Wednesday, May 12, 2021

REVIEW: The Rose and the Black Cat (e-manga, vol. 1) by Kii Yugine

The Rose and the Black Cat appears to be contemporary m/m romance, but it's tough to tell in this first volume. I got it in a Humble Bundle.

Review:

Shun first got into dancing when he was a kid, starting with break dancing and eventually going on to a dance studio when he was 15. He had dreams about becoming a professional dancer, but now that he's an adult working at a karaoke place, he feels like more of a wannabe than anything. He doesn't entirely know how to handle Eisuke, a (terrible, off-key) karaoke regular who seems to genuinely admire his dancing and basic singing skills.

I like the fact that this seems to be aiming for a more realistic, slow-burn kind of romance - in fact, if I hadn't gotten it as part of a yaoi manga bundle, I don't know if I'd have realized that's where this story was going to go. This first volume is really just intended to set the stage. 

The bundle didn't come with any other volumes besides this, and the characters and story didn't really grab me enough for me to want to seek the rest of the series out (plus I don't generally buy much digital manga). The artwork wasn't terrible, but I had a hard time telling the characters apart, and the flashbacks and scenes involving groups of characters took way too much effort to follow.

It seems okay, if a bit confusingly presented, but it's not entirely to my taste. If the bundle had come with more volumes, though, I'd have at least tried the next one.

REVIEW: Dog Tag (e-manga) by Kaiji Idobata

Dog Tag is basically a one-shot yaoi comedy. I got it as part of a Humble Bundle.

Review:

Nate is too much like a useless puppy to be a very good soldier. He joined up primarily because he thought Leon, the Captain, looked cool and he wanted to be like him. Unfortunately, he has such a horrible sense of direction that he tends to get lost during field exercises if the other soldiers don't keep an eye on him. He's now doing his 14th field exercise this year, and he just got lost for the 18th time. Fortunately for him, Leon doesn't mind having to go look for him.

Everything from the title to the cover art had me worried about this one, and one soldier's comment that Leon frequently took Nate on field exercises because "the captain likes walking his dog" had me bracing for awfulness. However, this was surprisingly not rapey. I mean, yes, Nate was pretty stupid. He and Leon were in the middle of having sex when he started wondering what was going on and why. Still, he was fully on board with the whole thing, and this was an alternate universe where the other soldiers either didn't care what Nate and the Captain did when they were alone or just found it amusing.

Overall, this was much better than I was expecting. No real story - the entire setup was designed to get Nate and Leon alone so they could have sex and then Nate could happily follow Leon back - but the artwork was nice, and it was reasonably sweet and not rapey. Yay for that. Just be aware that it's extremely short.

REVIEW: All Hallow's Even (e-manga, vol. 1) by Shuji Suzukake

All Hallow's Even is a supernatural manga. I got it as part of a Humble Bundle.

Review:

Tadao Tsuge is the owner of Cafe Unknown. Yuji Kodama is an employee at the cafe. When they're not serving coffee, however, they occasionally investigate supernatural mysteries and help ghosts cross over. Their latest case involves a mysterious suicide and several attempted suicides. Although the do find a ghost at the location of the incidents, it seems like there may be more going on than meets the eye.

Ehh. This was technically okay, but it read like the first chapter of a longer story, and from what I can tell, it's been a few years and this is all that was ever published. Goodreads tells it me was a web series, but I can't tell if it's legally possible to read more than just this one volume.

The artwork was okay, and I liked the basic dynamic between Tadao (the easygoing one) and Yuji (the prickly one). There were indications they were a couple - Yuji got jealous easily and Tadao thought it was cute - but the focus was definitely more on the supernatural aspects than on their relationship.

It was fine overall...but at this point I wouldn't recommend it simply because it looks like this is all there is. I got it as part of a bundle (that I'm probably going to regret buying, but at least it's all electronic and therefore not taking up any of my precious shelf space), but if I'd paid for it on its own I'd probably have been annoyed, even though it's only a dollar. There's almost no content.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

REVIEW: Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan (manga, vol. 2) by Gaku Kuze, translated by Matt Treyvaud

Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan is a dark workplace comedy series. It's licensed by Kodansha Comics. I bought my copy brand new.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Content warning: depression, child abuse (emotional for sure, but also possibly physical?)

