Our Happy Hours by Gong Ji-young, Sahara Mizu: review

Watashitachi no Shiawase na JikanOur Happy Hours by Gong Ji-young, Sahara Mizu (art)
Stand Alone
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Age Group: Adult/Mature Young Adult
Genre: Josei, Seinen, Romance
Release Date: First Pub. 2007
Synopsis: “I have something I don’t want to lose—
So much so that these terrible feelings have grown.”

A pianist who attempted suicide 3 times, Juri, is taken to help her aunt at a prison where murderers who killed indiscriminately are sentenced to death. There, she meets a man named Yuu who took the lives of 3 people. A mother’s antagonism–a brother’s death… Together they embrace the violent rebellion in their hearts caused by the large, deep scars they carry. However, before long, they both embrace an earnest hope in their hearts. “I want to live”…

An adaptation of a novel by South Korea’s most popular female novelist, Gong Ji-Young.

My Thoughts:

Our Happy Hours. I don’t think that there could be any other name more fitting. From the very beginning I knew deep inside how the story was going to end. All I had to hold on to were the fulfilling, happy hours that Juri, a former pianist that has attempted suicide three times, and Yuu, a man on death row who killed three people, spend together. And when it all ended, I was just left remembering the moments they had together.

I do admit that the premise can cause eyebrows to be raised. A story about a depressed woman spending time with a murderer every Thursday is not a story that many people would call sweet, romantic, or, in fact, normal. But in reality, this story is sweet, in its own tender way, and romantic, in its own hopeful way, and, for some odd reason, the story does feel a bit normal when one actually reads it. And to top it all off, there is a very apparent sense of standing in the rain-like sadness and melancholy lingering in the atmosphere of Our Happy Hours that one can not just shake off. It isn’t the in-your-face kind of sadness as you can put up a little umbrella made out of the happy hours…

It’s just that sometimes I don’t like an umbrella being in the way!

Juri and Yuu are both characters that are hard to write and pull off. Juri mainly because of her depression, which is a condition that takes research and understanding to effectively write. Yuu because, well, he had killed people before. And even though he regrets it enough to actually long for death, his actions are still almost impossible to forgive. But even so, Gong Ji-young writes these characters in a masterfully skillful and sensitive way.

Gong Ji-young really shows how fragile and vulnerable these two characters are. I had this extreme wanting to protect Juri and Yuu, though I knew that it was impossible since I am kind of in a different world than them. Their development, growth, and healing are painful and inspiring at the same time. Seriously, the two leads’ characterization is simply breathtaking.

The flow of the story isn’t slow yet it isn’t fast. It takes its time presenting the characters, their emotions, conflicts, and wants before letting everything take off. I actually wish that the pacing was slower so it would have taken less time to get to the ending.

Let me explain. The ending is painfully sad. The kind of sad that might make you cry, your tears streaming down your face and ruining your makeup. I knew all along that it was coming but it still hit me hard and devastating me. I didn’t even have a tissue box available! It was a perfect ending with notes from the piano and love , but still painful.

Christianity does have a role in Our Happy Hours. Juri’s aunt is part of the clergy and Yuu does study to get his Christian name. I don’t think that this caused the manga to be preachy in at all. In fact, the manga shows the flaws of the people in the clergy (without making an offensive portrayal, of course) and there were some underlying messages that a person, Christian or not, could listen to and learn from.

The art, awhile not the most fantastic thing about Our Happy Hours, flawlessly fits into the mood of the story as a whole. The delicate character designs and carefully drawn backgrounds make the art something really pleasant on the eyes to look at.

Our Happy Hours is an absolutely lovely manga that deserves to have its large audience. It is rare to encounter such a beautifully bittersweet story. I will be cherishing Our Happy Hours for years to come.

Note: I have recently learned that Our Happy Hours is an adaption of a novel by Gong Ji-Young, an author who is considered one of the most popular female novelist in South Korea. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book, and am not sure if I ever will be able to, but I believe that the manga is a fantastic manga in its own right.

