My Hero Academia, vol 1, by Horikoshi Kohei

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Publication date – August 4, 2015

Summary: What would the world be like if 80 percent of the population manifested superpowers called “Quirks” at age four? Heroes and villains would be battling it out everywhere! Being a hero would mean learning to use your power, but where would you go to study? The Hero Academy of course! But what would you do if you were one of the 20 percent who were born Quirkless?

Middle school student Izuku Midoriya wants to be a hero more than anything, but he hasn’t got an ounce of power in him. With no chance of ever getting into the prestigious U.A. High School for budding heroes, his life is looking more and more like a dead end. Then an encounter with All Might, the greatest hero of them all, gives him a chance to change his destiny…

Thoughts: I went into this one blind. I haven’t watched the anime adaptation. I knew pretty much nothing about the story. At most I’ve heard a few people mention some character names. The most knowledge I had was from reading the description of this volume on Amazon. I didn’t want to go into reading this with any particular opinion, despite the general popularity of the story.

And you know what? I can see why My Hero Academia appeals to so many people.

It’s an interesting premise that’s set up, very similar to X-Men, only taken to greater lengths. Instead of a small percentage of people with supernatural powers (known here as quirks), it’s a very large percentage of people. Nearly everybody has some sort of power, and has for generations. Most are small things that are useful but don’t necessarily put one into the “superhero” category. But for others, becoming a superhero is absolutely within their reach, as their quirk is something akin to what you might see in such comics.

Izuku is one of the few kids who never manifests any sort of quirk, which is an even greater kick in the pants when you consider that his lifelong dream is to become a hero. Without a quirk, there’s no way he would be considered for such a job, since being a hero is, in many ways, an actual job in this world. There is absolutely nothing special him whatsoever, except in his refusal to give up on his impossible dream.

Only the dream may not be so impossible after all, when the world’s greatest hero, All Might, reveals to Izuku that his own powers aren’t inherent so much as they were granted, given to him by another, and that Izuku’s heart and bravery have marked him as All Might’s successor. All Might’s gift allows Izuku to properly follow the path he has dreamed of since childhood, and his journey as a hero truly begins.

You can see the quick appeal in the “zero to hero” trope here. It’s one that resonates with a lot of people. Someone without any special talents or training ends up being given a huge gift that changes their lives and sets them on their true path, the path of their dreams. I mean, who among us hasn’t had that fantasy in our minds at some point? And in this early volume of the much larger story that is My Hero Academia, Izuku struggles to deal with the powers that he’s been given. They’re not a quick fix for his life’s problems, they don’t make everything so easily for him. He had to train his body almost to breaking point to even receive them, and one he had them, he had to adjust to gaining so much power so suddenly. Children in this world typically get their quirks as toddlers at the latest, and so growing up with a quirk means that it’s just a natural part of who they are. The whole thing is likened to suddenly having a tail. If you’ve grown up without one, you’re not going to know how to control it or move with it for a while. That’s the situation Izuku finds himself in, as he navigates this new world of hero-training he finds himself now a part of.

Some aspects of the art style don’t really work for me, but that’s not something that really prevents me from getting into the story. Even if I may have outgrown some of the, “I wish I could receive a huge gift that would set my life on track” mindset (only some, mind you), there’s a lot about this story that’s appealing. I want to see how Izuku grows. I want to see what happens beyond basic hero training, dealing with asshole bullies, and so on. I want to see more of the world develop. Given that the series has gone for many volumes at this point, it seems there’s a lot more of the story yet to come, and I’m curious as to how it all plays out. This first volume made me quite curious, and even if superheroes and a lot of typical shounen manga archetypes aren’t really my thing, I’ve got my sights on this story, and I hope I’ll be able to read more of it soon.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

The Fox and the Little Tanuki, vol 1, by Tagawa Mi

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Publication date – March 17, 2020

Summary: It is said that there are some special animals occasionally born with great powers. Senzou the black fox is one of those… but instead of using his powers for good, he abused his strength until the Sun Goddess imprisoned him for his bad behavior. Three hundred years later, he’s finally been released, but only on one condition― he can’t have any of his abilities back until he successfully helps a tanuki cub named Manpachi become an assistant to the gods.  Unfortunately for Senzou, there’s no cheating when it comes to completing his task! The magic beads around his neck make sure he can’t wander too far from his charge or ignore his duties, and so… Senzou the once-great Fox Spirit must figure out how to be an actually-great babysitter to a innocent little tanuki or risk being stuck without his powers forever!

