Maiden of the Needle (Vol. 1), Whoever Steals This Book (Vol. 1), and Helck (Vol. 8) – Beneath the Tangles

Tune In to The Midnight Heart, Manga Simulpub Ch. 1-5

Back in 7th grade, Yamabuki Arisu fell asleep each night listening to an amateur audio streamer, a girl his age known only by her stage name of “Apollo.” On the night of her last show, he called in and confessed his love to her, and now as a high school student he searches for her relentlessly…in order to make sure no recordings of his cringey call-in confession still exist. You see, our boy is a bit of an obsessive perfectionist with delusions of grandeur. Thus, he’s structured his entire life around ensuring no evidence remains of something stupid that he said when he was twelve. As one does. A lucky break allows Arisu to confirm that “Apollo” must be one of the four girls who make up his school’s Broadcast Club, but now he’s stuck. All four girls claim to not know anything about this “Apollo” girl, and he has no evidence beyond a hazy memory of what her voice sounded like—meaning he can’t rule any of them out. Thus, the only option left to Arisu is to join the Broadcast Club and hope that over time the real “Apollo” will slip-up and reveal her identity… “Romantic Comedy” is a broad definition that covers a spectrum between romance and comedy. Midnight Heart is very much on the comedic end of that spectrum. The over-the-top personalities, the highly contrived scenario, and fact that two of the lead girls’ school uniforms never seem to cover their belly buttons all clue the reader in to not take any of this too seriously. And “don’t take it too seriously” is fine if that’s the intended goal. My key concern is that it feels like the manga is throwing tropes at a wall and seeing what sticks. The running gag that Arisu routinely makes a fool of himself but is too full of himself to comprehend that fact is a solid one, so that’s a win. However, the romantic side of things leaves me with the suspicion that the author has a premise but not a plan. The central conflict is the mystery of Apollo’s identity, but with no hard evidence available to prove which girl she is, this is a “mystery” that can be stalled indefinitely with clues invented and retconned as we go along. So I suspect the plot will run us in circles and your enjoyment will depend on your level of investment in the comedy and the characters. A very take-it-or-leave-it start to the series. ~ WacOtaku

Tune In to The Midnight Heart is published by Kodansha through K-Manga.

Ako and Bambi, Manga Vol. 1

The throwback feel to Ako and Bambi—eight square panels per page, simple artwork, use of only browns, and blues against the typical monochrome coloring—is half of the magic in volume one of this charming series. The other half is the cute tale centered on characters that are immediately lovable—young mangaka Bambi, a shut-in who doesn’t understand his value; Ako, a pretty young woman who seems to be a ghost, visible to Bambi during nighttime hours only; and three other characters whose backgrounds are spoilers to this volume, but who are just as fascinating and help advance a story that crosses the realms of slice-of-life, coming-of-age, and mystery. I would encourage readers to keep at it if they find the first few chapters confusing; it’s not just the mystery of who Ako is that’s quizzical, but also the pacing that makes the initial third of this volume hard to follow. It gets better, so much better, and by the end of volume one,

A Condition Called Love, Manga Vol. 6

“There’s no such thing as a person who’s got no right to love.” Hananoi and Hotaru continue to have many firsts, including their first kiss! As Hotaru thinks about her first kiss and the shared feelings with it, Hananoi reflects on memories that still haunt him today. Will he open up to Hotaru about what happened long ago? What new firsts will these two have next? We finally get the backstory from Hananoi’s point-of-view, and it was so emotionally moving! My heart broke for our very adorable little Hananoi and how much he was hurting because he didn’t do anything. I’m thankful that through all that pain he had the older guy with him to comfort him and encourage him. It’s definitely not your typical friendship, but it’s one I’m so thankful Hananoi had because it’s obvious that man had a huge impact on his life and continues to have an effect on him. I am loving seeing Hotaru grow as a character, specifically as a girlfriend! I think she is much more aware of Hananoi and what he is or isn’t saying compared to just a few volumes ago. Also the fact that she is starting to say that she too wants to touch Hananoi and wants to grow with him made me a proud momma hen. Hananoi once again shined, but I loved how he shined in sports this volume! Not only that though, shoutout to Kei-kun who simply accepts Hananoi and doesn’t try to change him. He sticks up for him in his own way, and I think he really is befriending Hananoi. Very thankful for him in this story and all he’s doing to help our lead shine, because boy did he do just that! Definitely another wonderful volume in this series! Very much loved it! ~ Laura A. Grace

A Condition Called Love is published by Kodansha.