Advertisements

March Story Vol.1 by Hyung-Min Kim, Yang Kyung-Il: review

March Story, Vol. 1 (March Story #1)March Story Vol.1 by Hyung-Min Kim, Yang Kyung-Il (art)

Series: March Story #1

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Shounen

Publisher: VIZ Media LLC

Release Date: October 19th 2010

Synopsis: Reads R to L (Japanese Style), for M audiences. Among the quiet villages and towns of 18th century Europe, demons known as the Ill hide within the most beautiful works of art, sparked to life by the torment of their creators. Attracted by their jewel-like allure, the unwary find themselves possessed by the Ill and driven to horrific acts of violence. Only the hunters of the Ciste Vihad can dispel the Ill.

March is one such hunter, tracking the Ill from town to town to find the antiques that contain the demons before they can possess anyone. If the worst has come to pass, March’s full powers are unleashed to battle the fiendish Ill. Born of tragedy, the artifacts all have their own tales to tell, as do each of their victims. But March’s story may be the most tragic of all.

My Thoughts:

It has been a long time since I have been so mystified by a beginning of a series. If a person wants to start a series, this is how they should start it. With an intriguing introduction to the main character, a couple of amazing stories, and a dose of master storytelling.

I might as well insert a little warning in the beginning of this review. Awhile I label this manga as something in the Young Adult age group, I do think that only people who are mature enough to handle some adult things should read this. There is a good amount of blood in some of the chapters, and some nudity. I don’t think that these were used in excess or were just used to be used, though.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go on!

As of right now, I can say that March Story is a story that follows March, a hunter of Ill. Ill are beings that live inside old artifacts, waiting for a human to pick them up. When a human picks them up, the Ill possesses the human and drives them to insanity with their whispers, and then take over the human’s body. The only thing that can stop an Ill is a Ciste Vihad, a person who has gotten the Ill possessing them under control. And that is what March is, a Ciste Vihad.

Of course, I believe that there is a much deeper storyline that is going to come into play in the future, but this first volume only touches upon what Ills and Ciste Vihads are, and the characters with the chapters it contains.

Most of the chapters in this volume have a very sinister feel to them. There is blood and screaming and horror. But there are some that are actually quite heartwarming. My favorite chapters is the one with the glass deer. It was such of an amazing chapter.

March is an enigma of a character for a time until about the middle of the volume. We don’t even officially know her gender until then. All we know at first is that she is a hunter that eliminates Ill. But when we actually get to know her and her past, well, it’s pretty painful.

The reoccurring side characters are also very good. I especially loved Jake, the chubby (an understatement) fortune teller that immediately caught my attention, for some reason. And Rodin is such of an interesting person. He is the man who owns a shop that sells items that have been cleansed of the Ill inside of them. And he isn’t at all hesitant to rip people off. It’s quite funny 😛

And Yang Kyung-Il’s art is GORGEOUS! Everything is vividly drawn, with great detail, and obvious love. Heck, even the dripping blood is nice to look at at times. Seriously, the art is Pandora Hearts pretty. That’s saying something.

This is a great beginning to a series. And if this continues, this might become tied with Pandora Hearts as my favorite manga series. The mangaka’s have a wonderful idea for a story. I would definitely recommend this for fans of D.Gray-Man since it does have similar elements.

Nabari No Ou Vol. 1 by Yuhki Kamatani: review

Nabari No Ou, Vol. 1Nabari No Ou Vol. 1 by Yuhki Kamatani

Series: Nabari No Ou #1

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Shounen, Action

Publisher: Yen Press

Release Date: May 12th 2009

Synopsis: Apathetic schoolboy Miharu Rokujou is content to meander through life in the sleepy village of Banten. But his quiet existence is shattered when the Grey Wolves of Iga, a powerful ninja clan, attempt to kidnap him in broad daylight. Only then does Miharu discover that the ultimate power of the hidden ninja realm – a power that can do both great good and great harm – is sealed within his body. As battles erupt among rival ninja clans seeking to control him, Miharu must overcome his apathy and learn the ways of the ninja if he wants any shot at survival!

