Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 2

Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 2  by Takehiko Inoue

Quick recap: In 17th Century Japan, failed soldier Shinmen Takezo has reinvented himself as wandering swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.  Dedicating his life to perfecting his own style of swordsmanship, he travels to Kyoto and starts a feud with the Yoshioka school of kendo.  Unknown to him, his childhood friend Matahachi is also in town, and accidentally sets fire to the Yoshioka dojo.

Vagabond Volume 2

This volume opens with Musashi being nursed back to health by the rough-edged Buddhist monk Takuan.  Realizing he still has a long way to go, Musashi decides to travel to Nara, there to pit himself against the spear style of the Hōzōin Temple monks.  A chance encounter with an elderly gardener may be more valuable than any battle.

Musashi is distracted by thoughts of his other childhood friend, the lovely Otsu.  She’s now the servant of a master of the Yagyu style of swordsmanship, who Yoshioka Denshichiro has come to train with in preparation for his next duel with Musashi.

Others are also on the road.  Gion Toji of the Yoshioka school is tracking Musashi to kill him, and is none too restrained about maiming other people along the way.

Matahachi’s on the run because of the arson thing, and a chance encounter allows him to also reinvent himself as the respected warrior Sasaki Kojirō.  His sections of the story are tragicomedy, as he keeps having good intentions, but the flaws in his character prevent him from following through in a crisis, and we watch him make excuse after excuse for doing less than he ought.

Miyamoto Musashi is better at learning from his mistakes; while he is not the sharpest katana in the armory, he’s partially grasped the concept of critical thinking and examining his own mindset.  Still has a long way to go before being the best swordsman in Japan though.

The successor to the Hōzōin spear style, Inshun, has his own issues.  He’s a natural combat genius who has never known “fear”, or had a truly serious challenge to his skills until now.  Thus his growth has stalled; Inshun must learn how to deal with defeat to become stronger.  His multi-chapter duel with Musashi is the centerpiece of this volume.

The art is stellar, but much of the credit for the plot and characterization must go to Eiji Yoshikawa, author of the novel this manga is an adaptation of.

There’s a lot of violence in this volume, some of it quite bloody.  There’s also a brief sex scene with female nudity–this is a “mature readers” title.

This continues to be a good choice for fans of samurai action stories.

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 4

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 4 by Go Ikeyamada

Quick recap:  Meguru and Mitsuru Kobayashi are fraternal twins who look a lot alike.  Due to a zany scheme, they switched uniforms and went to each other’s school for a week.  While there, each fell in love with a student at their sibling’s school, complicated by the fact of the disguises.  Now the week is over, but the romantic comedy is just starting!

So Cute It Hurts!! 4

In this volume, the Kobayashi twins go on first dates.  Meguru is out with the dashing Aoi Sanada, a tough but gentle lad who reminds her of famous Japanese warlord Date Masamune.  They get along quite well, despite Aoi being afflicted with anxiety attacks whenever a woman (including Meguru and his half-sister Shino Takenaka) gets too close.  So they can spend time together, but not touch.

Meanwhile, Mitsuru finds himself spending the day with “mean girl” Azusa Tokugawa rather than the lovely Shino.  She blackmailed him into a day with her in exchange for not revealing his crossdressing adventure, but Mitsuru didn’t understand what she meant and showed up in kendo dueling gear, while she’s in Gothic Lolita finery.  Onlookers assume it’s some sort of cosplay date.   Azusa is confused by her own feelings, alternating between anger at this stupid boy and being charmed by his good points.

But drama lurks in the wings.  Aoi’s trauma runs deeper than he’s been letting on, and Mitsuru may have waited too long to reveal his true identity to Shino.

Again, this is an adorable series with innocent feelings, and some amusing reaction faces, particularly from Azusa.  The crossdressing is mostly over, confined to an extended flashback.

Abuse in Aoi’s backstory is hinted at, and Azusa’s bullying is mentioned.  There’s also some brief non-graphic violence.  But in general, this is safe for its target audience of junior high readers.

If you liked the previous volumes, this one is also good.


Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! #1

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! #1 by Go Ikeyamada

When the Kobayashi twins, Megumu and Mitsuru, were born, their parents named  them after people important in the life of feudal warlord Date Masamune.  It seems that their family was descended from retainers of that Warring States era general.  When they grew to adolesence, Mitsuru became an athlete, specializing it kendo, the art of the sword.  Megumu, on the other hand, became a history nerd.

So Cute It Hurts!! #1

Mitsuru is failing history, and unless he aces a series of make-up tests, he’ll have to give up his Sundays off for cram classes.  There’s no way he’s going to get high enough scores, but Mitsuru has a plan.  If Megumu disguises herself as him, and attends his school as him for a week, she can pass the tests and he can get on with his life.   Megumu thinks this is a terrible idea and refuses.  But on the day, Mitsuru steals a march by swiping Megumu’s school uniform and going to her school as her–so Megumu has to go along with the plan….

This shoujo (girls’) manga pulls a version of the classic “twin switch” plotline.  The siblings look very much alike aside from the obvious, so it’s initially easier than you might think.  However, passing as each other is the least of the complications.  It seems Mitsuru forgot to tell his sister that his all-boys school is ruled by delinquents who have frequent status battles, and he’s relatively high on the totem pole.  And the top fighter is a total hunk who bears a strong resemblance to Date Masamune!  Megumu can’t help acting a little attracted.

Over on the other side of town, Mitsuru gets himself in hot water with the school’s most influential girl, and develops a crush on a cute deaf-mute (and he immediately starts learning sign language once he catches on.)  He’s not sure how he’s going to break the news that he’s actually a guy.

Some other folks get crushes too, and the romantic comedy hijinks begin.

Mitsuru is kind of an ass, but has good guy attitudes that shine through.  Megumu is quieter and less self-confident, but nicer.  The mean girl is kind of a stereotype, but we will hope for some character development in future volumes.  The situation is very contrived and does not lend itself to a long series, but I could roll with it for two or three volumes.

The art is decent,  but may be too cutesy for some readers.

Recommended for those who like adorable love stories with lots of silliness.

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