Uramichi is back, limping his way through work yet not quite to the point of just giving up. A part of him still finds tiny things to cling to, like the knowledge that his show's young viewers look up to him. Of course, that just makes it more painful when he lets them down.

This volume introduces a few more station staff members: Kikaku Hanbei, who works in Marketing; Amon, the show's producer/writer; and Uebo Saito, who runs the show's website. We also get to see a little more of Daga Mabui, Iketeru's sister, meet Nekota Matahiko, and learn a little more about Uramichi's past.

REVIEW: The Way of the Househusband (anime TV series)

The Way of the Househusband is a slice of life comedy series. Wikipedia says it's an "original net animation," which may be a better way to refer to it than "TV series," since that perhaps sets different kinds of expectations.

Review:

Tatsu is a former yakuza boss who was known as the "Immortal Dragon." He's now happily married and a dedicated househusband, putting the same attitude and energy into grocery shopping, cleaning, and cooking that he once put into facing off against other yakuza. In fact, his yakuza life hasn't quite left him behind - he keeps coming across old associates, and the police can't help but figure that he must be up to no good.

REVIEW: Whispering Pines (book) by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

Whispering Pines is Middle Grade horror/mystery. It's the first book in a series - the second book is supposed to come out in September 2021.

Review:

Rae's family moves to the town of Whispering Pines for a new start after her father's disappearance. Everyone seems to believe he ran out on them, but Rae knows the truth: he was either abducted by aliens, or the government did something to him when he started indicating that he wanted out of the project he'd been working on for them. Whatever the project was, Rae knows it involved an alien spacecraft. She's determined to keep investigating, even though it cost her friends back at her old home.

Whispering Pines has mysteries of its own, however. The town has a very strict curfew, and her new school has lots of weird rules, like "no chalk allowed," "no wearing garlic," and "no wearing red, not even red lipstick." And everyone seems to think it's normal for kids to go missing every year. Still, this year the number of missing kids is higher than usual and, disturbingly, the ones that have turned up again have all had their eyes taken.

When Rae's first friend at Whispering Pines disappears, she decides to start investigating and eventually teams up with Caden Price, the local "weird kid" whose mother runs a ghost-hunting business. Caden has his own secrets. He can sense people's emotions. He's also the only one who knows what really happened to his older brother Aiden, who disappeared a while back...because he's responsible for what happened to Aiden.

Monday, May 10, 2021

REVIEW: Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan (manga, vol. 1) by Gaku Kuze, translated by Matt Treyvaud

Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan is a dark workplace comedy series. It's licensed by Kodansha Comics. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

Omota Uramichi is a 31-year-old kids' show host who used to be a professional gymnast. His filter is almost entirely off. Although he's able to keep a smile plastered on his face while the cameras are rolling, he can't stop himself from making depressing comments about adulthood when the kids on the show remind him that they still have their dreams and whole lives ahead of them, while he just has meaningless workouts, an empty apartment, and a job that's slowly killing him inside.

Uramichi's coworkers include: Daga Iketeru, a handsome 27-year-old singer/actor who can't tell time on an analog clock and has a weakness for juvenile jokes; Tadano Utano, a 32-year-old failed idol singer who's in a dead-end relationship with a failed comedian; Usahara Tobikichi, a 28-year-old who has an unfortunate habit of pissing Uramichi off; and Kumatani Mitsuo, a 28-year-old who seems to somewhat unwillingly be Usahara's friend by virtue of them having been college roommates. 

REVIEW: Evan's Gate (book) by Rhys Bowen

Evan's Gate is the eighth book in Rhys Bowen's Constable Evans Mysteries series. I bought my copy used.