Thoughts: From the title, you may initially dismiss this manga as being too kid-oriented to be worth paying attention to. And while it is clearly a manga designed more for younger readers than older ones, I think it would be a mistake to pass it over, because there’s actually a good entertaining story in here.

Senzou is a powerful black fox spirit, imprisoned for three hundred years, and finally set free by the very deity who initially sealed him away. But his freedom comes with one caveat: he must raise a tanuki cub, named Manpachi, to be a good servant of the gods. If he does this, he’ll be given full freedom. If he does not, then the magical beads he’s forced to wear around his neck cause him pain. Cruel? Yes. But Senzou did more than make mischief before he was sealed away; he was a force of destruction that took down anything in his path. This is not only only Senzou’s punishment, but also his rehabilitation.

And yes, there are definitely moments in here that will sound like focus points of a kid’s cartoon, like Manpachi coming to understand that family is more than just the people related to you by blood. And there are the expected struggles within Senzou as he continues to insist that he doesn’t really care for Manpachi, but I mean, come on, we know from the moment Manpachi is introduced that Senzou will come to think of him fondly because it’s just that kind of story.

But there were moments in here that really resonated with me, in a way that made me think there was more to this than a simple story for children. The first was the statement that bakemono (broadly defined in the manga as “animals with special powers”) are commonly born to regular animals, but bakemono are often quickly cast out because others sense there’s something different about them, something they don’t understand, and it scares them. It’s hardly an uncommon theme, but every time I see it pop up in fiction, it hits home. My parents never kicked me out or anything, but there have been so many times when I’ve been struck with the notion that there’s so much about me that I don’t think they understand. It doesn’t scare them, but I think it’s easy for them to pretend those parts aren’t really there, and so it feels like a rejection.

In Senzou’s case, that rejection by his parents was what started him on the path to becoming a bitter individual, someone who was rejected by those who ought to love him and so who rejects everyone else in turn. Now, I’m not saying every mean person is mean because their mommy never loved them enough, but to be perfectly honest, when you treat someone like they’re nothing, like they’re trash just because they’re not like you, you can’t be hugely surprised when they end up not giving a crap about you in turn. Or anything. You start them down that path, and they may end up okay in the end, or they may take that message very much to heart and lash right back out, and to some extent, that lashing out is entirely understandable.

Moving on…

The second part that resonated strongly with me was Senzou and Manpachi’s first task together, to get rid of a pestilence god that was plaguing an old run-down house, which was inhabited by the protective spirit of a child. Mistakes get made, but in the end, the pestilence god is defeated, and is revealed to be, of all people, the child spirit. He explains that he used to be worshiped at the house and in return gave his protection, but at some point he was locked up in a store room and couldn’t protect the house of the people within it anymore, and his frustration at being unable to fulfill his duties manifested in the pestilence god. It was another thing that really rang true with me, the presentation that there are consequences when someone can’t live up to themselves, when they’re prevented from doing what they’re supposed to do. Consequences beyond merely that thing not being done, that is.

That something negative can be born from the restriction of something positive is a lesson I wish more people could learn in life. Too often we just assume that if something positive doesn’t happen, then everything is just neutral. But in that vacuum can come negative things, unbalanced by positive, and that negativity can thrive. I feel like we all know that on some level, but we don’t seem to acknowledge it very often. If someone is held back from doing what they need to do, what they feel they exist to do, then the result isn’t just “someone not doing a thing,” but instead “someone not doing a thing and something harmful that results from it.”