My Thoughts: 

The first volume of the Nabari No Ou series is a bit hard to write. Maybe it’s because I have read most of the series and this is just a reread? I don’t know. Anyways, this is a pretty good first volume. Oh, and since I have already read most of this series I will be pointing out things from future volumes if I feel the need.

This volume introduces the story of Miharu, a boy who has suddenly been dragged into the Nabari world (a world that coexist with the Surface world) and finds out that he has the power of the Shinrabanshou, a power that contains all the wisdom of the universe, hidden inside him. People are out to get him and people want to help him. Even if Miharu wants to keep living his apathetic life, he has no choice but to be involved in this battle.

If you haven’t realized already, this is the start of a series about ninjas. No, this is not a copycat of the well-known mainstream manga series that is also about ninjas. But it seems like people do feel inclined to compare it to that, and it seems like Kamatani was prepared for that. She uses this first volume as a way to hint that Nabari No Ou has a more serious story and a story that is very different.

My favorite thing about this volume is how quickly it gets to the point. This volume doesn’t take to long to introduce the main characters and getting into the story. And then even after getting into the story it is still fast paced. There will be no boring moments in this solid beginning.

To be honest, the characters are pretty average in this volume. They are definitely entertaining and fun to read about, but they aren’t memorable. It really isn’t until the next installments when that happens. But the characters do have a certain light-heartedness that isn’t in the next installments (when things get more deep and serious) in this volume.

And that is the reason why I return to this volume repeatedly.

Sometimes I just want to read about the apathethic kid called Miharu that really doesn’t care whether or not he has the wisdom of the whole world hidden inside him. To read about Tobari and his phobia of moving vehicles. To read about Raimei and her tendency to get over-excited. And to read about Kouichi and his very calm demeanor.

The humor element definitely puts to use Miharu’s I-don’t-care attitude and his cuteness. Most of the little jokes revolve around those traits.

Shirt: Muscular Pain… Miharu didn’t care enough to change out of the outfit his grandma made him wear.

The mangaka has a clean, distict drawing style. Her art is lovely most of the time. Although there are a couple of panels in which the characters look drawn awkwardly in volume one. (The art becomes absolutely beautiful later, so don’t drop this series because of the art in the first volume.)

Overall, this is a good introduction to a series. It isn’t overly good but still a solid volume that will definitely make one want to continue (especially because of the fact that two sides are battling it out at the end). I will definitely recommend this series if you are a fan of ninjas or reading books that involve the use of nature as a source of power or maybe even just some sword fighting (Raimei kicks butt with that blade).

Durarara!! Vol.1 by Ryohgo Narita, Akiyo Satorigi, Suzuhito Yasuda: review

Durarara!! Drrr!! x1 (Durarara!! Manga, #1)Durarara!! Vol.1 by Ryohgo Narita, Akiyo Satorigi, Suzuhito Yasuda

Series: Durarara!! Manga #1

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Shounen, Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Yen Press

Release Date: January 24th 2012

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)Welcome to Ikebukuro, where Tokyo’s wildest characters gather!! Meet an ordinary boy who daydreams about the extraordinary. A naive stalker girl. The strongest man in Ikebukuro. A shut-in doctor with questionable credentials. A hedonistic informant…and the “headless rider” astride a pitch-black motorcycle!? As their paths cross, this eccentric cast weaves a twisted, cracked love story…

My Thoughts:

If only one word could be choses to describe Durarara!! the word would be crazy. The characters are crazy. The plot is crazy. Everything about Durarara!! is crazy. But that is not to say that it doesn’t make sense. The creator of Durarara!! masterfully weaves together the weird personalities these characters have, the supernatural element, and the gang wars.

Now. Before I start reviewing this specific volume I have got to talk about the gigantic amount of characters this series has. The five characters on the cover aren’t even half of the entire cast of characters. Sometimes using a lot of characters doesn’t work at all, but Ryohgo Narita (the creator of the story) is great at putting to use a large amount of characters.

What drove me to read the first volume of the Durarara!! manga series was the anime. For me, the anime was just pure enjoyment even though the story is very complex. It was just fun. And when I finished the anime I craved more Durarara!!. To be more specific, I craved more of this:

image

Yes, that is a fridge that Izaya is being hit with.

