What is the essence of being a muse? Are looks all you need? And what conjecture exactly is associate profession Akira Taktsuki making? Spoiler: the volumes we’re covering in this week’s column don’t exactly answer any of these questions, but a number of them bring up multiple more new ones—some have us squeeing in excitement and others left us scratching our heads. Check out our reviews below to see which series we recommend you start or continue and which might have you questioning why you even started them in the first place!
Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki’s Conjecture (Vol. 1) • The Ephemeral Scenes of Setsuna’s Journey (Vol. 1) • The Essence of Being a Muse (Vol. 2) • Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing (Vol. 3) • Imitation (Vol. 2) • In the Land of Leadale (Vol. 5) • Looks Are All You Need (Vol. 2) • Overgeared (Vol. 2) • Sunbeams in the Sky (Vol. 3) • Unnamed Memory (Vol. 4) • Witch Life in a Micro Room (Vol. 1)
Imitation, Manhwa Vol. 2
Oh, Imitation. I really want to recommend you without reservation. But just like your main character Maha, you keep entangling yourself in scandal despite your best intentions. Volume two of this series picks up right where volume one left off by perpetuating the dubious relationship dynamic between Ryoc and Maha. True, stories don’t have to portray perfect relationships. And as the volume progresses, it becomes apparent that Maha isn’t opposed to Ryoc’s advances. But I still get queasy at the way that Ryoc repeatedly oversteps Maha’s boundaries without reservations, justifies his behavior with a sly “Well, she didn’t say no,” and gets off scot-free. At best, their relationship demonstrates careless writing; at worst, it promotes manipulative behavior. As for the rest of the characters, the most I can say is that they definitely still exist. Beyond that, the volume attends so much to the main leads that I’m wondering when we’ll get to developing everyone else. Honestly, I started forgetting names halfway through the volume and had to resort to hair color as a mnemonic device. Part of the issue might be that print adaptations often fail to imitate the pace of a webcomic. A few panels per chapter spent on side characters would probably fly in a weekly serial, but unfortunately when it’s all compiled in volumes, readers begin to notice that the author’s least favorite children aren’t getting as much attention. Yet despite all those glaring issues, I can’t help but love this volume. Maha continues to excel as this series’s standout character; her backstory reveals layers to her actions, and readers will certainly find themselves sympathizing with her longing for recognition, value, and unconditional love. And the series continues its shrewd critique of the ruthless entertainment industry. Everyone’s chasing success, almost always at the expense of the most vulnerable, and the pressure can have traumatic consequences. Imitation echoes Oshi no Ko on this point, though it manages a more pleasant tone than that series. Oshi no Ko tends to be more cynical and crafty; it’s willing to buy into the same lies that it denigrates. Meanwhile, Imitation is haunted by hope, seized by a longing for something beautiful beyond the heartless habits of mass entertainment. “Built upon the tears and broken dreams of countless people—the stage shines with a cruel light.” Incidentally, I would say something similar about this series. Imitation is deeply flawed in many ways, but those flaws can’t mask the dazzling light at the heart of this story. ~ sleepminusminus
Imitation is published by Yen Press.
READ: Review of Imitation Vol. 1
The Ephemeral Scenes of Setsuna’s Journey, Manga Vol. 1
Adaptations are a tricky business. Pacing changes so much between novels and manga; harmonious, beautiful phrases can turn into droning, artless panels if handled incorrectly. Like a surgeon who draws from his years of training to perform the least invasive operation possible, the adapter must pull from an intimate knowledge of the plot to extract out the parts that don’t fit with surgical precision. Sadly, this manga adaptation of Setsuna’s Journey seems to be the result of a surgery performed with a careless hand. At first, I was intrigued by the decision to rearrange some portions of the story. The adaptation begins in medias res, which could have provided a great opportunity to generate intrigue for newcomers to the series. Instead, we’re tossed in without explanation or setup, given no context about whether or not this slave trader and beastfolk child are important, and then yanked several years into the past for a long and arduous half-explanation which takes up most of this volume. It’s so bad that when I first opened the book, I thought I had ordered the second volume by accident! The rest of this volume doesn’t fare much better. In an attempt to pick up the pace, the manga cuts out large portions of exposition but damages vital organs in the process; readers will find it almost impossible to understand what’s going on without the context of the light novels. Plus, for a story so centered around floral imagery and the beauty of the natural world, the drawings in this volume range from cluttered to simply uninteresting. As for noninvasive procedures, this adaptation isn’t one. And given this is a series whose best moments would shine with a great adaptation, that’s a real shame. ~ sleepminusminus
The Ephemeral Scenes of Setsuna’s Journey is published by Yen Press.
