Monday, March 19, 2018

Manga Review: Shinobi Life by Shoko Conami | Complete Series Review


Shinobi Life is a 13 volume shoujo manga series published between the years 2006 - 2012.

In North America, Tokyo Pop only published volumes 1-7 in English before shutting down shop.


In this review I will only spoil a few plot points to explain the series overall, but I assure you, this character driven saga has much more to offer than bones I'll extract here.

The plot opens with Beni Fujiwara, daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, being kidnapped.  Only there is something off about this kidnapping.  Beni does not seem fearful, but her kidnapper does.


Before we get an answer on what is really going on here, a Ninja falls from the sky.

What a way to open a scene, right?


We quickly learn that Beni blames her father for her late mother's death, and that she has been putting herself in danger to get back at him.

And that our fallen ninja keeps calling Beni, Princess Beni.

The rest of the first volume is loaded with absurdist humor and misunderstandings as Beni comes to the realization that the man in the ninja costume, Kagetora, might actually be from the past.


Kagetora protected her ancestor, Princess Beni, whom she looks exactly like.


Kagetora thinks he is protecting the Princess in some alternate dimension of the enemy.


While this early plot reads as farfetched and very silly, the first volume ends with a trip to the past and the first inkling that there might be much more substance to the story long term.


I'm glad I did not stop reading.

What started out as a silly story, full of exploited misunderstandings, and a parent versus child feud taken too far, suddenly turns into a heartwarming tale about a secret Shinobi, ninja, village from a time forgotten.

And the story of two orphaned boys who grow up knowing no other life than the Shinobi life.


Our female protagonist falls in love with Kagetora along the way and is plagued by the worry that she is just a replacement for the princess he has lost.

But regardless of her feelings, Beni's father has forbidden a relationship with Kagetora.  With his resources, there isn't a place anywhere in the world they could escape him.


Beni pleads with Kagetora to escape to the past with her, but Kagetora knows they won't find the happiness they seek there either.


But before they can find out.  They stumble through the portal, and are separated.  Landing them both in different timelines.


And this marks the real beginning of our story.

Beni finds herself taken into the Shinobi village by Kagetora.  But he is not her Kagetora.


Instead it is his past self of fourteen years old.  Training to be a ninja, back before the violent scars covered his body.

Three Things Were Done Expertly in This Manga:

1. Time Travel
2. Character Incorporation
3. Romance

Time Travel


The way time travel works in this story really helps to raise the stakes.

The portals are always located in the same place.  In the past you must jump off a certain cliff.

In the future you must jump off a certain building.

However, you cannot choose what time in the past you will end up in.


Also, if you are not physically tethered to the one you are time traveling with, you will likely lose each other.

Thus when our characters get separated it becomes a major hurtle for them to get back on the same timeline.  Finding one another requires jumping through time over and over again until finally meeting by chance.

It is a desperate task, and yet they do it to once again be together.

Time travel also has one great danger.


Character Incorporation


The story starts out with Beni and Kagetora, a powerful father, and a handful of petty antagonists.  But things quickly escalate.  The petty antagonists become a real threat and the father becomes a major barrier.


At the time of Beni's separation from Kagetora, both their lives are in serious danger from Hitake. Another time traveling ninja.


But through the time travel plot we learn the pasts of every single character, witnessing what happened to turn them into who they are today.

Because the time travel lands the characters at random along the time line we put the pieces of this puzzle together out of order, but in a way where each new reveal hits with a punch to the gut.


I often felt conflicted about hating the bad guys & flipping the pages faster to learn the rest of the story.

Like these individuals had a karmic destiny to stay together.  Every single character was fully fleshed out and important to the plot by its end.

Romance


The insta-love in this series worked for me because of the time travel plot.


Beni and Kagetora have many obstacles to overcome to be happy together.  There are not only external barriers barring their way, but also the internal confusion nagging at both of them.

The antagonists accuse Kagetora of using Beni as a replacement for Princess Beni.


Though Kagetora and Beni feel in their hearts that it is not true, neither can prove it.

Untilll...

Beni travels to the past and has the unique opportunity to meet the fourteen year old Kagetora.


She gets to witness firsthand how he became the man he is now.  And the origin of the score he must settle with Hitake, his rival.


But most importantly, she gets her proof that she is not a replacement for Princess Beni, because, by traveling back to the past, she actually met Kagetora first.

The mystery which remains, is why does he not remember?  And if you want to find out why, you should read Shinobi Life!



This manga was an excellent read.  I highly recommend it to you.  It is a love story at heart, but the larger plot which ties all the characters together through time and space is even more excellent.

It is unfortunate that we did not see a full English publication in the past, but perhaps we can get it in the future now that Tokyo Pop has reemerged.


Thanks for reading!
Amanda

Pictures taken by me & edited with Line Camera App

Friday, March 2, 2018

Manga Review: Horimiya by Hero & Daisuke Hagiwara (Vol.1)


As always, I'm going to spoil volume one for you in the hopes that if you like it you'll read the rest of the series.

In this shoujo manga, first published in 2012, our main character Hori is a beautiful high school student with perfect grades.  Despite her popularity Hori never goes out with friends.


The reason?  Everyday after school she rushes home to care for her younger brother and home. 

At home Hori's perfect hair is tied back in a bun, and her flattering school uniform is replaced with the bum attire we all roam our houses in.

Hori does not appear to dislike her domestic home life, and yet, she hides it from her schoolmates.  