So when I found out that the manga series was licensed in english I was pretty darn happy. I immediately went to the bookstore to buy the manga and start reading it. And I am very happy to say that so far the manga does the anime series justice.

The characters are still the same awesome characters that I loved in the anime. Shizuo still needs anger management, Izaya is still loving humanity (and observing/manipulating it), Celty is still kick butt, Shiinra is still kind of a pervert, Simon is still trying to sell sushi, and Mikado, Anri, and Masaomi are still the normal (or are they?) group of teenagers caught in the mess known as Ikebukuro. I am really excited to read more about these characters (and the ones I didn’t mention).

From what I have seen of the plot so far in the manga, it is being told in a fluid, smooth manner. Even though a lot goes on in the series, what with the Dullahan looking for her head, the gang known as the Dollars, the murder, and the random fights (this is all in the first volume)the creator is still able to tell it without confusing the audience. I admire him for that.

The only thing I can complain about is the art. Don’t get me wrong, the art is great as long as you don’t count a few derpy-looking expressions the characters make. I just wish that the art had the same style as the art in the anime. I’m not use to seeing the characters drawn in the particular style the illustrator of the manga uses and I am a bit bothered by that.

Overall, I have high hopes the for manga series. The first volume was really great and I hope that continues with the rest. I would recommend this for people who are itching for a creative, fun, and complex shounen series that definitely strays for the norm. And if you want to know who was throwing the fridge in the gif I showed earlier it is this guy:

Kimi ni Todoke Vol.2 by Karuho Shiina: review

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Volume 2 Kimi ni Todoke Vol.2 by Karuho Shiina

Series: Kimi ni Todoke #2

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Shojo, Slice-Of-Life, Romance

Publisher: VIZ Media LLC

Release Date: October 6th 2009

Synopsis: Will the curse of Sadako leave her friendless for life? R to L (Japanese Style). Sadako’s chance to become friends with Yano and Yoshida is about to go down the drain when rumors start flying that Yano’s been around the block and Yoshida’s a former gang member. And the source of all this tattle? Sadako herself! Will Sadako retreat to her former life as a loner because of a simple misunderstanding?! Sawako Kuronuma is the perfect heroine…for a horror movie. With her jet-black hair, sinister smile and silent demeanor, she’s often mistaken for Sadako, the haunting movie character. Unbeknownst to but a few, behind her scary façade is a very misunderstood teenager. Shy and pure of heart, she just wants to make friends. But when Kazehaya, the most popular boy in class, befriends her, she’s sure to make more than just that—she’s about to make some enemies too!

My Thoughts: 

I don’t know how many times my eyes watered, but I do know that they watered a lot–from both sadness and happiness. I have learned that the Kimi ni Todoke series has a heartwarming story about first love and friendships and knowing about what you want. This is a series that will make you smile…and sometimes it will have your heart shattering into a million pieces from emotion.

So much happens in this volume but all of it focuses on one thing: the importance of friendship. This is why I like this manga. It not only has a bit of sweet romance but it also has friendship in it. You don’t see that in a lot of shojo manga.

Sawako’s friendship with Yano and Yoshida is challenged by a lot in this volume. The rumors, Sawako’s low self-esteem, and her tendency to not care what she wants as a person are all things that get in the way with that. I read this volume without stopping because I wanted to see what happened to Sawako and her friendship with Yano and Yoshida.

There were a lot of sad moments in this one little volume which surprised me greatly. Some moments had my eyes watering so much that they started forming into droplets of tears! I just felt so sad for Sawako and the situation she was in. I am starting to feel like Sawako is a best friend of mine. This only made reading this all the more painful. But there are some really inspiration moments. And then there are some moments that were just plain funny.

Sawako develops a lot as a character volume two. She promises herself to think more about herself and I am proud of her for that. She is also starting to stand up against people when they are being mean to her friends. Sure, she is still a sweet girl who makes study notes for everyone in her class but she is becoming a stronger person.

