Welcome to my first ever installment of The Otaku’s Manga Study, similar to my rehashed version of The Otaku’s Gaming Study where I dust off my bookcase and dig into some titles I unfortunately never got to cover when they were first released for one reason or another. As January has proven to be a rather quiet month it has given me a chance to revisit some of these titles and get the chance to review them whereas they might not have otherwise. I hope this will be the first of many reviews to reduce the number of older manga releases/volumes on my bookshelf that have not been reviewed.
For the first installment, I have decided to focus myself on three serious that surround the “family” element – Bunny Drop which is about a 30 year old taking it upon himself to look after his much younger aunt, adapting his lifestyle to do so, With the Light which follows the story of a mother who has a child with severe autism and to top of set off, Suzunari! which is a bit more of a comedy surrounding the element of sisterhood. As Bunny Drop and With the Light are third volume reviews, I encourage you to read my reviews from 2010/2011 HERE, HERE (Bunny Drop), HERE and HERE (With the Light). As this is my first manga review for about a year, please be warned that I am adapting it to a newly planned manga review structure that may have one or two kinks here or there.
The unspoken answer that would’ve followed the “But”…
I knew what it was without hearing
What they struggled through in the past or what they’re going through now…
I have no idea but…
Here too was a strong sense of security
As an impromptu dad to Rin, his late grandfather’s illegitimate child, Daikichi Kawachi has experienced his share of firsts while caring for his little aunt (?). Now it’s Daikichi’s turn to battle the initial wave of separation anxiety as Rin leaves the nest…for her first day of elementary school! Rin’s elementary school isn’t the only place with new faces, either. Daikichi’s office is also inundated with first-timers, some of whom have their eyes on their gangly new coworker! And while father and daughter are experiencing (coping with?) all these firsts left and right, the first anniversary of Gramps’s death also sneaks up on the pair… as does the first anniversary of their paths crossing…
It was hard not to begin The Otaku’s Manga Study without reviewing the next volume in a series that I have always had a high regard for, especially considering the anime release of the series (Titled: Usagi Drop) is due for release in Australia next month. As it has been a little less than a year since my last review I would like to take the moment to quickly recap the series. Daikichi, a thirty year old working class man attends his late grandfather’s funeral only to find a mystery girl standing in the foyer – this girl is Rin, the illegitimate child of his grandfather and a mystery woman. After discussions about his future are put on the table, none of which would benefit Rin in the long-term, Daikichi decides to take it upon himself to become the father-model in her life. This is a series that is about Daikichi and how he adapts his lifestyle while trying to help Rin enjoy her youth. The first volume was about getting Rin sorted into her new lifestyle and helping her come out of the shell while the second volume was Daikichi’s search for her mother among other things. This third volume… well read on further to find out.
Unlike the previous two volumes that had a bit more focus on what they intended to get across, the third volume is a sort of mix of storylines with Rin finishing off kindergarten and moving onto elementary school which brings more troubles to Daikichi which are also coupled with family traditions, the unwavering decisions of Rin’s mother and complications arising in the workplace. While the plot still focuses heavily on Daikichi, they also chose to give Rin just a bit more attention as she begins forming a closer bond with those in her primary school – especially with Kouki who she went to kindergarten with, with evident hints of a friendly one-sided crush.
If you were to read the three volumes of the manga so far in one go, you will see the subtle changes in her personality and interactivity with others from her old shy and somber mood at the funeral. While I enjoy the aunt-nephew relationship of the two main characters, the office environment that is mentioned considerably also proved simple but interesting where he not only struggles with the work ethic of new employees, but has to fend off being hit on by a pretty work colleague in which a relationship would cause problems looking after Rin. If you merge in some light-hearted comedy at the expense of childish humor and misconceptions in Japanese elementary school culture with the interesting plot you get something that is rewarding to read, but unfortunately didn’t have as much of a focus as the previous two installments.