Honestly, this plot seemed too silly to me at first.  Hori looks exactly the same whether at school or at home.  

It was hard for me to invest in this "conflict".  There is nothing shameful about housework.  

Since she is a dedicated student it actually seems in character that she would be dedicated to her family as well.

So what got me into this manga series?

Our lovable male protagonist: Miyamura.


At school, Miyamura is the quiet kid with long hair and glasses.  Rumors are floating around that he must be a weird otaku.  He has never tried to clear his name, so it must be true.

But Hori gets to see the real Miyamura when he shows up on her doorstep. 

Her little brother Souta falls after being scared by a dog, so the kind Miyamura escorts him home.

Only Miyamura has already changed out of his school uniform.  

Outside of school Miyamura pulls his hair back from his face, and loses the glasses, to show off his many piercings.  


He has a stylish, punky, way of dressing, and can often be seen with a Starbucks cup in hand.

His look is so alarmingly different leaving Hori stunned when he announces that he is the same Miyamura from her class.  

[He recognizes her right away, so see? She's totally no different at home! lol]

What this Manga has to Offer You:
  • School Drama
  • Family Life
  • A Friends-First Romance
  • Unlikely Friendships
  • Humor!
  • Lonely Souls
  • Hidden Authentic Self
  • Great romantic tension / anticipation


After that fateful meeting outside of school Hori surprises Miyamura with an invitation to continue coming to her home.

Miyamura has no friends, so this outcome is unexpected.

I loved this plot development because it solidified Hori as a good person.  She does not limit her actions based on the judgements of her peers.

Yet, Hori and Miyamura both keep their out of school identities a secret, so they don't announce their friendship either.


They grow closer during this clandestine time.  It's incredibly innocent.  So pure! Two lonely souls learning little things about each other.


Having dinner and cake, running errands, drinking coffee.  It's easy to see the effortless connection they share.  Nothing flashy, simply enjoying one another's company.

Keeping a friendship secret is not an easy feat.  Hori's friend Yuki inquires about the handsome boy she spotted her walking with...to which Hori lies, saying it was her cousin.


Though keeping it a secret, the two do not snub each other at school, and it does not take long for their classmates to notice how close they have grown, seemingly out of nowhere. Especially Tooru, the boy who has a crush on Hori.

Tooru confronts Miyamura to ask if he is dating Hori.  

Miyamura answers honestly.  He is not dating Hori.  


He encourages Tooru to confess to her, even though Hori getting a boyfriend would most likely mean the loss of his special time with her.

But Miyamura believes himself the outsider.  Dating Hori is not even within the realm of possibility as he sees it.

This is exactly the sort of turn in events that I would expect to derail this charming story into a frustratingly angsty tale of high school students who could solve all their own problems by simply being honest and asking the right questions...

And I was worried.

However, Horimiya avoids all of that, and takes this situation to exactly the place we would want it to go.


Hori does have feelings for Miyamura.  We as the reader can tell that without her saying it outright.  Not only does Hori turn Tooru down, but she gets upset with Miyamura for thinking that he and Hori would not work as a couple.

This outburst progresses Hori and Miyamura's tendency to speak honestly with one another.  However, neither uses it as a reason to confesses their feelings to the other.

This was another factor which made me love this story.  Their love confession was not cheapened by being the reaction to a third party, outside, influencer.

So now, we the reader, are left in this anticipatory state, knowing these two like each other, yet have not acted upon it yet.

And it is some sweet, sweet, delayed gratification.


The school day after Tooru is rejected by Hori, Miyamura, being the kind boy that he is, can't leave Tooru alone to his sadness.

This act brings Miyamura into a friend group at school.  The first he has had since middle school.

Friends even visit Miyamura at home when he gets sick.


This manga series was easy for me to pass over for years.  The plot sounds like an unremarkable rehash of any other school life, first love, drama found elsewhere in anime and manga.

However, these two main characters have refreshing personalities.

The way that Miyamura and Hori act around each other, and alone, with regards to their growing feelings leaves the reader in such suspense.

They come right out and say things that sound as good as a confession, but since both are very reserved individuals, they accept each mini confession without jumping forward into a declaration.

Miyamura is a unique choice for romantic interest in a love story.

He has a hilarious character flaw.  He does whatever he likes, and spends so much time alone, that he rarely anticipates the consequences of his actions until they hit.

Like in this scene:



And with that ^ Hori finally learns the answer to why Miyamura wears a winter uniform to school all year round.

You would suspect a guy with as many body modifications as Miyamura has to be going after a certain lifestyle.

Or, you would expect his modifications to be a part of his identity, and for them to have been well thought out and meaningful.

But thats not what he'll tell you if you ask him.

In truth, Miyamura is equal parts fastidious and so, so pure.

While he does not notice much about the world around him, to the point where he can come across as clueless, he does pay a lot of attention to Hori.  Assessing her thoughts and needs.


At the end of volume one they go on a class trip to Kyoto.  Miyamura realizes that using the public bath will be impossible with his tattoos.

Hori offers him to use the shower in her room as private showers were included in the girls rooms.

This act of kindness results in this question from Miyamura:


Annndd.....If you would like to know how Hori chooses to answer that you should read volume one of Horimiya!

Which I totally recommend you do!

https://www.rightstufanime.com/Horimiya-Manga-Volume-1


Thanks for reading!
Amanda

All pictures taken by me
Stickers on images are LINE Camera
Blog header image made on Canva.com