Be good and true to yourselves and each other, is what I’m saying.

But all of this is why I think The Fox and the Little Tanuki isn’t a story that can be just dismissed by adults as being unworthy of attention because it’s geared towards kids. Similar to the way My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic resonated so powerfully with so many adults, I think The Fox and the Little Tanuki could do the same, appealing to that same part of our hearts that MLP:FIM did. Being ostensibly for children doesn’t mean that it has nothing to say to adults, and some small things turned into thought-provoking moments that made me really enjoy my time reading through this first volume of the story. Already I’m hoping it picks up enough steam for the publisher to think it’s worth releasing other volumes, because it’s a story I’m invested it, it has characters I’m interested in, and it’s a glimpse into aspects of Japanese mythology that many people, young and old, don’t always get the chance to see.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

RePlay, by Tsukahara Saki

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Publication date – February 4, 2020

Summary: Yuta and Ritsu have been playing baseball together since they were children, but after being defeated in a local tournament over the summer, they must retire from the high school team to study for university entrance exams. Still, Yuta finds himself unable to give up his lingering attachment to baseball. The one person who can truly understand him is Ritsu, who has been acting worryingly distant since they quit the team. But there’s something Yuta himself doesn’t understand… Does he think of Ritsu as his partner in the way that a teammate would, or is the affection between them something stronger?

Thoughts: As I mentioned in my previous manga review, I used to be into BL stuff a lot more than I am, before I realized that the genre contains a lot of problematic tropes that really made me uncomfortable. But still, every once in a while, I try again to rediscover my old interest in the genre, partly because I’m nostalgic, but partly because I want to read more stuff that has queer romances.

(Even if that can bring its own set of problems, depending on who’s doing the writing…)

Even though I don’t have any interest in baseball, there was something about Re:Play that called to me from the outset. I couldn’t say what. But I’m glad I did, because a lot of the tropes that I came to dislike over the years were pretty much absent from this standalone manga volume. Both Yuta and Ritsu are in their final year of high school, dissimilar personalities but great friends, to the point where people joke that they’re “an old married couple.” Ritsu is serious, Yuta is more happy-go-lucky. They both aim to get into the same university, though things are less secure in that regard with Yuta, since he still has his sights set on playing baseball, and his grades might not be good enough to get into his university of choice. The typical high school drama, essentially.

catchingmyballs

Also some great opportunities to make jokes about balls.

And how possibly for the first time, the terms “pitcher” and “catcher” are used un-euphemistically.

Ahem, moving on…

Typical, too, is the changing dynamic of their relationship once it’s revealed that Ritsu has been harbouring feelings for Yuta, and Yuta’s all, “Oh, okay, I guess that’s sort of what I feel for you too, only I didn’t really know it, but it sure does explain why I get jealous over the idea that you might have a secret girlfriend!” But it also touches on the idea that longtime friends can change as they grow up, and the worry that there might not always be a place for you in your old friend’s new life. Bittersweet as that is, I liked that the manga touched on that.

I mentioned that some common tropes were absent from Re:Play, and the most obvious one is that neither Yuta nor Ritsu are coded girls. By which I mean, there’s usually one of the pairing that’s decidedly more “feminine” than the other, to make it clear to the reader who takes which role in the relationship. Rarely have I seen BL manga that portrays guys who are written as any other guy would be, only in love with another guy. But Re:Play is one of those uncommon offerings that does this, and I loved seeing it. Yuta definitely has the less serious personality, but he’s a far cry from being feminine-coded, and it was great to see. Their budding romance was cute, without the trappings of outdated gender roles applied to the wrong gender.

Re:Play is definitely more on the BL side of things than the yaoi side, but there are some sexytimes in the manga’s final pages. It’s about as graphic as most yaoi, with certain parts being essentially consumed by a white void, but, er, you get the idea pretty clearly. It’s nothing over the top, and relatively tasteful, at least within the yaoi genre. Believe me, I’ve seen worse!