To quickly discuss the design element of this series, even after the year since I last reviewed the manga releases I still think it is pretty good. While this series is cute, it is not cute as you would expect a series such as Strawberry Marshmallow or Aishiteruze Baby to be…. instead Yumi Unita chooses to take a more simplistic approach to her designs and emphasizing the “cuteness” through character expressions and the plot over overloading each page with excessive amounts of art which may have detracted from the story being told. To bring back an old friend of mine, as with previous volumes the “Void of White Nothingness” is present on a number of pages, but less prevalent then before with some considerably well designed environments albeit simplistic at points.
Storyline/Character Development: B+
Extra Content: C
Personal Opinion: A-
Overall Score: B+
Memories go around…
Everyone goes around together
When everyone’s happy, I’m happy too
I’m sure that this felling.. is what they call happiness
A little effort goes a long way — that’s what Sachiko, Honda-san, and Gunji-sensei learn as they struggle to work together to make life easier for the Special Education children. With the help of gadgets and the support of more people in their environment than meets the eye, Hikaru and Miyu become able to communicate better with the world around them. But when Hikaru’s teen idol classmate sends some mothers into a flashbulb frenzy that causes Hikaru to panic, other parents begin to question his presence alongside “normal” students in the classroom. Hikaru’s first school trip also ends in disaster, when he gets separated from the group, and Sachiko begins to worry that Hikaru is losing his hard-fought place in society.
With the Light is one of those series that you will either love or you will find bland. Instead of a fantasy setting, comedy chapters or even filler content, you are presented with an emotional and realistic tale of a mother whose child is born with a severe case of autism. This manga series has been split up into a number of chapters from Infancy to (As of volume 3) middle elementary school years, each of which detail a number of problems and moments of happiness experienced by Sachiko Azuma, Hikaru Azuma and the many friends and acquaintances they both make. All of this is to achieve the ultimate goal of having Hikaru grow up to become a “Cheerful Working Adult”.
As this is the third volume, as with my review of Bunny Drop I would like to take a moment to detail the plot of the previous two installments. Volume 1 encompassed the infancy, pre-school and early elementary years of Hikaru’s life and could quite easily be the most tragic as autism is not properly understood by a majority of the characters, thus the burden in put down to bad parenting. Beginning to be segregated from her husbands family and Hikaru’s peers, this volume was all about showing the reader what her life is like while trying to ensure her son is not isolated and dragged from the path of a happy life. The second volume started off more happily as Hikaru gets well into elementary school with a supportive group of friends and supportive staff however lack of understanding by some students, staff and the public cause more problems, especially as his kind and supportive teacher is transferred out and another tragedy befalls the one other person that can help. I have enjoyed this series so far as it works well at providing a detailed story that is both realistic and sets off a mixture of emotions… but how does Volume 3 fare?
As with previous volumes the reader is given both spur of the moment events and those that have a bit more to them. The two main overarching plots of this volume involve the plot surrounding Gunji-sensei, Aoki’s replacement who originally took the job because she thought it would be easy, but instead the only two students in the special education class are causing her more work than ever before and more towards the end of the volume is the Grade 5 school camp, which is Sachiko’s first respite from Hikaru in ten years but doesn’t necessarily bode well for her despite the relief. The other plots deal with either support and services towards those with autism or the everyday running about Sachiko does in order to ensure both her children grow up happy. Keiko Tobe has managed to over just three volumes showcase Hikaru’s development over a period of ten years effectively through his interactions with staff, family, friends and even those who are unfriendly to him. In the end, it is what you would expect from With the Light – some saddening moments, some interesting moments and some moments that make you go “Awwww…”.
