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Cigarette Girl / by Masahiko Matsumoto

Cigarette GirlCigarette Girl by Masahiko Matsumoto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took time for me to like this book. I nearly put it down. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. But, as the stories progressed they built on each other. Not so much as they were connected (although some were), just that it took time and effort for me to get into the rhythm of Matsumoto’s writing. By the half-way point, I was completely hooked.

Matsumoto was a contemporary (And friend) to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, but unlike his contemporary his work is subtly lighthearted, and almost comical. It’s not quite the serious dramatic pictures that you get from Tatsumi’s work. There’s a richness to be found in the absolutely uneventful moments in less-than-ordinary life that he writes about. He’s not portraying the ordinary life of ordinary people, but more the people who are on the outskirts of ordinary: from geisha to modern=day door-to-door condom sales girls (apparently, that’s a thing).

I wouldn’t say the artwork is stunning, but I kind of loved it. It was subtle enough to display complicated emotions, and to distinguish between characters, and weird enough to lighten-up the mood.

The only real complaint I have about this book is its lack of “cultural commentary”. Usually in manga, especially titles with harder topics, there are footnotes on cultural specific situations, phrases, events, and reasons for translation decisions. There were several times in the comic that I knew I was missing the “cultural significance”. And, in a title as subtle as this, any additional help would have been greatly appreciated.

And, because of the obscure nature and the lack of footnotes in this comic, I would probably recommend getting into gekiga with something a bit easier (like Tatsumi’s “Black Blizzard”) before you tried this one. Certainly I think that this is a worthwhile read, but it’s not an easy first-comic. I would probably recommend this title, if you already like gekiga, alternative or art comics, or are a fan of Yoshihiro Tatsumi (there’s a nice foreword written by Tatsumi about his friend Matsumoto).

It took a while for me to get into this book, but it was absolutely worth the work. I’ve certainly never read anything like Masahiko’s, Cigarette Girl, and am definitely planning to read it again, and excited to read more by him in the future.

I received a free digital copy from Netgalley for an honest review.

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Demon Love Spell / by Mayu Shinjo

Demon Love Spell, Vol. 1Demon Love Spell, Vol. 1 by Mayu Shinjo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Demon Love Spell is a short 6 volume series by Mayu Shinjo.

The story follows Miko (a miko) and daughter to a famous Shinto priest who has abundant powers but no abilities to sense or see spirits… and Kagura (an incubus) the strongest demon from the demon world who gains his powers from the directed love and passion of women. Miko is surprised when she accidentally seals his powers, and they are both surprised when they begin falling in love with each other.

This story is so a-typical of Mayu Shinjo. And, if you were familiar with her work, you would know exactly what I mean. From the love/hate relationship of the main couple, the continual passionate declarations of love followed by complete denial and forgetfulness, and of course the classic art style with bizarrely over-proportioned features (particularly hands and torsos) – it is her work from start to finish.

Compared to some of her other works, this story tends to be lighter and fluffier. And, is nearly void of the rape, torture, and drug abuse that you would expect from her. Probably the most dynamic of Miko and Kagura fights lead to no more than a bit of pouting on Miko’s side. So unusual, but personally, also nice and refreshing.

I often have a hard time deciding whether the situations Shinjo writes belong in a shoujo or josei subgenre – this one I believe fits neatly as shoujo. Apart from the constant sexual references from a being whose entire life is supported by sex, this is no more than a silly high school fantasy of a romance. A handsome virile man who is suppressing his immoral nature because he is desperately in love with the plain, boring, moral, and slightly disconnected school girl… what girl can win against that combination??

The end for me was a failure. It ends, yes, and the solution is what you’ve been waiting for the entire time. But, with a story so focused on the “getting together” of the main characters (from page 1), you’d think there’d be a bit more romance at the end. Instead it just fizzles out, because well, it had to happen. Oh well.

Despite the ending, I actually enjoy this series. And, of Shinjo’s works it is probably my favourite. The best scene for me falls in the beginning of volume 4. Miko finds a baby/demon in a peach while bathing in a hotsprings (think Momotaro), and she and Kagura raise it as their own child. But, of course, as you read and as the source of the baby is determined, you realize that Mayu Shinjo has thrown together some of Japan’s most famous fairy tales and weaved them into one very strange outcome to the point that even the characters are left scratching their heads. It was a nice fun diversion.

For the most part it was a fun romantic series. And, I’ll probably read it over many times.

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Shuriken and Pleats / by Matsuri Hino

Shuriken and Pleats, Vol. 1Shuriken and Pleats, Vol. 1 by Matsuri Hino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hino is Hino. If you like her other work, you’ll like this. And, if you don’t, you won’t. She’s a solid 3 star read for me. Her characters never seem too deep, and the main love interest is usually at odds with itself. I’m never sure if I care if the characters get together, or feel like there is any chemistry between them. Usually the scenario is different enough from other series, and short enough that I’m relatively entertained and interested for the duration. Hino’s main draw for me is her art. Overall, her work just seems to be getting more and more sophisticated.

This title is odd in that it features a relatively depressed and emotionless main character. I wouldn’t call her tsundere — just kind of void of personality. I expect that the intention of the story is that she’ll change into a more “human” portrayal of a teenager. If you’re looking for a series with “cool” and “tough” ninja… I don’t think you’ll be super impressed.

I liked this well enough, and will probably pick up the next volume.

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