the last few years she has been at the top of the modeling world, with her face and body promoting the biggest brands. But as everyone who is in this world admits, staying on top is a constant and never ending battle. There are always new faces introduced to the public. Younger models and new looks are brought into the fold every season. And keeping that position means learning to adapt and learning to cope with change.

To maintain her position Liliko has decided to under the knife. This is not her first go with this service. It is yet another round of plastic surgery, all done to keep herself looking young and vibrant. However in this case just a little nip and tuck was not enough. Liliko is bent on undergoing a full body makeover. From head-to-toe, every inch of her will undergo cosmetic surgery, and thus begins her madness.

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.

Helter Skelter
By Kyoko Okazaki
ISBN: 9781935654834
Vertical, 2013
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

What Did You Eat Yesterday?

Shiro Kakei, lawyer by day and gourmand by night, lives with his boyfriend, Kenji Yabuki, an out-going salon stylist. While the pair navigate the personal and professional minefields of modern gay life, Kenji serves as enthusiastic taste-tester for Shiro’s wide and varied made-from-scratch meals.

(Publisher Description)

What Did You Eat Yesterday?
By Fumi Yoshinaga
ISBN: 9781939130389
Vertical, 2007
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Volumes available: 14

Our Review

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, vols. 1-3

Paradise Kiss

Yukari is a spirited high school senior in the process of studying for her college entrance exams. Sadly the prospect of subjecting herself to a meaningless dull life leaves her feeling depressed about the future. In a bout of frustration, Yukari begins to ignore her courses and she begins to hang out with a group of fashion design students. But what Yukari doesn’t know is that this circle is known as Paradise Kiss, and they are run by a pair of young designers already making their mark on the Asian scene. Furthermore, while her life is going to soon change, it will not be due to the elite political or commerce based future her family may have hoped for, instead her life may eventually be set in a world of high fashion, with her strutting down the catwalk as the face of Asian fashion!

(Publisher Description)

Paradise Kiss
By Ai Yazawa
ISBN: 9781947194939
Vertical, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)

Our Review

Paradise Kiss, vol. 1

Blood On The Tracks, Vols. 1 & 2

Reading a Shuzo Oshimi manga is like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie: those who are familiar with the psychological play and dramatic framing will be tickled pink at all the teases on the way to the horrible lynchpin that confirms the audience’s worst fears. Newer audiences will be taken in by what seems on the surface to be an ordinary story, but for the extended pauses and close-ups signaling something is out of place to be revealed soon. The dread builds over several deliberately paced chapters like a slowly inflating balloon, and when it bursts in volume one, readers will be scrambling for volume two like Hot Ones guests reaching for milk. Blood On The Tracks is just that spicy.

Japanese thirteen-year-old Seiichi (Sei) inhabits the most milquetoast, middle-class life. His father works long hours as a salaryman, and his housekeeper mother, Seiko, is a pleasant, agreeable guardian in his life, right down to asking which of two choices he’d like for dinner each evening. His school friends are a little rougher around the edges and tease him somewhat, as does his cousin Shigeru, but all in all Sei’s got a good, stable life. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything goes wrong, so horribly, horribly wrong! Oshimi’s series are great at looking gentle and inviting one minute then veering into unexpected nightmare territory the next. During a family camping trip, Seiko goes to extreme lengths to protect her son when she perceives Shigeru as a threat to him. In the second volume, when a school crush is beginning to blossom into a relationship, Seiko again intervenes in an over-the-top, monstrous way, revealing herself as unhealthily attached to her son in a way that has quietly been sapping any potential for personal growth and social connection from his life. Anyone who’s read a Courtney Summers book and thought, “Wow, these characters go to extreme lengths, but I can’t look away” won’t be able to put down Blood On The Tracks.

