After Hours Volume 1 Review

 

Twenty-four year old Emi Ashiana is rather miserable after being dragged out to a dance club, which is not at all her normal scene, by a friend who then disappeared on her to pick up men.  But then she meets one of the DJs, a self assured woman named Kei, and the night, as well as Emi’s life, might be turning around.

 

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The unfolding relationship between the socially uncomfortable Emi and the more confident and in control Kei is paced in a way that feels natural in real terms yet perhaps a bit unusual and uneven for a fictional story. As the point of view character Emi is the lens through which the reader views Kei and the story’s events, but Emi’s own thoughts and situation aren’t broadcast through monologues or internal narration. So in a sense the readers are meeting BOTH Emi and Kei gradually and seeing bits and pieces of the issues that surround them in a way that is building nicely and slowly foreshadowing future developments but perhaps requires more patience than normal for a story of this type. There’s an uncomfortableness to uncertainty, and the way the narrative is structured conveys a touch of that feeling to the reader at the same time it’s being experienced by the characters. Emi’s thrown into a series of unexpected situations, reacting instinctively, and often dealing with the emotional weight over everything after the fact. This makes for a fascinating, engaging story, but necessarily means a little of the chaos of real life must be captured intruding over the normal “neatness” of constructed stories.

That touch of the unexpected is underscored by the extremely interesting way After Hours both utilizes and upends tropes and stereotypes of typical romance stories. The cliched elements and themes that appear, as well as the more unique ones, are incorporated in a natural way that feel like legitimate extensions of the characters’ emotions and it all blends together in a complimentary mix that elevates the complex undertones I touched on above.

One last thing I’d like to mention is the somewhat unusual, and excellent, choice of going with adult protagonists. It adds a significant amount of depth and nuance to the story to be starting with emotionally mature characters with adult responsibilities and complications and exploring things from there. It also facilitates the deft touch with which Nisho handles the subtext and themes of Emi’s simultaneous hesitance and excitement and she unexpectedly begins to fall for another woman.

I didn’t know much about this going in, but the first volume of After Hours proved to be a wonderful start to a romantic story that felt incredibly fresh and genuine.

7th Garden Volume 1 Review

“Did I open a Pandora’s box I never should have laid my hands upon?”

Awyn (the) Gardner is living his perfect life tending the remote estate gardens belonging to a young lady he devotedly serves and wishes to protect. However when the ruling Angels’ crusading knights arrive to wreak havoc on his peaceful corner of the world he may have to revisit his less than savory skills of the past… and make a deal with a demon.

 

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7th Garden runs through a lot of cliche checkboxes: a quiet main character who’s more than he appears, an idyllic life he wants left alone, ruling Angels who are unjust and devils who still tend towards evil but maybe more just, etc. But the first volume shows just enough nuance to the characters and does well enough in the execution that I enjoyed this and am intrigued to see where it goes from here.

The fanservice is in-your-face when it happens, but in at least one character’s case they seem to be building to some story justification for it. The art is good and easy to follow in the action sequences, and the end of the volume is already hinting at deeper secrets to be uncovered involving Awyn’s demon “friend.”

Pretty standard Shounen fare here, but good for what it is.

 

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Volume 1 Review

Middle aged Mikami’s life isn’t nearly as exciting as he’d hoped, stuck in a salaryman’s job with no girlfriend and friends who primarily come around to brag about their good fortune. But that all might be the least of his worries when he’s unexpectedly stabbed to death and reborn in a fantasy world as the lowliest of monsters.

 

 

So this is pretty absurd, fairly amusing, and completely and sufficiently described by the title alone. Though nothing’s really been explained yet the setup is easy to follow and the premise interesting. The atmosphere is stereotypical Shounen power fantasy so far with the monster angle being the only real twist.

The pace seems pretty breakneck. I understand the necessity of getting to the point where Mikami can actually do something quickly, but more time spent with him exploring his predicament would have been nice. He’s a monster that seems more harmless than he is and has to learn to use his powers rather than one who has to learn to cope with being powerless and find a way to get stronger. The latter would have been much more interesting, and is more what the book description implies. There’s already a formula starting to develop to his encounters, which is a tad worrisome so early on.

Still, while nothing groundbreaking That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is a decent, quick read. It will be interesting to see if the pace settles down and if the series can find a bit more depth once the main cast and environment are fully established.