Whoever Steals This Book, Manga Vol. 1

You’ve read stories about book lovers, but have you read stories about book haters? Enter Mifuyu, who’s been tasked with maintaining her family’s library for as long as she can remember, and who hasn’t read a book outside of school for just as long. Books disgust Mifuyu; like unwanted relatives, they prattle on and on about these dull, made-up tales set in distant past, tales that don’t matter to anyone in the present. Besides, all the bookworms Mifuyu knows are either horribly irresponsible or more concerned about the latest releases than anything else. Imagine her horror, then, when she’s pulled into the world of one of her family’s books and tasked with apprehending the person who stole the book! To Mifuyu’s surprise, though, she ends up adoring the vibrant world of fiction, the new purpose it brings to her life, and the mysterious girl Mashiro whom she meets there. Could it be that this infamous book hater doesn’t hate books after all? (Well, considering she’s the protagonist of one, probably.) Whoever Steals This Book satisfies an itch for good bookworm fiction that I didn’t even know I had. I love reading stories about stories, books that remind me why I love reading all over again. Mifuyu’s journey is one such story. As a growing teenager, Mifuyu longs for the attention of her family, the approval of her peers, and the security and trust that flow from those realities. All the same, she struggles to fit in and to be seen. Literature provides the freedom and meaning she’s been looking for; it’s a place where she can escape the mundanity of everyday life and find something to chase after. Many readers—myself included—will resonate with Mifuyu’s journey. Combine that with this volume’s imaginative composition, uniquely layered paneling, and lush artwork, and you have a book that’s on a shelf above the rest. ~ sleepminusminus

Whoever Steals This Book is published by Yen Press.

Agents of the Four Seasons, Light Novel Vol. 1

In ages past, it was the job of Winter and Spring, and later Summer and Autumn, to bring about the changes in climate we call seasons. Now, that responsibility has fallen to the Agents of the Four Seasons, who perform the ancient rituals that call forth the frost, melt its icy breath to bring floral life, summon the sun in its heat, and wither the flowers to start the cycle anew. Unfortunately, tragedy also attends these yearly cycles. The kidnapping of Hinagiku, Agent of Spring, tore through the other Agents and their guards like an unforgiving, destructive gale, carrying hurt, regret, and rage in its wake. But ten years later, she’s back, along with the budding life of Spring. Written by the original author of Violet Evergarden, Agents of the Four Seasons tells a breathtaking tale about the deep scars carved by loss, the painful weight of responsibility, and the healing nature of persistent affection. There’s genuine despair rooted in these paged; Kana Atatsuki pulls no punches when unpacking the guilt the Agent of Winter feels at his part in the kidnapping of Hinagiku, or the craving for vengeance that animates Hinagiku’s guard Sakura. But just as a gardener only uproots her precious seedlings in order to plant them in more fertile soil, Akatsuki point out draws readers into the depths of sorrow only to point out the hope that is beginning to bloom even there. And that hope comes in the form of Hinagiku’s defiant kindness, which cuts through Sakura’s nettlelike walls and brings reconciliation and flourishing to all she meets. I’m also fascinated by how the series weaves together technology, politics, and religion. We live in a world where it’s common to manipulate natural processes to achieve our desired goals, but what if that wasn’t the case? What if we had to rely to rely on mysterious rituals for the parts of life we take for granted, like the seasons? It’s a compelling premise, even if executed somewhat sloppily at time. At his emotional peaks, the writing tends towards excessive preachiness, and the system surrounding the Four Agents is haphazard in its details. But Akatsuki seems to be aware of this reality, lamenting in the afterword, “I have great aspirations built on poor craftsmanship.” Be that as it may, Agents of the Four Seasons bears within its pages an intense, fleeting beauty. It’s a beauty like Hinagiku, whose name means “daisy,” representing an innocent, childlike love—the kind of love that melts down walls and calls forth real joy. ~ sleepminusminus

Agents of the Four Seasons is published by Yen Press.

Maiden of the Needle, Manga Vol. 1

Have you heard of the soda fountain “life hack” where you fill your drink using only the syrupy portion of the soda stream to get the (supposedly) real flavor of the soda? Maiden of the Needle‘s manga adaptation reads as sickeningly sweet as I imagine that concoction would taste. The original light novel was sugary enough as it was, but without the exposition to offset the flavoring, all I’m left tasting is the headache-inducing moe moments. Like the head chef randomly bursting into tears after seeing Yui eat one bite of her food. Or Yui having a random growth spurt that providentially makes her stand almost a foot taller and look almost three or four years older! (How convenient, given the hints that she needs to marry a much older royal in order to progress the story. But I digress.) There’s a bitter aspartame aftertaste here as well, owing to the lackluster art and to how effortlessly Yui moves on from her traumatic childhood to develop a totally healthy, confident personality. Maybe it’s just because of my Ascendance of a Bookworm sensibilities, but I’m a little weary of these zero-to-hero stories where the protagonist’s success is handed to them on a silver platter at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The moral of the story? Don’t drink soda syrup on its own. And read the light novels of this series, which have the same sweetness mixed in with a good deal of substance.

Helck, Manga Vol. 8

As we presumably head to the finale of this tale, Helck continues to pull aces out of its sleeve—plot points and characters that it has been hiding until the appropriate time. In volume eight, that means the mention of an “Imperial Council” that is against Vermilio’s plan to save humans; the rising importance of two minor characters; the appearance of a new character that adds further emotional weight to the story and the return of another just for fun; and the revealing of new weapons on both sides—the most powerful of which seems to be the “Tower in the Northwest,” though I’m betting that “twigelion” will play a major role before all is said and done. What does it all add up? Another wonderful volume of Helck, and one that demonstrates to readers that this new arc, one that initially felt like a throw-on to extend a series that could have ended by now, is thoughtful and carefully planned. Characters and events are coming together toward what’s sure to be a tearful and powerful culmination!

“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.

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