All in all, this manga is still going strong. It is heartwarming and I can’t get enough of it! I also want to spend more time with Sawako 🙂

Chihayafuru Vol. 1 by Yuki Suetsugu: review

Chihayafuru, Vol. 1 (Chihayafuru, #1)

Chihayafuru Vol. 1 by Yuki Suetsugu

Series: Chihayafuru #1

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Sports, Josei

Release Date: May 13th 2008

Synopsis: All her life, Chihaya’s dream was to see her model sister become Japan’s best… That is, until a quiet, unassuming transfer student named Arata tells her otherwise. A dream, he explains to her, is something she needs to work at herself. Arata plays a competitive version of a traditional Japanese card game–known as Hyakunin Isshu–in a way Chihaya has never seen before. After taking Arata’s place in a game, Chihaya discovers she has a passion for it. Now Chihaya wants to become number one in the world, the Queen of Karuta. Chihayafuru won the 2nd Manga Taisho Award. Winner of the 35th annual Kodansha Manga Award for Best Shoujo

My thoughts: I loved this manga. I really did. It was touching, humourous, and has some good messages weaved in the story. There is really nothing wrong with this manga so far although it is still very early in the series. I have high hopes for Chihayafuru‘s next volumes! Sadly, this manga has not been licensed in english so I won’t be able to buy physical copies of the Chihayafuru series but there are always the lovely fan translators!

Chiyhaya is a girl who always says what is on her mind. And she also has a dream: to see her sister become Japan’s best model. Well, that was her dream until Arata, a transfer student tells her that a dream is something that she needs to work at herself. She later finds out that Arata plays a Japanese card game known as Hyakunin Isshu. Chiyhaya is fascinated at the way he plays the game. One day she has to take Arata’s place in a game and finds out that she has a passion for it. Chihaya now knows what her dream is: to become the Queen of Karuta.

I have never read a manga with a story liked this. Suetsugu masterfully intertwines the game of Karuta with a sweet story of finding out what one desires. The story glued me into my seat, making me read nonstop until I got to the end of the volume.

This is a character driven story in which we meet an outspoken girl who is always living in the shadow of her beautiful sister named Chihaya (she is what many would call the glue that keeps the group of characters together), a quiet boy named Arata who has a passion and talent for the game of Karuta, and Taichi, a boy who is a genuinely nice person on the inside but is driven to do mean things because of the pressure his parents give him. These characters have a bond with each other and I loved reading about it. Awhile they do work well together they still have those times where they want to be better than one another (even when they are on the same team). Their friendship is very real. It has the sweet moments, the sad moments, the whole bit.

I never knew that Karuta was such an exhilarating game until I read this manga. Karuta requires the player to become “friends” with the poems that are printed on the cards. Karuta requires the player to have quick hands. I don’t think I would be able to do half as much as the group of characters in this manga are able to do.

Chihayafuru is a beautiful drawn manga that I cannot take my eyes off of. I will certainly be reading the next volumes. I want to learn how Chihaya’s story ends.

Nineteen, Twenty-One by Hye Jin Kim, Na Che, Han Yu: review

Nineteen, Twenty-One by Hye Jin Kim (Art), Na Che (Art), Han Yu (Story)

Standalone

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Romance, Slice-of-Life, Shojo

Release Date: 2010

Synopsis: Yun-lee is a girl who is carrying a huge emotional scar in her heart. Due to an accident, she lost 2 precious years of her life, the time period between 19 and 21 years old. Her life is empty. She is miserable, but still attending a preparatory school in an attempt to catch up with all the time she has lost. Suddenly, one day on her way to feed some stray cats, she comes across a young man who seems to have what she has lost… the period between 19 and 21 years old.

My thoughts: Nineteen, Twenty-One is a beautiful story. This was my first manhwa (a Korean comic) and I am glad that I had such a great introduction to manhwa. Nineteen, Twenty-One is not licensed in english yet but you can still read fan translations here. With a sweet story by “John” and the gorgeous art by “Jenny” this manhwa is most certainly worth the read. Everyone will be able to find something they like in Nineteen, Twenty-One.

