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A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9)

In this volume, we return to Pariya and Umar’s story. Pariya’s family is finishing rebuilding their house and the family’s business, and so Pariya’s father is starting to move faster on her marriage negotiations. Though her friendship with Kamola and other village girls is slowly sharpening her social skills, Pariya still frequently stumbles over her words, especially when it comes to Umar. An opportunity arises for them to run an errand together to the next town over, but they have trouble on the way back and are forced to stay the night in a stranger’s house. Though the reason is innocent enough, the fact that it happened may very well be enough for their engagement to be called off. Can they keep their stopover a secret from the rest of their village?

This volume also featured short stories about other characters, such as Amir, Sherine and Anis, and the twins Laila and Leyli.

The more this story progresses, the more I appreciate the wide variety of female characters within it. Pariya’s arc is turning into one of the most interesting and satisfying. She is strong, independent, and possesses other masculine qualities about her. But, she’s also very shy and fumbles over her words, sometimes to her detriment as others often mistake her meaning. She is learning to be more open and communicate clearly with who she hopes to be her future spouse – and that’s not an easy thing to do at the best of times. The main thing is, we see her trying and bettering herself in a way that is organic and never feels forced.

Though we do get this vast array of women who are very different, they are all supportive of each other. Amir and Kamola, along with some other village girls, offer to help Pariya with her bridal sewing once it becomes apparent she needs help. That’s amazing! That’s something that the world needs more of!

As ever, looking forward to the next volume.

-Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 9). 2017.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1)

Akiko Higashimura, manga artist best known for her work on Princess Jellyfish, shares the beginnings of her artist’s journey in the first volume of this manga memoir. She starts her story during high school, where we see her big dreams and ambitions of being a shojo (young adult romance) manga artist! … But her not-so-good grades. Still, Akiko loves to draw, thinks herself pretty good at it, and is sure she can get into art school on talent alone. That is, until her friend Futami reminds her that it’ll take more work than that, as Japan’s college applications are very competitive and demanding. She invites Akiko to come to an art class with her, taught by an independent teacher named Hidaka Kenzou. Akiko quickly learns that Hidaka-sensei is VERY demanding, even harsh. Can she put up with him long enough to take her college exams and get into art school?

I found this memoir very refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, it seems I am becoming a bit more open-minded to manga after all =) It’s always touching to see creators publish personal memoirs in the format they are most familiar with; it makes the story feel more immediate and intimate. Though the art is a little more realistic and less in the stylized manga style, visual tropes of manga (angry veins, sweat drops, sparkling backgrounds) are still found.

Second, and maybe most important to me, this manga shows how HARD it is to be an artist! It’s hard work! Akiko shows us this through her schedule with Hidaka, his insistence that they keep a log of the time they spend on each drawing, as well as her own character development. As a teenager, she thought she could coast by on talent, but it takes significant time and effort to hone her craft, which is 100% the case, against many assumptions people have of art and artists. As an artist myself, reading this gave me vivid flashbacks of undergrad: long hours sitting or standing in the same spot in the studio, hauling art supplies and projects up 3-4 flights of stairs, nursing various aches and pains in my dorm afterwards. The result? I’m a much better artist than I was before.

I got the impression that this manga is just as much an ode to Hidaka as it is documenting Akiko’s journey. They have an interesting relationship. Though Hidaka is harsh, he is honest and a realist, which tempers Akiko’s teenage idealism and arrogance. She obviously looks back on him with admiration and fondness. I’m fascinated to see how their journey together unfolds.

-Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1). 2019.

Magus of the Library (Vol. 2)

Now that Theo Fumis is seven years older, he is on his way to the great city of Aftzaak to take the Kafna Exam! He has not grown out of his desire to become a librarian, and wishes to give back the book that Kafna Sedona lent him when she visited his home village. Aftzaak is a long way away, and there are many grand sites and places to visit along the way. Of course, there are friends to be made as well: Mihona, another Kafna hopeful on her way to the exam; Alv, a street-wise youngster; and a citlapol (albino creature) with two tails that Theo names Uira. Together, they travel and arrive in Aftzaak. The Kafna exam is, by all accounts, a grueling experience… can Theo even make it through the first part?