When it comes to manga horror, I enjoy Junji Ito and Kazuo Umezu, but I savor Oshimi’s more grounded storytelling in a way the others’ wackiness prevents. Ito and Umezu strike at primal fears while also asking, “Can you believe what just happened?” With Oshimi, there’s no doubt what people will see, allow, and do for themselves. His use of visual direction, timing, and visual metaphor all elevate the material beyond shock value. I could tell you a child is mortally wounded in this series, but I’d also have to include how the framing of a cliff is used to suggest characters are approaching a dangerous point of no return, or are perhaps already leaping over it. I could point out an element of incest in the story (and am), but not without emphasizing the unsettling, skin-creeping nature of its use in controlling a minor. The same open, clear framing of the “safe” chapters come back around like a microscope to zoom in on the compromising of naive Sei’s soul. This is not titillation of R-rated excesses, but an unflinching look at bone-deep corruption and how far it can go. Two volumes in, this series feels like a more domestic version of Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil.

Where age recommendations are concerned, this is definitely Older Teen, at least for now. Sometimes reading stories about toxic, harmful people and lives spiraling out of control are a good way to reassure oneself of personal balance and seeking out restorative hugs from loved ones. Stock this in your manga collection with the knowledge that readers will return it while gasping at the events that transpired, followed by demanding to know when the rest of the series will arrive. Sei and Seiko’s happy faces on the covers will be waiting for them.

Blood On The Tracks, Vols.1 & 2
By Shuzo Oshimi


Vertical, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_on_the_Tracks_(manga) (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: East Asian Straight
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

Your Lie In April: A Six-Person Etude (Light Novel)

Kosei Arima is a piano prodigy with a lot of baggage. His mother relentlessly drilled him at playing piano at a young age, imbuing a rigid work ethic and demand for reproducing scores with robotic, award-winning precision. After his mother passed away, he lost his connection to music, but a chance encounter with a gifted violinist with a lust for life leads both of them to joyous duets.

Your Lie In April was a manga series that came out in the United States in 2015 and wrapped up at the very beginning of 2017. An anime adaptation originally aired during 2014-2015. This light novel, written by Yui Tokiumi, was originally published in Japan in 2014 and the US in 2017 (translated by Greg Gencarello), reaching English-language readers as the manga and anime begin to age. A prologue and epilogue from duet partner and low-key love interest Kaori bookend the four story chapters, each through the eyes and ears of Kosei’s friends and competitors.

A Six-Person Etude is a slim volume of 162 pages, plus some ads for the Your Lie In April manga, Attack On Titan novelizations, and The Seven Deadly Sins manga. A couple of color pages in the beginning and some manga pages are included, all using art by manga creator Naoshi Arakawa. Through Arakawa’s illustrations, readers can see Kosei’s young rivals upset to eat his dust, his breakdown on stage before a large audience, and the negative impression of Kosei’s mother that haunts him, for examples.

These manga pages underline a potential shortcoming for the book, that readers who already watched/read this material know how everything turns out. For a returning reader, these chapters are a nostalgic return to the emotional beats and backstory to character profiles, flashbacks, and defining moments. New readers will pick up on Kosei’s overall arc of losing and regaining his love of performing music, but without the emotional payoffs and catharsis that would come from seeing how each character develops over the course of the series. On their own, these chapters represent character sketches that demand to be fleshed out elsewhere. There are a couple of moments regarding Kaori in particular that lack dramatic irony for new readers, whereas returning fans are more likely to feel misty-eyed.

Nonetheless, the book’s strength lies in its variety of voices. Kosei admits out loud that there’s not much to him besides practicing music, and it’s a pleasure to follow other characters with more colorful personalities. Aiza is a less disciplined boy with a social life who feels driven to practice after losing to Kosei; soccer-star-to-be Ryota is Kaori’s boyfriend who can tell she and Kosei would make a natural couple; Sawabe is Kosei’s childhood friend and neighbor who witnessed his young kindness and grief firsthand; Igawa is a competitor who could not bear to witness Kosei’s breakdown.

Along with these voices are Tokiumi’s methods of depicting music. The weakest, by far, involves writing out notes as long rows of syllables, which quickly becomes repetitive on the page. Elsewhere, Aiza explains composers at a childish age, Ryota feels the passion behind Kaori’s playing while lacking the terminology to explain it, Sawabe feels the distinct lack of music in Kosei’s life, Igawa demonstrates her expertise like a seasoned musician, and Kaori attaches to music like a fish to water. Their chapters may not be long, but their voices are distinct and match their manga counterparts well.