Review:

Evan is in the process of trying to get approval to fix up an old shepherd's cottage for himself and his fiancee, Bronwen, when he gets a call about a missing little girl. Did the child wander off, or was she abducted by her father? While pursuing multiple possibilities, Evan stumbles across the body of another little girl, and possibly a further complication to his ongoing missing child case.

I first started this series many years ago and by all rights should have finished it by now. It's only ten books long, and I've generally enjoyed each book I've read. It's got a nice sense of place, and Evan is generally likeable. But for some reason I only dip my toes into this series once every few years, and I've been doing it all out of order. I've read the first, fifth, and tenth books. It's a bit of shame, since one of the appeals of this series is that Bowen actually allows Evan's life to change from one book to the next, instead of forcing him to wallow in an unending love triangle for all eternity (while I like M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth books, the eternal love triangle is part of the reason why it's been years since I last read one of them).

REVIEW: Erased (anime TV series)

Erased is a mystery/psychological thriller with time travel aspects. I watched it on Netflix.

This review includes spoilers. I don't reveal who the killer is, but I do mention other details that could be considered spoilery.

Review:

Content warning for this series: child abuse, murder, animal cruelty/death (hamsters)

Satoru is a loner who wants to become a manga artist but is currently working as a pizza delivery guy. The only people in his life are his mother, a former journalist, and Airi, an optimistic teenage coworker of his. Satoru has a special skill that no one knows about: occasionally he experiences something he calls "revival," in which he's transported a few minutes backwards in time. When this happens to him, he finds himself instinctively looking for details that are out of place. Sometimes he's able to avert a disaster, and sometimes he's not. In quite a few instances, his actions negatively affect him, so he's not entirely sure why he bothers.

Then one day Satoru's ability helps his mother prevent the attempted kidnapping of a child. Satoru doesn't think anything of it, but his mother's journalistic instincts kick in and she realizes that the kidnapper may be the same person who killed several children at and near Satoru's school when he was little. Unfortunately, her realization leads to her murder. Satoru finds himself on the run, under suspicion of being her killer. "Revival" gives him a chance to make things right, somehow transporting him all the way back to his childhood to stop the killer when he and Satoru first crossed paths.

Monday, May 3, 2021

REVIEW: The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent, Vol. 1 (book) by Yuka Tachibana, illustrated by Yasuyuki Syuri, translated by Julie Goniwich

The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent is an isekai fantasy series (portal fantasy). It's licensed by Seven Seas. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

Sei comes home after another extremely long day at work, only to find herself suddenly transported to a new world. In that new world, a magical miasma has a tendency to gather near places where people live, producing deadly monsters. Knights and mercenaries are usually able to keep the monsters in check, but every once in a while the miasma produces too many monsters to handle. When that happens, a Saint is often found somewhere in the world, but on rare occasions a summoning ritual must be conducted. That ritual is what brings Sei to this world...as well as a second person, a 15-year-old girl named Aira. 

Moments after the summoning ritual, Prince Kyle swoops in and takes Aira away, declaring her to be the new Saint. Sei, annoyed, asks if she can go home, but it seems that's impossible. With nothing else to fill her time, Sei's amateur interest in herbs soon lands her a job at the Research Institute of Medicinal Flora. She becomes determined to live as normal a life as possible while she keeps an eye out for a way to go home, but her curiosity gets the better of her, and it isn't long before she's making enormous amounts of magical potions and learning magical spells and how to enchant gems. 

REVIEW: How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (graphic novel) by The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman)

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is a collection of random comics about cats. I'm pretty sure my copy was given to me.

Review:

I don't read The Oatmeal very much anymore, but I can still recall some of my favorite comics. Most of them are humorous spins on real-world topics, like grammar or pets. The ones I prefer don't generally involve a lot of fart, butt, or bodily fluid jokes, although those aren't necessarily deal-breakers.

Still, this book seemed to rely on butt-licking and farting jokes a lot, and it wasn't all that funny. Yes, we get it, cats lick their butts. I'm somewhat confused about all the farting, because I've lived with cats most of my life and none of them ever noticeably farted that I can recall.