 

Beautiful Dreams 2: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

As I mentioned in Beautiful Dreams, I’ve been a fan of Juri H Chinchilla’s amazing art for several years and have been fortunate enough to develop a nice collection of her work. Here I’d like to share and talk about more of it (as well as ramble a bit about the stories and inspirations behind certain pieces).

 

 

Juri continues to be heavily featured in Perna Studios excellent card sets. I’ve been lucky enough to get several diverse, beautiful sketch cards of hers from sets like Witchcraft, Elementals, etc, in addition to having the opportunity to commission some incredible Artist Proofs (APs) as well.

Juri’s also done promo and base card art for Perna’s sets, and special cards including metal and spot foil chase cards and variants.

 

 

Some particularly interesting pieces of my collection include unique original works, such as Juri’s original pencils underlying her Mistress of the Night piece (the final version of which I featured in Beautiful Dreams) and colored and original art versions of her page from Sarah “Sakky” Ruth Ford’s Magical Girl Coloring Book.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been more fantastic additions to my collection, with the great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements.

As always I adore her use of color, particularly in her hand drawn work, and like with her Perna sketch cards and APs above that aspect also really shines in her PSCs. Seeing her visions of some of my favorite characters come to life has been a real treat. I’m a diehard gamer, with particular preference to RPGs and fighting games over the years. With Juri’s pitch perfect confrontation between Kasumi and Ayane from Dead or Alive and jaw dropping melding of Morrigan and Lilith from Darkstalkers joining the original sketches I got from her featuring Millia Rage, Jam Kuradoberi, and Dizzy from Guilty Gear, I now have incredible renditions of all of my favorite characters to play from each of my favorite fighting game series.

 

 

Valkyrie Profile is my single favorite RPG of all time, and Juri’s intricately detailed, soft yet strong interpretation of Lenneth Valkyire is exquisite. Favorite series honors go to Persona, and I adore Juri’s vibrant, striking depiction of a key supporting character from one of the series’ best entries.

 

One of the more unique requests I’ve made is a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move. Mitsuru’s already showing great potential and instincts even with only a little over a year in wrestling, and I adore the incredible way Juri’s captured and combined her strength, determination, grace, and beauty in this remarkable rendition.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last two pieces I’d like to talk about are anime/manga related. I’m using the word “favorite” a lot, but in explaining the inspirations for choosing these subjects across various mediums it has been appropriate and illustrative in every case. Gorgeous animation, thought provoking stories, and an incredible atmosphere come together to make Kino’s Journey my all time favorite anime. Juri perfectly related Kino’s cool, somewhat detached demeanor resting for a moment atop Hermes against a wonderful background horizon that evokes the show’s sense of traveling through a vast, intriguing world.

 

Rosario Vampire is an amusing, fan-service and action heavy harem style manga based around a high school for monsters where students regularly get into fierce battles with one another. It has solid story progression once it gets going, but is admittedly largely formulaic and trope ridden. However halfway through the second “season” of the manga there’s a side story,  introducing a relatively minor supporting character (who didn’t even make the anime adaptation), which embraces and upends cliches in equal measure to present a nuanced, emotional story that is easily at the top of the (long) list of things I’ve read. San Otonashi is a phenomenal character and (here’s that word again 😉 ) an absolute favorite of mine despite her relative obscurity. Even with being initially unfamiliar with San, Juri was able to create a gorgeous, spot on card of her, conveying both delicacy and strength and again really elevating the final work with her incredible coloring.

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her incredible creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

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Edit 2/9/18: I recent received three more wonderful Personal Sketch Cards by Juri, and wanted to add them to this celebration of her art.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is an incredible, unique adventure. At its heart are Kuro’s ever curious companions Ninjuku and Sanju, enjoying their journey but also gradually losing their blissful ignorance of the larger world around them. Juri’s wonderfully captured their playfulness and variation of personality.

 

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Brian Q Miller’s Batgirl series was an wonderful comic with the headstrong yet lovable Stephanie Brown in the titular role. One of my favorite issues of the run was a lighthearted story about her friendship with Supergirl. I absolutely love Juri’s rendition of the two of them together.

 

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Finally, Food Wars is a surprisingly fantastic manga/anime with a sports competition manga feel applied to idea of a highly competitive cooking school. Beneath the (admittedly enjoyable) humor,fan service, and general ridiculousness are compelling story arcs featuring an interesting, fun cast. A personal favorite of mine is prodigy Alice Nakiri, who’s simultaneously sheltered/immature and world traveled/formidable in a highly amusing way. Her confidence and attitude are perfectly reflected in Juri’s depiction.