If your library carries Your Lie In April (and it should), shelve this in the same spot. Familiarity with the original story isn’t required but definitely completes the material. Consider making a display out of the classical music referenced, including Beethoven, Kreisler, Mozart, Bach, Gounod, and Chopin. Teens might even look up how to waltz or ländler after reading this. Vertical lists this book as Young Adult on its website, but there’s nothing distinctly mature in its content, only an emotional mural.

Your Lie In April: A Six-Person Etude (Light Novel)
by Yui Tokiumi
Art by Naoshi Arakawa
ISBN: 9781945054266
Vertical, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult

Dark Matters

Dark Matters is a story of prophecy. It begins as these stories often do; a figure of some import frantically dedicating his last moments to some yet unknown individual. On the precipice of death at the hands of a malevolent force, the man passes down useful artifacts and words of wisdom to his unborn son, Dagan. Sending the missive off via a third party, the man is killed by Horace, whose character design alone is enough to indicate that he is the primary antagonist of the story. A humanoid imbued with the powers and influence of a demon, Horace is capable of devouring souls, subjugating them to some unknown eternal horror.

Years pass and through a series of vignettes, we see Dagan grow into a fine young man with a family of his own before he is sent to fight in a war. Captured by the enemy, he and other men with similar characteristics (like his heterochromatic eyes) suffer various tortures and indignities by Horace’s orders, as if he is trying to find something that will give him even more power.

Dagan escapes the prison camp and frees other prisoners, leading them on an assault against their tormentors. Unfortunately, they are confronted by Horace who uses his powers to absorb everyone’s souls, though he is surprised to see that Dagan is resistant to the attack. Dagan escapes from Horace and is rescued and sent back home to live his life in peacetime. Like many soldiers who come back from such traumatic events, his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder makes it difficult for him to acclimate as he is haunted by hallucinations and prone to anger while having difficulty staying sober and connecting with his son.

At this point, the graphic novel just…ends. Though we see Dagan have another encounter with Horace, their meeting is largely for the benefit of ending on a cliffhanger. I struggled with this book because at any given moment I was confused as to what sort of narrative the authors were trying to convey. This graphic novel very much feels like an overly complicated attempt to introduce the characters and world for a much larger and more worthwhile adventure; an Episode 0, if you will. I say that because I feel the situations Dagan finds himself in don’t appear to have much weight or importance to what really is going on with Horace. There’s very little narration or exposition. In fact, large portions of each chapter are filled with pages that show all action and no text. While it’s perfectly OK to do that, it’s not particularly effective here. There’s no excitement to the scenes, such as Dagan’s escape from the Japanese prison camp. It’s just a loose collection of panels, often containing violence purely for the sake of violence.

On the whole, Dark Matters feels like the first draft of a television pilot. There’s fat to be trimmed, dialogue to tighten up, and scenes that could be better realized. The script is often confusing, especially the marriage between narrative and the artwork. The most immediate example I can think of are the scenes where Dagan is manning a turret in an airborne bomber during war. While his plane is shot up by the enemy, the reader is not given any indication what war he’s fighting in. Dark Matters has a timeless quality to it, though in this case that’s not really a good thing. It isn’t until one of the pilots says “Zeroes” and there’s a full splash page featuring the nuclear blast over Hiroshima that I finally understood that the story was set during World War II. Adding further confusion to its time and place, Horace is shown flying to Dagan’s prison camp in what looks like a jet powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which he takes from his massive submarine (big enough to have its own launchpad and flight deck carrying multiple modern day aircraft). I don’t know much about military hardware history, but I thought Germany’s V-2 rockets were the first application of jet powered engines in the 1940s. So what does Horace’s aircraft and submarine mean? Is it supposed to imply that he’s using his demon powers to introduce new technology before its time? Does that explain why he is shown with a cyborg arm? I don’t know if the authors were purposefully trying to be mysterious but the lapses in storytelling make for a considerably confusing read. It’s too cryptic for its own good.