The Essence of Being a Muse, Manga Vol. 2
There’s a paradox to the traditional wisdom of “Be yourself.” On the one hand, to follow this adage, you must isolate yourself from the opinions and expectations of other people and build a life for yourself from the ground up. On the other hand, you can’t help but describe yourself with categories that you didn’t invent, using language that is given to you by other people. How can we break free from others’ expectations when we can’t help but evaluate ourselves by those expectations? This question lies at the heart of volume two of The Essence of Being a Muse, and I appreciate how Aya Fumino doesn’t shy away from the messiness and authenticity of that struggle. Miyuu tries all sorts of different approaches to find her own voice in life and art but continuously falls into the vicious pattern of internalizing the praises and critiques of others. All the same, she longs to succeed in the world of art, to fit in, to be accepted. “I just want to be loved unconditionally by someone,” she remarks halfway through the volume, and that’s a desire many of us can relate to. Many coming-of-age stories naively glamorize a reckless, self-destructive approach to the journey of self-discovery, but The Essence of Being a Muse doesn’t fall for the spectacle. Miyuu’s attempt to go down that path ends in heartbreaking disappointment. By the end of the volume, many questions remain. What has become of Miyuu’s mother? Who will end up being Miyuu’s muse? Will she succeed in finding the unconditional love that she seeks through art? And will Kairi ever stop giving me the creeps when he appears in a scene? Volume three, the final one in this series, promises to apply these finishing touches to this panorama of a story, but I’m a little skeptical about the final product. For all its strengths, this volume suffered from a great deal of vague symbolism and strained thematic language. The last arc with Miyuu’s teacher seems disconnected from the rest of the story, as does the language of seeking a muse. Fumino’s balancing a lot of different themes here, and the more crucial ones seem precariously close to toppling down. Regardless, I’m hoping for an inspired conclusion to this series, a conclusion that captures the essence of being, well, yourself. ~ sleepminusminus
The Essence of Being a Muse is published by Yen Press.
READ: Review of The Essence of Being a Muse Vol. 1
Sunbeams in the Sky, Manga Vol. 3
Can I just say that Sunbeams in the Sky has some of the loveliest art of any manga I’ve read recently? There’s something so charming about Monika Kaname’s style, whether it’s the lively facial expressions, adorable chibi reaction panels, or playful visual effects. Volume three in particular shines with a dazzling, almost ethereal aesthetic in its opening Christmas chapter, which provides the perfect backdrop to a satisfying romantic climax for our leads. It was heartwarming seeing everything finally work out for Himari, even if, in full honesty, her story didn’t blossom quite as vibrantly as it could have. Mixed signals continue to abound surrounding the depth of her past trauma, and the loose ends get tied off far too quickly, leaving any meaningful message about mental health to wilt and fade away. Still, this volume does offer a lot in terms of substance. Just as Mio came to learn self-forgiveness in the previous volume, so also Tsukiyono encounters the same lesson here. And with Himari’s help, he’s able to take that first step away from the shadows of his own past. Meanwhile, Asaka’s finally able to express how he feels about Mio, confronting his own internalized loneliness in the process. In the end, though, volume three of Sunbeams in the Sky excels when it’s doing what the series does best: painting a vivid picture of hope through ordinary moments of joy. Monika Kaname invites us to imagine an abundant world of ever-unfolding possibilities: a world where the wounds of the past have faded into long-forgotten scars, where the sun shines on every lonely soul, guiding them all towards love, forgiveness, and healing. And that’s an invitation worth accepting. ~ sleepminusminus
Sunbeams in the Sky is published by Yen Press.