My feelings towards the design hasn’t changed from my previous reviews, it provides simple artwork that is nothing overly extravagant but instead fits in well with the realism that Keiko Tobe tried to get across with her tale. Considering the sizable cast of characters with many of them being infrequent characters, there were no real chapters of scenes that suffered from a degradation in quality with appropriate use of character emotions, character details and “realistic” manga environment designs which all added to the experience. While Yen Press could have just left the volume at the manga pages and nothing else, they extended themselves and provide a number of intellectually interesting extra content including the article “What is Autism” by Tokio Uchiyama (Director of Yokohama Developmental Clinic and Assistant Professor at Otsuma Women’s University), My “With the Light” by Mariko Abe (Lawyer at Yuuki Law Office) and “My Son is a Senior in College” by Masako Suzuki. The following three were brief literature detailing the individuals experiences with an autistic son, daughter, friend, family member etc. Also provided was an extensive translation notes.
Overall, I think if you enjoy something a bit more light-hearted in reading, don’t mind learning a bit from reading manga or even if you say… enjoyed school-life or drama series then I think this might be for you. Once again Keiko Tobe did an interesting job at bringing us to the mindset of a mother who is at wits end trying to do everything for her two children, provided with both happiness and stress.
Storyline/Character Development: A
Extra Content: B+
Personal Opinion: B+
Overall Score: A-
A place whose location no one discloses
An existence no one knows exists
It has been spoken of for generations as a sanctuary worthy of offering a ray of hope to one with a strong desire
Suzunari! – Volume 1
Kaede Takamura’s teenage life swerves to the brink of insanity when she comes face to face with her twin…or does she? Suzu is practically the mirror-image of Kaede — except for having cat ears and a tail and being far more well-endowed than Kaede thinks any teenager ought to be. But the Takamuras have no qualms about bringing this strange, happy-go-lucky catgirl into their home. With Suzu completely ignorant of the ways of modern society, it’s going to be a very long year for poor Kaede.
Suzunari! is a release that is a bit older than the other two having received its first English release in July 2008 by Yen Press. Also differing from the other two is that while they focused upon the more serious aspects of family, Suzunari! is a comedy series that follows Kaede Takamura who wakes up one morning to find an almost exact duplicate of herself lying in front of her…. almost different due to the fact as this girl has cat ears. With her parents seemingly fine with the idea, brushing off the idea as “Wow, It seems I gave birth to another girl yesterday” and thanks to their connections, enroll her in the same High School as Kaede. The purpose of this series? Comedy, Zany teachers, a friend who likes to tease the two “sisters”, the resident pervert classmate and the all important quest of hiding the fact her NEW sister is a catgirl.
Unfortunately while the comedy was there for the most part and cultural references were left intact, I still couldn’t help but feel most of it had been done before in other series, the whole 4koma classroom comedy genre is borderline cliche nowadays with many doing it better. By the end of the story and several attempts to pull the storyline on track, the most I got from reading it was the opening colour pages…. Suzu was granted a wish by a goddess of a shrine to become human and meet her “sister”…. As it is assumed she was a cat before, she retains many of her cat like tenancies which is also cliche but resulted in a few chuckles on my part and turns out to be both similar and more skilled than her “sister” in almost everything except life skills which results in some tension between the two. The rest of the series humor relies on both their parents and friends which is pretty much mix and match.
In terms of design, the first few pages are in colour which is really pretty so kudos to Shoko Iwami, with the rest of the volume making use of 4koma style similar to many other comedy series such as Azumanga Daioh and GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class to name two examples. The level of design showcases a good level of skill with more attention to detail in the environments than other 4koma I have read and character designs that contribute to the comical plot and look visually appealing – although I have yet to see any 4Koma match the quality of Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro which lacked in plot but succeeded in design. In terms of extra content in the volume… a two page message from Iwami, Translation Notes, a little bit of additional artwork and a preview of S.S. Astro. Your standard extras but suitable enough.
Overall, the storyline was lacking but the comedy was somewhat laughable at points. If you are new to this genre I feel you would enjoy it more than say… someone who has a sizable collection of comedy manga.
Storyline/Character Development: D
Extra Content: B
Personal Opinion: C
Overall Score: C