How did Seven Seas begin the year? With fresh releases, fresh series, and lots of cute to go around! In this go around, we have middle school crushes cute, chibi art style cute, 4koma comedy cute, cross-species kid friendships cute, prettyboys’ backstory angst cute… What do you mean, that last one’s not cute? It totally is.
Nameless Asterism Vol. 1
By Kina Kobayashi
Asterism: a small grouping of stars, smaller than a constellation, but connected. This grouping of stars, set across the backdrop of an idyllic middle school, focuses on Tsukasa Shiratori, a girl harboring a crush on one of her best friends, Nadeshiko Washio. Shortly after admitting her feelings to herself, she finds out said best friend has a crush… on their other best friend, Mikage Kotooka. (And you’ll never guess who she has a crush on….) Shiratori, as well as her friends, try to process and navigate their romantic feelings while not disrupting their friendship, further complicated by input from the outside world: boyfriends, Valentine chocolates, and Shiratori’s cross-dressing twin brother Subaru.
Yuri and shoujo ai manga, especially translated into English, is still pretty rare, so it’s not hard to feel like a breath of fresh air. That said, Nameless Asterism is neither the “women blurring gender lines” of Utena and Rose of Versailles, nor is it the schoolgirl “lesbians” of Maria Holic and its ilk. Nameless Asterism is unapologetically queer, with the girls’ romantic feelings often contrasted against heterosexual relationships.
And having a queer story that’s about normal high schoolers and not Rose Brides or Sailor Senshi is both refreshing and necessary, reminding me of stories like Kare Kano or Peach Girl, if they’d been written for sapphic girls instead of straight ones. I also really enjoyed how it played with some of the tropes you often see in queer and gender-nonconforming works: while Shiratori is the tomboy, it’s her crush Washio that looks the best in a Takarazuka-esque male uniform. And Subaru’s withdrawn pause before answering that yes, he only crossdresses for the cute clothes says so much with so little. If I had a nitpick, I do wish that Washio and Kotooka didn’t both have short, light-colored hair, as it makes them hard to distinguish from each other at first glance. I would recommend this without reservation to any of my queer girl friends!
Spirit Circle Vol. 2
By Satoshi Mizukami
Fuuta Okeya can see spirits. Not a big deal, right? One of those spirits is attached to the new transfer student, who says he murdered her in a past life. Slightly bigger deal. In volume one, the connection between Fuuta and the girl Kouko Ishigami is established, delving into the stories of two of their tragic past lives against each other. The second volume continues with a third life, but also focuses more on how their pasts are affecting their presents, as Fuuta’s former friends and family are present in modern-day Japan as well. Those connections come with a price, though, as Fuuta begins to lose his grip on his sense of self.
If you’re thinking the art style looked familiar, Satoshi Mizukami is also the author of Sengoku Youko (as well as the Seven Seas-released Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer.) Spirit Circle retains much of the same art style; I particularly love the scruffiness and weathering he puts into his older characters. Fuuta also feels like an echo of Sengoku Youko’s Shinsuke, a person who is nothing spectacular and is just trying to go forward in a positive way, even if that way resembles a metaphorical stumbling more than walking. The mixing of past-life backstories with the slow drip of the real mystery behind the chain of reincarnation makes the pacing neither rushed nor dragging, but enjoyable. Hilariously, Fuuta, who knows nothing of story pacing, attempts to resolve everything in the second volume and skip straight to the original past life that seems to be causing the root of the issue. (He’s basically told “you can’t handle the truth” and lolno’d off into a different past life.)
Yokai Rental Shop Vol. 2
By Shin Mashiba
Yokai Rental Shop was initially described to me as being in the vein of Pet Shop of Horrors or xxxHolic, which is pretty accurate. Civil servant Hiiragi, looking for the half-brother he didn’t know he had, finds him in Karasu, the owner of a pet shop who rents out yokai to those who are desperate enough to pay. Much to Hiiragi’s horror, those stories usually end tragically, due to the customers’ hubris or a lack of understanding of the rules of their yokai. Volume two, however, decides it’s had enough of this episodic tomfoolery, and jumps straight into the main plot: the emerging conflict between the two brothers and their presumed-dead father. There’s only one of the yokai-seeking customers, who ends up being the first clue Karasu gets as to the location of his father.