READ: Reviews of Sunbeams in the Sky Vol. 1 // Vol. 2
Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki’s Conjecture, Manga Vol. 1
Professor Akira Tatatsuki is on a quest to discover mystical phenomena. It could be anything: a peculiar tale from a student’s childhood, a folktale making the rounds on the internet, the odd sounds a tenant hears from the vacant apartment next door—when the supernatural strikes, Professor Tatatsuki wants to witness it firsthand. And somehow, student Naoya Fukumachi finds himself roped into the professor’s shenanigans. The professor finds Naoya’s uncanny ability to detect lies particularly useful, and the two begin hunting down mysteries in search of something extraordinary. Of course, almost all their leads are fabricated legends, myths without a shred of truth attached. But “what if amid the fabrication, there are some truths?” How do we uncover the truth buried within lies? More importantly, what do the myths, folktales, and half-truths we tell ourselves illuminate about who we are as people? How do the shared stories we inhabit speak to the way that we make sense of the world and our place in it? Associate Professor Akira Tatatsuki’s Conjecture speaks to these questions with care and wisdom, offering up a unique spin on the supernatural mystery genre. We might expect harrowing backstories or suspenseful action sequences, but that’s not the focus here. Instead, the mysteries are clever but understated. The characters and their stories take center stage, like with Naoya, who struggles to trust people because he can always hear when they lie, or Professor Tatatsuki himself, whose dogged interest in the supernatural and occasionally distant behavior belie something tragic beneath the surface. In that sense this series reminds me of Hyouka, which also used mystery as a vehicle for telling the stories of its characters and weaving them together. Combine all of that with illustrator Toji Aio’s masterfully crafted panel composition, and my conjecture is that we have here the makings of an extraordinarily rich tale. ~ sleepminusminus
Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki’s Conjecture is published by Yen Press.
Looks Are All You Need, Light Novel Vol. 2
As volume two begins, the Shibuya group, formed through the unusual but heartfelt alliance that came together in the opening volume, continues to bond, but the students’ next challenge—to arrange a larger-scale collaboration that could result in the team finding their way onto an important festival stage—will require new skill sets. And thus the stage is set to introduce several new characters, including one (and possibly two) who are major, into Looks Are All You Need, a series that I called the next Oregairu or Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki in my review of volume one. I still feel that could be true, though there are a few fixes that need to be made if the series wants to ascend to that level. But first, let’s talk about what the series does right. The protagonist is charming in all his self-deprecating glory, while the other characters shine as well, including Tatsuki Ootsuka, introduced in this volume as a dance genius who might be the collaborative partner the group needs. The characters are easy to embrace and the series also has a heartfelt nature to it while giving off a very accessible and unworried tone. But events do unfold a little too quickly, and thus payoffs aren’t quite as high as they should be. In this way, Looks Are All You Need feels like the anti–Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle, where the climax is often great but the characters are forgettable. Time will tell if author, Ghost Mikawa, can strengthen this area of concern, but if he doesn’t, the series is still one I’ll continue to look forward to as a quick, fun, and uplifting read that mixes two of my favorite story types: high school and performance. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that one of my favorite artists, necömi, provides art for the light novel (though I could use a few more color illustrations of the characters!). I’ll most definitely be anticipating the continued story of the Ikebukuro siblings and their friends in volume three! ~ Twwk
Looks Are All You Need is published by Yen Press’ Yen On imprint.
READ: Review of Looks Are All You Need Vol. 1
Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing, Light Novel Vol. 3
By moving the setting to a magical school in volume three, Hell Mode is a little less original than it has been, but writer Hamuo still manages to create a compelling story in this lengthy release. It begins with Allen joining Cecil and reuniting with Krena and Dogora at said school. While there are some typical school life components to volume three, the story largely continues to focus on adventuring and the gaming mechanics of this world, except that now Allen is joined by a party. It’s nice to see important characters from volume one join an important one from volume two, almost like the creation of an all-star team. Even better is that, as with previous volumes, political intrigue continues to play a role, though on a more global scale here. A little less interesting are the frequent references to levels, skills, and other gaming components. I admit that while I was entranced and following along with these components closely in the first two volumes, my eyes glazed over them here as Allen became more OP. Still, it’s fun to read about him grinding, but better yet were the last 30 or so pages. Hamuo has shown his strength in concluding stories and building excitement for future arcs, and it’s no different in volume three. I’m very excited to witness Allen move to the next setting of this series and to see how his intelligence, determination, and summoning power will continue to change the world around him. ~ Twwk
Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing is published by Yen Press.
Read Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing Vol. 2 Review
In the Land of Leadale, Manga Vol. 5
Every previous volume of In the Land of Leadale has been a joy to read, but volume five is the first that I would call a page-turner. All the world-building—and this volume is absolutely filled to the brim with characters and mentions of events from the previous chapters—starts to feed into the story surrounding the mystery of Cayna’s appearance in this world. She meets several characters new to the series in this volume, and some are deeply connected to that story, while others are more involved with royalty and nobility in the world; both storylines are likely to develop further in volume six and play major roles in the plot moving forward. This volume also features a fair bit of action, which was surprisingly satisfactory for a series that usually isn’t centered on such exciting fare; it’s typically the OP-ness, creative (and often peaceful) setting, and humor that make In the Land of Leadale such a fantastic read, as well as the detailed artwork, which continues to be a high point here in volume five. This is a wonderful series and one that’s getting better with each passing volume. ~ Twwk
In the Land of Leadale is published by Yen Press.