If you’re looking for a sweet BL story about two guys navigating the early parts of their romance while also navigating an life-altering period of their youth, and you could definitely do worse than reading Re:Play. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball, which is a big part of the characters’ lives, chances are you’ll still enjoy how Yuta and Ritsu enjoy it and how it plays into their lives. I was surprised at how much I ended up liking this one.

And if nothing else, maybe you too will become better at catching someone’s balls.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Dekoboko Sugar Days, by Yusen Atsuko

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Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 18, 2020

Summary: Yuujirou Matsukaze has been close friends with Rui Hanamine since the two of them were children, and at that time, Yuujirou was the one who stood up for and took care of his adorable, soft-hearted friend. But as it turns out, Yuujirou’s childhood dreams end up growing a little too big to handle ― or, rather, too tall! At over six feet in height, the cheerful and happy-go-lucky Rui towers over his would-be protector… and still has no idea Yuujirou’s had a crush on him since they were kids!

Thoughts:I used to read a lot of yaoi and BL manga back in the day, but over recent years have been somewhat turned off the genre due to its formulaic and occasionally anger-inducing storytelling. I found that the vast majority of BL and yaoi fell into one of two categories:

  1. One of the men involved was basically coded as a woman because apparently two “manly” men aren’t allowed to fall in love.
  2. The developing relationship involved one side trying to convince the other that they really wanted it despite objections.

I can, at least, say that Dekoboko Sugar Days only fell into the first category. Rui was definitely the feminine-coded one in this story, being cute, enthusiastic, open with his emotions, wearing a hair clip (which was, ostensibly, to advertise his sister’s store), and and the one who, as a child, needed help getting out of scrapes. Later, his concern that his boyfriend might only want him for his body and not for his personality.

Now, that isn’t to say that men never have such concerns in their lives. But there’s a large amount of BL manga out there where you can see the outdated concepts of, “Which one is ‘the woman’?” at work, and unfortunately, Dekoboko Sugar Days does play with this trope.

The story itself is pretty cute, though. Two guys, childhood friends, each trying to come to grips with what it means to be attracted to each other. There are the usual misunderstandings (“I had a crush on him early on but mistook my feelings for something else,” “I feel awful that he has a girlfriend and don’t understand why I feel so bad about it,” etc), and it never really breaks out of any established comfort zones, but it was a pretty cute story within those limits, I have to admit.

One of the reasons I’m not giving this a star/teacup rating here on the blog is because, well, Dekoboko Sugar Days treads a very well-worn path, not really telling a new story but instead sticking to the tried-and-true. And if you like that sort of thing, then great, because this manga doesn’t break any new ground in that regard. It will give you the exact kind of story you already know you like. And I think a lot of BL manga is the same way. This makes it really difficult for me to rate, honestly, because while I was hoping to see something I hadn’t seen already done dozens of times over a decade ago, it still does that particular job well enough.

Though one area that did manage to surprise me was the way it went from the whole “discovery” phases of Yuu and Rui’s relationship to full-on sex. Again, it might just be my own experience, but a lot of manga that I’ve read has tended to keep the two things apart. You’ve either got stuff that’s focused on sex, or you’ve got stuff that’s about the adorable romantic stuff. Dekoboko Sugar Days acknowledged that teenage boys get horny and might want to have sex, but their entire lives aren’t necessarily consumed by it, and they don’t always discover they have an attraction to someone by getting surprise boners around them. So I will give credit where credit is due there.

So in the end? A cute story about two guys discovering and understanding their feelings for each other, which didn’t break any molds or do anything original, but that didn’t stop it from still being cute. It was a nice fluff read, nothing too taxing, on a snowy winter morning.

(Still, hopefully my next read during Manga Month will be a bit more than mere fluff…)

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)