The best comics were the first few before the Bobcats ones, and a few of the later ones, particularly the one with the cat trying very hard to get its owner to pet it (my cat's strategy: to find something that makes noise and then poke it repeatedly until my annoyance makes me leave whatever it is I'm doing and find her). The comic that inspired the book's title is included as a poster - it's part of the subset of this collection that I actually liked, so I appreciated that. Honestly, I think it works better as a poster than it does broken up over several pages.

While the theme of the book seemed perfect for me, overall it didn't really work for me.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

REVIEW: Reborn (book) by Meredith Wild

Reborn is the first book in Wild's Red Ledger series. I guess you'd call it a contemporary romance thriller. It contains Parts 1-3 - from the sounds of things, these were originally published in electronic form as separate novellas.

Review:

Isabel Foster teaches English in Rio de Janeiro. She's in a semi-relationship with Kolt, a guy she likes well enough but doesn't love - her heart still belongs to Tristan, who she hasn't seen since he broke up with her after joining the military.

Tristan has no memory of his life prior to six or so years ago. Work is his entire existence: his boss, Jay, sends him the names of targets, and he kills them. Isabel Foster is his newest target, and he's just about to go through with the job when (while masturbating) she says his name. Granted, "Tristan" is a pretty common name and she could have meant someone else, but something tells him to pause and do a little more checking. Sure enough, he and Isabel seem to have a past. If he can keep her alive and keep his very displeased boss from taking him out as well, Isabel might be the key to unlocking his memories.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

REVIEW: Fugitive Telemetry (novella) by Martha Wells

Fugitive Telemetry is science fiction, technically a sci-fi murder mystery. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

A couple things, first: this takes place after Exit Strategy but before Network Effect. Also, it's a novella rather than another full novel like Network Effect. I was a bit disappointed when I realized that the Murderbot fun would be briefer than I'd hoped/expected.

Anyway, Murderbot has been contracted to assist Preservation Station Security in the investigation of a murder. The victim's identity is unknown, as is the location of the murder - the place where the body was found is not the place where the person was killed. The thing Murderbot really needs to figure out is whether the murder has any connection to GrayCris, and whether this means Dr. Mensah is now in danger.

REVIEW: Cutie and the Beast (manga, vol. 2) by Yuhi Azumi, translated by Angela Liu

Cutie and the Beast is a contemporary romance manga. It's licensed by Seven Seas. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

At the end of the first volume, Momoka's parents caught her and Kuga in a loving moment, after Kuga asked Momoka to marry him one day. Momoka's father is understandably displeased with what he views as an adult pro wrestler toying with his starstruck teenage daughter. Kuga becomes determined to win him over and show how serious he is about Momoka.

And that's the bulk of this volume. We get a flashback to Kuga's past, early in his career as a pro wrestler, and Kuga and Momoka go on a date (or at least attempt to), but the largest portion of the volume was devoted to Momoka's dad sternly staring at Kuga and Kuga bringing gifts and doing anything else he could think of to win him over.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

REVIEW: Toilet-bound Hanako-kun (manga, vol. 1) by AidaIro, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun is a supernatural comedy (at least in this first volume, and according to my googling). It's licensed by Yen Press. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

Review:

The students at Komome Academy have many rumors about the school's supposed "Seven Mysteries," the seventh of which is Hanako-san of the toilet. It's said that Hanako-san haunts a particular toilet in one of the girls' bathrooms, and if you summon her and give up something precious, she'll grant you one wish.

Nene Yashiro wants Hanako-san to grant her wish to have her crush fall immediately in love with her. She's shocked when she learns that Hanako-san not only truly exists but is actually a boy, Hanako-kun. She adjusts quickly, though, and finds herself getting tired of what she views as Hanako's overly slow and not terribly effective efforts to help her. When she tries to get a bit more magical help from Hanako, however, she ends up biting off more than she can chew and is forced to become Hanako's assistant. Together, they investigate multiple supernatural mysteries, including thieving "faeries" and stairs that act as a doorway into a dangerous other world.