READ: Reviews of In the Land of Leadale Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol. 4
Unnamed Memory, Manga Vol. 4
I’m always a little shaken each time I read a volume of Unnamed Memory because it’s a total change of pace from just about every other manga I’ve ever read. It’s a strong fantasy series, conveying a maturity and high fantasy feel lacking in most manga of the same genre. It also features adult leads in a sweet and likewise mature romance. Yes, the typical anime tropes are still present, but in light touches that allow readers to embrace Unnamed Memory as both an engaging manga and a strong work of fantasy. Volume four offers more of the same as it brings Tinasha’s witch friend, Lucrezia, into the story proper while also opening a new magical mystery with broad implications in its world. The artwork by Naoki Koshimizu remains as beautiful as ever, and the relationship between Tinasha and Oscar continues to walk that line of tantalizingly close to true romance but realistically unable to quite go there due to their circumstances; in this volume, their possibly (likely?) future conflict, one that could lead to their deaths, is emphasized a number of times. It’s another wondrous addition to this fine tale, one of the best currently in print. ~ Twwk
Unnamed Memory is published by Yen Press.
READ: Reviews of Unnamed Memory Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3
Overgeared, Manhwa Vol. 2
After finishing volume two of Overgeared, I felt very similarly to how I did after completing volume one: I really like the angle this series takes by featuring very fallible major characters, though I’m more skeptical about the story and not particularly hyped about the artwork. Volume two begins with Youngwoo continuing in his blacksmith-related quests (which end up opening up a series of other quests), introduces new characters, and leads the protagonist further toward embracing his new OP status. These multiple quests that pop up, individualized for players of the Satisfy VRMMORPG, are really fascinating and fun. Basically, whenever a choice is made or certain interactions happen, new quests can open, but the player’s decisions, other player interactions, and even NPCs can impact those adventures. It keeps the players on their toes and the reader engaged. So, too, does Youngwoo’s slacker approach to life, which makes him an unusual and, dare I say, relatable hero. The cover girl of this volume is another interesting character, more than just a pretty face with powerful skills. Still, I wonder where this story will ultimately lead. For now, it seems that Overgeared is going to advance the same way so many others do, toward bigger quests and ultimate victory. That would be boring, so I’m hoping for more than that—and for more detailed and interesting artwork too, as this potentially strong offering continues along. ~ Twwk
Overgeared is published by Yen Press.
Read: Overgeared Vol. 1 Review
Witch Life in a Micro Room, Manga Vol. 1
Madge is an old-fashioned, black hat–wearing, C-rank witch from the sticks who is full of enthusiasm. Ririka is also a C-ranker, but she’s pretty lazy and scatter-brained, despite going to a proper magical academy, and wouldn’t be caught dead in a hat. The two of them are roommates, sharing a microscopic 100-square-foot room because rent is pretty steep in the city. They work together too, pairing up for jobs from the local witch agency. But being a beginner witch is pretty tough! The jobs that pay well and give you media exposure are for higher-ranked witches, but how are you supposed to level up when all you do is trap magical rodents and fix outdated magical equipment? And how can you study and learn new things when your tummy is constantly rumbling because you can’t afford groceries? What a conundrum! This is a sweet start to this slice-of-life series where witches serve society handling everything from pest control to starring in mega film franchises. Don’t expect any great depth here—the girls are familiar types who face familiar challenges, overcoming them with familiar catchphrases like “let’s try a little harder” (albeit doing so quite charmingly)—but if you’re looking for something easy and pleasant to read, then this hits the mark. That said, the volume does touch on a more serious undercurrent: the scenario of the working poor, the impoverished graduate, is all too real in our world today, and chapter two in particular feels like a direct analogy for the impoverishment of young people working in the anime and manga industries, where the choice is all too often between doing the thing that you love and that you’re actually quite good at, and being able to eat more than one meal a day. Overall, the tone remains light and fluffy though, thereby affirming that it is worth it to follow your dream, even if you can’t afford that nice big bowl of katsudon. ~ claire
Witch Life in a Micro Room is published by Yen Press.
“Reader’s Corner” is our way of embracing the wonderful world of manga, light novels, and visual novels, creative works intimately related to anime but with a magic all their own. Each week, our writers provide their thoughts on the works they’re reading—both those recently released as we keep you informed of newly published works, and those older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.