I adore every part of this manga. Of course, I love it because librarians are central to the story 😉 But the worldbuilding is absolutely phenomenal. Each chapter of this volume takes place in a different city along Theo’s route. The chapter pages have illustrations and information about the city, or a monument or natural phenomena nearby. Each city has its own distinct artistic flavor that only grows in scale the closer we get to Aftzaak. It’s interesting to see not only Theo’s character, but the art and world evolve right along with him.

As mentioned in my review of Volume 1, it appears that much of the artistic influence was taken from Middle Eastern and Indian (by that I mean India the Asian country, not Native American tribes; my apologies for any confusion) cultures. It’s more of the same here, in costumes and architecture. In essence, a blend of all of my favorite things.

The grand scale of this literary adventure, coupled with my visual Kryptonite, ensures that I’ll be following this manga very closely.

-Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 2). 2019.

Spy x Family

Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo is the first volume in what promises to be an exciting new manga series.

Twilight is a debonair spy who needs to infiltrate an elite school to gain access to a political leader for an important mission. But he needs to gain a wife and child to do so, all within a week. At first, he hopes that just a child will do so he adopts Anya, a darling little girl who turns out to be a telepath, from a sketchy orphanage. He then later needs to convince a woman to masquerade as his wife, and whoops, Yor turns out to be an assassin. But they all have their private motivations in looking like a family, so they go ahead with the ruse of enrolling Anya in this private school and passing the stringent tests to get in. There is the requisite comedy of errors as these three people need to convince others they are authentic, and of course, they begin to bond despite their best of intentions not to.

The art is crisp and attractive, with a nice balance of action sequences and smaller poignant moments. I believe this will be a popular series, as readers will be delighted with Anya and rooting for Twilight and Yor to find a way to truly become a family together with Anya.  In an interesting coincidence, my oldest son who is a huge manga fan discovered this story on his own and ordered himself a book. Typically I am not a manga reader, so it was nice to be able to chat about this book with him.

As I order graphic novels for my library, I plan to order this series once there are three volumes out for my library’s collection. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance online copy, and putting what looks like a promising new manga on my radar.

-Nancy

Magus of the Library (Vol. 1)

Theo Fumis is a young boy who is a little… different. He has long ears that are a different shape than everyone else in his village. He also lives in the slums with his sister, who works to put him through school. Theo is a smart boy, and more than anything else in the world, he loves to read books. Unfortunately, the library in his village doesn’t allow those living in the slums to use it, leaving Theo to sneak in and out whenever he wants to read. He longs for adventure, for a hero to whisk him away, and perhaps to join the Great Library himself someday. Four kafna – librarians from the Great Library – visit his village to check on the library’s status. One in particular, Sedona Bleu, opens his eyes to the great wide world ahead of him – and shows him that sometimes, we need to be our own hero.

I have to admit, I checked this out from work out of curiosity. A manga with lead librarian characters? Sign me up! I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

The setting is pretty interesting. It’s a mix of fantasy and history with Middle Eastern and Indian elements (which, if I’m being honest, is a cocktail of all of my favorite things!). The architecture and character’s clothes have the elaborate, decorative detail found in those cultures. Social standings of the characters appear to be determined by the Indian caste system. Though we know Theo comes from a poor family, his heritage remains a secret. In this story, humans and mythical creatures live side-by-side, so I am eager to both see more of this world and discover who Theo really is.

The linework of this graphic novel is incredibly tight and precise. It has to be, in order to fit all the intricate decorative elements mentioned previously, but the precision suggests that this is not Mitsu Izumi’s first rodeo. The only complaint I have is that sometimes the flow of the panels isn’t always intuitive. I got confused at more than a few parts by reading ahead or behind where I was supposed to. Perhaps this can be attributed by my novice manga-reading skills.