I enjoy a good karmic, episodic series, so to have this one jump to what feels like a late-game development is a bit of a headspin. Not all the secrets are spilled yet: while we get a good introduction to Hiiragi’s father and some on Karasu’s backstory, how Hiiragi himself fits into his father’s schemes is still a blank spot. We also get some information on Kawado, Karasu’s part-time employee, who (of course) is also entangled in the supernatural world, but his relationship with Karasu has also been left to another volume. So if you were wanting some juicy karmic goodness, you’ll probably be left wanting, but if you wanted some prettyboy family drama to chew on, this volume is going to be more your speed.
Juana and the Dragonewts’ Seven Kingdoms Vol. 1
By Kiyohisa Tanaka
Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth… (checks notes) Wait, no, this is the distant future, and technically, they’re dragonewts. Humanity has died out and is considered nothing more than a myth. But that’s never the way those setups really work, as one young dragonewt, Nid, discovers as he finds an egg with a human girl named Juana inside. The pair set off on a journey to find out more about who and what Juana is… and of course, run into trouble almost immediately.
The art for this work is really something, with muted watercolor-esque backdrops contrasted against the childlike, cartoony style of the main characters. One wouldn’t expect the ruins of human civilization, filled with dragonewts that have had their own share of societal problems, to look so pretty. And the big eyes and clean details of the main characters Nid and Juana complement their status as innocent, optimistic children in a world that is often heavy and unforgiving. Setup-wise, this series feels like it would appeal to fans of Animal Land, with its no humans (exceptions noted) and herbivore/carnivore tensions, though it remains to be seen if the cozy tone of Juana and the Dragonewts’ Seven Kingdoms will turn to the sharp conflicts present in Animal Land. Because this series does feel cozy, with plenty of cute or heartwarming moments between its leads, reminding me a bit of Seven Seas’ The Ancient Magus Bride in its cute, low-tension moments between characters.
One of my favorite little details was the use of Spanish for Juana’s language, giving a bit of obscurity to what Juana’s saying (to your average monolingual English reader) while giving the option to translate if desired.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Kanna’s Daily Life Vol. 1
By coolkyousinnjya (Author) & Mitsuhiro Kimura (artist)
A spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Kanna’s Daily Life is pretty self-explanatory, focusing on the secondary character, the dragon Kanna, and her interactions with humans in her home and elementary school. Most of these relationships revolve around Saikawa, her arrogant classmate who is brought to her knees by her crush on Kanna. Kanna’s Daily Life is presented as a 4koma series, with each page containing four panels or so, each with its own separate gag. As such, there isn’t an ongoing plot, but rather a bunch of short episodic takes.
While the first volume does give you the basics on who is who and what is what, this is a spinoff, so those who haven’t read the original aren’t going to pick up on some of the existing relationships and characterizations that some of the background characters have. While the art is by a different artist than the main series, both are done in a comedy-chibi-cute style that makes it pretty consistent with each other. Being a 4koma series, of course it’s comedic, but it also has its “awww” moments. While it does center around two female/female relationships (Kobayashi and Tohru, and Kanna and Saikawa), it doesn’t feel as blatantly queer as it is just girls that have really touch-based relationships or master/servant ones. (Of course, they are dragons, so maybe human romance is beyond them.)
Made in Abyss Vol. 1
By Akihito Tukushi
Adventurers of the world, or perhaps those that have played too many mystery dungeon RPGs! The Abyss and its unknown monsters and treasures calls to you! Adventure! Danger! Fame! Romance! Okay, our main protagonist is twelve, so maybe not that last one. Riko, an adorable orphan with glasses, aspires to be a world-famous explorer like her mother was. Her first (okay, technically her fourth) big discovery: a boy with extendable arms who appears to be a robot. Riko and her friends smuggle their new robot friend, Reg, into the orphanage where they train to be Abyss explorers, in the hopes of gradually learning more about him. “Gradually”, however, goes right out the window as Riko discovers her mother might be alive, at the very bottom of the Abyss, and she may have a clue as to Reg’s origins as well.