For me, a weak story can sometimes be forgiven if the artwork has some value. But Dark Matters isn’t going to blow anyone away with its visuals. They’re not overly simple or “bad,” but it’s not going to stand out in a crowd either. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a frequent violence in the graphic novel. Dagan’s tenure as a prisoner of war is capped with scenes of torture, mass graves, and an escape attempt that sees people getting shot and their faces based in by the butt of a rifle. The violence doesn’t add much to the story and does have a tendency to come off as rather gratuitous. There is no outright nudity to speak of, but there are scenes of pre- and post-lovemaking between Dagan and his wife. There’s nothing wrong with violence or nudity in comics but with this book, it all feels a little empty. When I browsed the comic’s website for information, I found that it represented itself and its characters far, far better than the comic did.

The first volume of Dark Matters is advertised to be the first in continuous series. It didn’t hold my attention or garner interest in the continuing saga of Dagan and Horace. It didn’t help that I was left questioning every character and situation in the story because the illustrator couldn’t successfully adapt the script in a meaningful way (or perhaps the script itself was too vague). Were this story given more time to cook, or given to a good editor, it might have been something more worthwhile than it is.

Dark Matters
by Pete Fitz, Jesse Threatt, Graham Bowlin
Art by James Allen Threatt
ISBN: 9780692791820
Swyft Pictures, LLC, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 17+

My Neighbor Seki, vol. 1

My Neighbor Seki Volume 1
The beauty of the “slice of life” genre is that a multitude of content can be contained within a simple premise. If I tell you that Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star are each about a small group of high school girls and their everyday routines, that summary is accurate for both, but it leaves out a great deal of nuance. Likewise, when I tell you that My Neighbor Seki is about dutiful student Rumi and masterful time-waster Seki, please know that these two kids have much more personality than their cover gag suggests—though the gags are great as well.

Each chapter of the book features a class period in which the teacher isn’t paying attention to the students and Rumi notices Seki messing with a pet project. For example, he might arrange an impressively complex set of dominoes or shine his desk with a professional kit of tools. They both sit in the back of the classroom, generally beyond the notice of any other classmates, and they hardly speak to each other. Nonetheless, they often trade glances, glares, and cocked eyebrows as Rumi gets caught up in Seki’s projects and ends up becoming just as distracted.

The artwork throughout the book is clean and relatively simple, especially the faces, although the objects and props unique to each chapter are drawn in detail. This level of detail is most effective when it builds up to a gag, as when Seki pulls out a few chess pieces on his desk, keeps pulling out more and more pieces, and finally assembles a single huge piece from them all to play his own version of Chess Godzilla. The panels are arranged for maximum laughs including each gag’s buildup and climax, a routine that doesn’t get old over the course of this opening volume.

As the chapters progress, Rumi tries to second-guess Seki’s antics, only to be surprised at every turn. Though she recognizes how inattentive he is, Rumi can’t peel her eyes from his latest game. In one chapter, Rumi’s curiosity gives way to a superiority complex as Seki begins knitting during class and she harshly judges his technique. “And here I am, a 2nd-rank licensee of the Knitting Society!” she gloats in her head, temporarily betraying her prior image as a charmed and playful girl. Outdoors during physical education, Seki arranges gym equipment into an obstacle course for Rumi, never saying a word but clearly engaged with her experience—until she ends up playing in front of the teacher’s lounge, that is.

These minor turns of character add a lot to episodic jokes that would be funny enough on their own, but that become something special as the reader sees more sides to each student. I hope the series continues to develop their likes and dislikes, and that they slowly become playmates in addition to their performer/audience dynamic. Invite readers of all ages to pull up a desk and eavesdrop on Seki, too.

Bonus plug: the anime version of this series is available on Crunchyroll as a series of seven-minute videos in which each episode corresponds to a chapter of the manga. Highly recommended!