All in all I was just as impressed with the art as I was the blending of many different elements to create a promising story – which just happens to also star librarians 😉

– Kathleen

Izumi, Mitsu. Magus of the Library (Vol. 1). 2019.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 8)

The attack mounted by Amir’s former clan on the Eihon’s village has left most of the town in disrepair. Pariya’s family home was destroyed, along with all her bridal linens. It’s a lifetime’s work to build embroidered linens for a bride’s dowry, started from the time a girl is old enough to hold a needle and thread, and it’s all gone. Pariya has to start all over again. Even with the help of Amir and her family, for which she’s very grateful, Pariya feels more anxious than ever about marriage. She finally has a suitor who’s interested in her, but now their wedding has to be delayed. What if Umar decides he doesn’t want to wait? Or he decides that Pariya’s strong personality isn’t what he’s looking for in a wife? Pariya decides to watch Kamola, another girl in the village, and try to learn from her. Kamola is everything that a girl should be (and everything Pariya is not): kind, patient, soft-spoken. Maybe if Pariya tries to be more like Kamola, she can be the perfect bride.

As promised in the last volume, we make a return to Amir and Karluk’s village, and Pariya’s story specifically, with this installment. As I’m now in the year of my own wedding, with so much more to be done before the big day (EEK!!!), I sympathized greatly with Pariya’s anxieties. Though I’m fortunate enough to not have lost all my bridal linens in a fire, there are so many tasks to be done and things to put in place that it’s at times extraordinarily overwhelming. We learn here that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, we have friends ready and willing to help us in times of need, and that starting is truly the hardest part of getting anything done.

One thing I’ve grown to appreciate over the course of this series is the variety in the personalities of the main characters. Pariya is headstrong, outspoken, and often brusque – but it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, or wouldn’t make a suitable wife. Amir is more motherly; firm yet gentle, patient, and always willing to teach and learn from others. We meet Kamola, a foil to Pariya’s character, near the end of this volume; I’m greatly looking forward to seeing how these two interact with and learn from each other.

As ever, looking forward to the next volume! I think this is the furthest I’ve ever gotten in a manga! =P

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 8). 2016.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 7)

Hello and welcome to the last post of 2019!

We follow Mr. Smith once again in this volume, as his travels take him to the home of a wealthy merchant in Persia. Though the merchant has a wife named Anis, it’s customary for the brides of Persia to never show their faces to men outside the family, so they never meet. However, Mr. Smith learns much about Persian culture and customs for his research, and Anis learns much about Mr. Smith and England from her husband. Though Anis has a child, and is very happy with married life, she is lonely and desires female companionship. Mahfu, her child’s nurse, suggests Anis accompany her to the women’s public baths, so she might meet other women. There Anis meets Sherine, a woman who reminds her of a cat: beautiful and aloof, but still a warm person underneath. They immediately hit it off, prompting Anis to ask Sherine to become her avowed sister. Will Sherine accept?

Mori goes into a little more detail about avowed sisters in the epilogue to this volume. Apparently, avowed sisters were a custom among Persian women somewhere between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. It was almost like a marriage, but between two women. They usually spent a year in each other’s company before one asked the other to be her avowed sister. Upon accepting the offer, a ceremony was performed in front of many witnesses, wherein the two women swore to be devoted friends for life.

I thought that was wonderful! I loved this volume because it highlighted the close friendships women can form with each other! It’s so important to see friends love each other so deeply and be able to express that love for one another! Plus, I learned something new, which is always exciting! XD

The extraordinary detail usually found in Mori’s artwork was a bit toned down for this volume. Much of the story takes place in the women’s baths, as Anis and Sherine get to know each other, so the backgrounds are hazy and steamy without much detail. There is a much higher level of nudity in this volume because of the setting, but it’s never inappropriate.