 

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The Girl from the Other Side Volume 2 Review

Teacher has tried to keep Shiva isolated from the other Outsiders, but when one seeks her out it raises questions that can’t be ignored.

 

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This second volume of the self-described “tranquil fairy tale” builds nicely off of the first, with interesting, foreboding things happening around a perfectly paced snapshot of Shiva and her Teacher’s ongoing everyday adventures. The cliffhanger of last volume is handled well, with just enough answers to move the plot along and several things kept mysterious to keep reader’s curiosity high. There are moments of danger and worry tinged with genuine emotion, and as I’ve previously praised the characters are relatable despite the fantastical, dystopian setting.

I continue to adore the art style and the atmosphere it helps create, although the (intentionally) fuzzy visual detail on outsiders can make it a little hard to follow action scenes. Overall though the various happenings can be consistently tracked from a story perspective.

This installment is just as good as the first, and if The Girl from the Other Side can keep this level of quality up I’ll be reading it for as long as it goes.

The Girl from the Other Side Volume 1 Review

Inhabitants of the Inside must never cross to the Outside, on fear of being cursed by the monstrous ones exiled beyond the walls. However among an abandoned village in the forest an Outsider watches over a young child from the other side in seeming harmony…

 

 

This is a fantastically unique manga, with a slice of life feel within a dystopian setup. It features a cursed monster and a little girl he’s acting as guardian for going about their daily lives amidst more significant and perilous developments building in the background. I found it to be wonderfully told, with atmospheric, stylistic art and just the right pacing. The little touches and details of what’s depicted let this shine, and I already really care about the two leads. In some ways this reminds me a bit of the webcomic Hemlock in feel, although obviously the story and setup are quite different.

So far The Girl from the Other Side builds around a wonderfully simple core concept with an intriguing world and strong emotional context to give its tale depth. This volume ends with a rather big cliffhanger, which makes me even more curious to read what’s next. Great start.

 

Tohyo Game Volume 3 Review

Class 2-A is dwindling and the survivors are facing longer odds and growing depravity as their will to live is placed against their personal beliefs. And who is the mysterious votekeeper running this deadly game?

This is the final volume of Tohyo Game, a psychological horror story, so starting here is pretty pointless. Read from the beginning.

 

I’ll be sharing general thoughts on the series here, so while I’ll be as spoiler free for the entire three volumes as possible for plot details, I will be talking about my general impressions of the series’ strengths and weaknesses.

 

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I have mixed feelings about this finale. It’s good, keeps the tension high, and has plenty of surprises left to dish out. It also starts to suffer from “one twist too many” syndrome, leaves some major questions largely unexplained, and feels a little rushed. More context regarding certain things and more room for the story to breathe would have been appreciated.

Still, this volume provides the expected escalating stakes and continued clever twists on the voting and there is closure to the main story thread started in volume 1. The lack of details about a related, underlying plot point is somewhat unsatisfying, and to be honest I wanted something different, overall but within the established framework this is a logical, valid conclusion. The bombshells dropped last volume are resolved in intriguing ways.

There are interesting character moments as everyone reacts to things getting more dire, and the atmosphere is appropriately harrowing as events escalate to even more disturbing levels. On a related note, the series has been getting more and more graphic in all ways as it progresses, so if the first was too much too handle it won’t get any better in that respect.

With this volume Tohyo Game comes to a reasonably strong but imperfect end. It remained exactly as advertised throughout: a twisted, compelling suspense story filled with surprises, shocks, and graphic content. There are more questions than answers though, and that holds it back just a bit.

 

One side note I’ll mention: There’s an… odd “bonus” afterward that’s a few pages long and is nothing but fanservice and is even referred to later in the afterward with a comment that implies it exists because one of the creators wanted a couple of the characters drawn naked. I have no problem with fanservice or pinup art, and the nudity certainly isn’t at odds with the graphic nature of the series, but the context given here in the guise of “humor” IS inconsistent with the characters and tone of the series and is also uncomfortable (one line in particular is pretty much what’s making me write this). I was going to ignore it without comment (as I often do for random extras like this), but figured it was worth a heads up for those who may wish to stop reading when the actually story ends as this has nothing to do with the rest of the manga.