My Neighbor Seki, vol. 1
by Takuma Morishige
ISBN: 9781939130969
Vertical, 2015

Heroman, vols. 1-2

download-1Co-created and written by Marvel’s Stan Lee, Heroman combines the best of American superhero stories and shonen manga tropes into a fun, action-packed gateway manga series for tweens and younger teens.

In volume one, readers are introduced to Joey Jones, a hardworking middle school student who lives with his grandmother on the west coast of the US. Though he works at a restaurant in order to support himself and his grandmother, Joey leads a pretty ordinary life. He isn’t popular at school and he’s often bullied, especially by his friend Lina’s athletic older brother, who thinks Joey isn’t worthy of his sister’s attention.

Joey never complains about his situation, but when he sees a commercial for the Heybo, a high-tech remote control robot that costs over $300, he wishes he had the money to buy it. The announcer on the commercial promises that if you purchase one, “you’ll be a hero too!!!” which is all Joey wants. When he gets to school, he sees that the rich kids are already playing with the expensive toy. As luck would have it, the Heybo gets damaged, and since its owner doesn’t care about the cost, the robot is tossed aside like trash. Joey thinks he can fix the Heybo, and not only that, he can make it even better than before. Thus Heroman, as Joey calls him, is born.

Around the same time, an insect-like alien race known as the Skruggs initiate their plans to infiltrate and attack Earth. When Lina is kidnapped by the aliens, Joey wants to save her, even though he knows he’s too weak to do anything. As if in sync with Joey’s desire to rescue his friend, Heroman transforms into a gigantic, intelligent fighting machine, and together they do some serious damage to the alien landing party.

At the beginning of volume two, Joey is conflicted about his partnership with Heroman. He tries to separate himself from the giant robot and any danger that arises, but when more Skruggs make their way to Earth, Joey knows he must fight alongside Heroman to save his home. By the end of the book, Joey realizes that he can’t rely on Heroman alone; he must believe in himself and work harder to gain the physical and mental strength he will need to become a hero too.

Heroman is fast-paced with clean art and engaging, easy-to-follow battle scenes. As expected, Stan Lee makes a cameo as a nameless character in volume one, praising Joey for his hard work at the restaurant. The character design of the Skruggs is another high point for the series, as each new invader resembles a different insect; for instance, their leader Goggor has fierce eyes and a sleek, grasshopper-like body. I hope that the Skruggs will be fleshed out in later volumes, as the first two installments only scratch the surface of this intriguing and villainous alien race.

Heroman is appropriate for all ages. This is a great introductory manga series with a relatable main character and setting, an exciting robot superhero, and the name recognition of co-creator Stan Lee. Heroman would be a nice addition to school or public library collections. Five manga volumes have been released in the U.S. and the 26-episode anime series is available in Japanese with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

Heroman, vols. 1-2
by Stan Lee
Art by Tamon Ohta
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781935654582
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781935654599
Vertical, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 10+

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, vols. 1-3

What Did You Eat Yesterday 1Some people find their joy in gardening, sailing, or building things with their hands. Forty-something Shiro Kakei finds his joy in creating delicious homemade meals on a shoestring budget, and the support and appreciation of his partner, Kenji Yabuki, make it all taste that much better.

First and foremost, What Did You Eat Yesterday? is about the food: how to shop for it, how to make it, and how to avoid being intimidated by the process. To demonstrate, creator Yoshinaga leaves readers in the capable hands of frugal, food-loving Shiro, who provides precise-yet-relaxed internal commentary on the preparation of each dish. For the culinary-inclined, these transcription-friendly monologues are easily converted into recipes. For those who are less comfortable in the kitchen, the overt-yet-gentle handholding gradually encourages the reader to believe that with the right ingredients, they could succeed as well.