There is a short story at the end of this volume that takes place between Karluk’s parents. It’s the cherry on top of an already sweet volume. This latest installment may have given me diabetes!!! I’ll see you all in the new year if I survive this sugar rush ;D

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 7). 2015.

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 6)

Amir’s former tribe, the Halgals, have fallen upon hard times. They had needed to get Amir back to marry her to another tribe to expand their grazing lands. Because her new family wouldn’t give her up, they now have no new grazing land, and their livestock are suffering. Amir’s father, Berkhrat, strikes a bargain with their distant cousins, the Badan clan. They will attack the Eihon village and take their grazing lands for themselves. The Badan are in possession of guns and cannons they’ve purchased from the Russians, so it should be an easy fight. Amir’s older brother, Azel, is uneasy with the eagerness with which his father accepted the bargain, and is concerned for the life of his sister, as are their cousins Joruk and Baimat. When the time comes for battle, will these 3 young men follow their elders as they are expected to?

This volume is considerably faster-paced than the manga has been so far. Mori shows versatility with both her writing and drawing here. The small, intricate details are toned down in this volume, to showcase the speed and urgency of battle, though I never found it lacking in the signature atmosphere of the series. The layout and paneling are much tighter and follow a more traditional “comic book” format, to also highlight the action.

Though of course the writing is tighter and more action-oriented as well, we still are on a close, personal level with the characters. We experience the battle from more than one vantage point, allowing us to see the whole story, and see exactly what each character is experiencing. I’m impressed that she pulled off what is essentially a character study within a battle story. If I had any doubts about her writing ability before, I certainly don’t any longer!

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 6). 2014.

The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars

I have long read and admired the blog tours that Shannon of R&R Blog Tours puts together, but typically the books didn’t match the type of blog that Kathleen and I write- until now! When Shannon let me know a manga book was in her wheelhouse, I happily accepted a spot on this blog tour. Read on to find out my thoughts on this manga novella!

The Serpent-Bearer

Welcome to The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars blog tour! Read on to learn more about this beautifully illustrated graphic novel by C.S. Johnson, and a chance to win a copy for yourself!

The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars

Publication Date: November 7th, 2018

Genre: Manga Style/ Graphic Novel

Length: 30 Pages

A tiresome task.
A deceptive dragon.
A prince that changes everything.

Ophiuchus is a celebrated warrior of the Celestial Kingdom and a warrior among the Stars. He has been always been a dutiful servant of the Prince of Stars. So when the prince asks him to watch over the crafty serpent, Naga, Ophiuchus agrees. But as time passes and discouragement—both from Naga and others—Ophiuchus wonders if the Prince of Stars was right in asking him to take on the burdens of his task.

Will Ophiuchus honor his duty, or give in to his heart’s weariness?

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My thoughts:

This short manga packed quite a punch in its allegorical tale.  Ophiuchus is a warrior that has been tasked with keeping the devious dragon Naga in line. The two have been battling for a millennium and Ophiuchus is weary and feels even the Zodiac creatures do not support him. When the two are inviting to a party by the Prince of Stars, Naga tries to plant doubt in Ophiuchus’s mind about his duty and the nature of the dragon. In a moment of weakness Ophiuchus believes Naga’s claims, but when the Prince meets with Ophiuchus he is given clarity and strength to once again take up the burden of fighting Naga.  This fable about good vs evil is clear and has Christian overtones that strengthen this novella.

The black and white art was drawn in anime style with tight panels that did not show much background. The animals and fantastic creatures of the Zodiac were well drawn with extra care to make Naga both beautiful but deadly. An opening scene showed a castle, and I would have liked to see more world-building in the scenes as the art was lovely and would have added to the story.

I enjoyed this manga, and I would recommend it to readers who are struggling and might find strength in the story. This dialogue-heavy tale could lead to deep discussions if shared with others concerning the nature of our burdens and the help we can find in our friends and in our faith.

Excerpt

20190717_093848

Available on Amazon!

About the Author

Author Pic

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me

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