Yun-lee is a girl who has experienced a terrible car crash, leaving her in a coma for a year. She is almost twenty-one now and she has lost a whole year of life. She has missed out on the days where one can be a child and carefree. Now she is an adult. People her age are unfamiliar to her and she can’t connect with them. Yun-lee is absolutely miserable. But there is something that she finds solace in. Cats. She loves them. She uses the money she needs to buy lunch in order to feed them cat food everyday.

One day Yun-lee comes meets a nineteen year-old boy named Ju Dong-hwi who also has a love for cats. Yun-lee thinks he is a bit weird but becomes good friends with him. Dong-hwi helps her feel like she is living the year that she has missed.

Nineteen, Twenty-One is not just a love story but a story about two people finding their places and what they want in life. This manhwa is full of meaning and even the cats are a metaphor. That isn’t to say that Nineteen, Twenty-One is not a cute love story though. The interactions between Yun-lee (a.k.a. Nuna) and Dong-hwi were always sweet and rather humourous at times. Their different personalities contrast greatly. Yun-lee is very quiet and a little bit shy awhile Dong-hwi is loud and childish but this only enhances my enjoyment of their interactions. A lot of them made me smile and some of them just made me LOL.

There are also many lessons in this story. Try to understanding your enemies, have compassion for others, help out when you are needed, and other important things. The messages aren’t blatantly thrown at you but rather told in a very subtle way. This manhwa requires the reader to pay attention to the way the characters act in order to see the messages.

I will also say that I think that this manhwa would be perfect for cat lovers or just regular pet lovers. There are a lot of cats. And even though they are a metaphor in this story they are still really, really, really cute.

I really loved Nineteen, Twenty-One and I believe it would be loved not just by pet-lovers but by many other people. It’s a really fun, cute read and I can’t recommend this enough!

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Vol.3 by The Magica Quartet, Hanokage(illustrator): manga review

Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Vol. 3 Magi Madoka Magica Vol.3 by The Magica Quartet, Hanokage(illustrator)

Series: Puella Magi Madoka Magica #3

My rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Magical Girl, Urban Fantasy, Seinen

Publisher: Yen Press

Release Date: December 11th 2012

Synopsis: Madoka is horrified to learn the true nature of the witches she and her friends, the Magical Girls, have been fighting-and the terrible fate that awaits any Magical Girl who accepts Kyubey’s offer of power. Having watched countless Magical Girls sacrificed for the larger aims of his people, Kyubey is only interested in securing more girls to that end, and Madoka is left with his chilling reminder that she too is destined to be a Magical Girl of incredible power… Can Madoka and her friends escape this tragic fate?

My thoughts: The end of this amazing manga is here…and I am extremely depressed. I have already watched the anime and even as a write this review I am listening to the kick butt ending song of the anime. And now that the manga is over I don’t know what I am going to do with myself!

I have learned very early in the reading of this manga series is that Puella Magu Madoka Magica is not just an interesting read but an experience. It changed how people looked at the magical girl genre. I am sad to see the manga(and anime) end but I don’t think it could have ended any better.

In the final volume of this manga many things are revealed. What exactly Kyubey is and why he is on earth. Some interesting information about Homura. Why the Magical Girls are needed. And more.

I also liked the relationship between Sayaka and Kyouko in this volume. It was bittersweet, heartbreaking, but it was oddly positive. It is kind of funny since they tried to kill each other the first time they say each other.

Towards the end of this volume things get a little confusing. There are a lot of time skipping and such. It is not difficult to keep up but it can be tricky.

The ending of the final volume of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is not exactly happy but not sad either. It is in between. Madoka and her kindness really shines in this volume. I recommend having a box of tissues ready when you start getting near the last chapters. I had tears rolling down my cheeks.

The manga does the anime (the original source material) justice. I believe that both the manga and anime are worth diving into. There are so many things that the anime has that the manga lacks. A great soundtrack but Yuki freaking Kajiura, the characters are even more fleshed out, the animation is unbelievably amazing, and there is more focus on showing the surreal worlds that the girls fight witches in. But the manga is a great experience in its own right.