However, this ongoing series is far more than an illustrated cookbook. In between cooking steps for seasoned rice or cucumber salad, Shiro and Kenji’s daily lives play out with the subtle, deft understanding of complex characters for which Yoshinaga is rightly celebrated. Lawyer Shiro’s practical, reserved nature makes him good at his job but awkward when it comes to interpersonal relations. Luckily for him, hairstylist Kenji is easygoing and demonstrative, complementing Shiro’s strengths and compensating for his weaknesses. Having outgrown the rose-colored glasses of youth, the two men consider one another—and life’s ongoing struggles—with the realistic expectations of adults who have learned from their mistakes. While conflicts arise over serious things like coming out in the workplace or dealing with the difficulties of aging parents, they both value their relationship and make the effort to sustain it. Not every disagreement is neatly resolved, but they smooth things over and move forward regardless. More often than not, that smoothing-over involves food, whether it be an obvious method of distraction or a wordlessly communicated apology, commitment, or affection.

Yoshinaga’s confident, appealing artwork makes that silent communication possible. Her mouthwatering food looks photo-referenced, not photocopied, and it meshes perfectly with her simple backgrounds and attractive figures. She is especially adept with the latter, be they adorable children; dotty seniors; friends and coworkers of all shapes and creeds; or our two handsome middle-aged leads: Kenji, with his shaggy head, scruffy facial hair, and impressive collection of funky t-shirts; and vain-yet-insecure Shiro in his suits, basic sweaters, and trusty apron, whose good looks impress others as unnatural for a man of his age.

Oishinbo or Yoshinaga’s own Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! would be great companion reads for What Did You Eat Yesterday?, and like them, this series is difficult to categorize. It is perhaps a matter of personal preference whether its detailed instructional segments intertwine comfortably with its character-driven elements. Readers who are just looking for romance may feel impatient with the cooking sequences and disappointed by the central relationship’s subtle treatment; alternately, those who are hoping to pick up some tips on Japanese cuisine may be frustrated by the narrative format. For Yoshinaga lovers and those who enjoy foodie delights mixed up with romantic slice-of-life goodness, the series reads like an especially tasty meal wherein the end result makes all the preparation worthwhile.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, vols. 1-3
by Fumi Yoshinaga
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781939130389
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781939130396
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781939130402
Vertical, 2014


sakuranMoyoco Anno is a big name in the manga industry. Notable titles such as Sugar Sugar Rune and Happy Mania have delighted and challenged her audiences. In Sakuran, Anno gives us an intimate look into the life of an Oiran, or courtesan, during Japan’s Edo Period.

Kiyoha may have a bad attitude, but she is ranked as the third most popular girl in her current “guest house.” Sold to a brothel as a child, Kiyoha has fought relentlessly against her fate, only to be further groomed for a life in the pleasure district. The story begins with Kiyoha’s ascent to the position of lead Oiran, only to travel back in time to her childhood. Through Kiyoha’s eyes and words, we learn how a young girl might have been inducted into the life of a courtesan during this time period. First, as a maid in a guest house, Kiyoha is called Tomeki. When she begins her period, she is renamed O-Rin and becomes an apprentice. After studying music, poetry, and fine arts, she makes her debut as Kiyoha and her virginity is sold to the highest bidder.

Throughout the story, a colorful cast of secondary characters come and go, but there is no doubt that this story is Kiyoha’s. Anno gives her a very genuine voice and she is a fantastic character whose greatest strengths outshine her weakest moments. However, Sakuran remains brutally honest, and there is no way a story like this one could avoid its heartbreaking elements. While we can feel some relief that as children, maids in guest houses are not called on to perform, Kiyoha is all too aware of what her future holds.

The art is absolutely beautiful. Kiyoha is depicted elegantly, with a deep, intense gaze, while the other female characters each retain an individual look, despite similar costumes. Skillfully rendered landscapes and backgrounds add to the sense of what life must have been like during this time period in Japan.

It is important to note that Sakuran is essentially the story of a prostitute. Several sexual acts are not only implied, but depicted. None of these panels seem gratuitous in nature, but they can be extremely graphic. Sakuran is indeed a josei title and, as you would imagine, it is appropriate for an adult audience only. Depictions of murder and an implied suicide further inform the maturity level of the book.

Melancholy yet powerful, Sakuran easily rivals Memoirs of a Geisha in its depiction of the world’s oldest profession.

by Moyoco Anno
ISBN: 9781935654452
Vertical, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 18+