Someone at the Seven Seas office must’ve broken the cute button from slamming it so much, because just look at this series. Everything is done with this scratchy pencil-sketch style which captures the sense of wonder and fantasy the Abyss is supposed to evoke. And that “aww” factor helps lessen the darker elements of the story, such as the fact that descending too deep into the Abyss (a “curse” similar to the real-world decompression sickness suffered by divers) means you can never come back. Riko, the main protagonist, is the epitome of an adventurer character: fearless, singleminded, optimistic, and often doing very reckless things, much to the exasperation the other orphans, and Reg, who makes a good foil. The pacing on this volume feels a bit strange, though: from the setup, I was expecting more of a gradual exploring of the Abyss coupled with training, getting stronger, developing new skills, and maybe a timeskip or two. Given that the end of the volume sets off with Riko and Reg deciding to one-shot the entire thing, the initial part of the story feels too long, spending time on developing characters at the orphanage we’re not going to see again. I’m interested to see if volume two is committed to the one-and-done approach.
While trying to fix their broken cute button in time for other releases this year (why yes, there is more cute on the horizon), Seven Seas also released the following:
- Alice & Zoroku Vol. 3 By Tetsuya Imai: Just your typical heartwarming story of the orphan girl with supernatural powers that escapes from a research facility, and the old man who adopts her.
- A Certain Scientific Accelerator Vol. 7 By Kazuma Kamachi: A spinoff of A Certain Magical Index, a superhero-ish story that features magic and science coexisting (and occasionally clashing). The spinoff focuses on Accelerator, a guy who can deflect literally anything, who (imho) is way more interesting a protagonist than the main character of A Certain Magical Index.
- Golden Time Vol. 9 By Yuyuko Takemiya (Author) & Umechazuke (Artist): The final volume of a series about a college student who lost his memories in an accident just prior to orientation, and the new and old friends he makes along the way.
- Hatsune Miku Presents: Hachune Miku’s Everyday Vocaloid Paradise Vol. 2 By Ontama: A spinoff 4koma (not unlike Kanna’s Daily Life) focusing on Miku Hatsune of Vocaloid fame.
- Hour of the Zombie Vol. 6 By Tsukasa Saimura: If you thought your high school had drama, think again. This one suffers from students turning into zombies and eating each other… until they’re not. Temporary zombie-ism is going to make it even harder for Akira to date his childhood crush….
- The High School Life of a Fudanshi Vol. 3 By Michinoku Atami: The story of Ryo, a straight(?) guy who loves yaoi, and his experiences with fandom.
- Masamune-kun’s Revenge Vol. 7 By Takeoka Hazuki (Author) & Tiv (Artist): Ugly duckling Masamune turns into a star student, popular and successful enough to woo his childhood bully (and then break her heart). Of course, that’s not going to go exactly to plan….
- My Monster Secret Vol. 9 By Eiji Masuda: Kuromine Asahi can’t keep a secret even if you gave him a safe to lock it in. So how does he keep being the one to find out which ones of his classmates are actually supernatural monsters and aliens?
- Non Non Biyori Vol. 9 By Atto: Girls and their ordinary school life in a very small, rural Japanese town. Azumanga Daioh for the countryside?
- Nurse Hitomi’s Monster Infirmary Vol. 7 By Shake-O: The cyclops nurse of a monster school and all the students who bring her their supernatural problems. Reminds me a bit of Franken Fran in that madcap monster school life feel.
- Plum Crazy! Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat Vol. 4 By Hoshino Natsumi: Did we get the cute button fixed? A tale of an older cat and the new troublemaking kitten. Similar to Chi’s Sweet Home but with some really nice art.
And with Ghost Ship:
- To Love Ru Vol. 3-4 By Saki Hasemi: Continuing alien harem antics for Rito. In this volume, the obligatory trip to the beach, because who wants to miss lots of lovely ladies in bikinis?
That’s all for now! We have more cute, more magic, and more girls lurking on the horizon, so keep your eyes open!