Romance Read: Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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This story, wow, I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns within the first couple chapters. I did NOT at all expect for this story to turn out the way it did. This was intended to be a novel reviee but… I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and haven’t been able to finish/pick up most of the books I’ve set out to read. So have totally been coping out of doing intended book reviews with tons of manga and graphic novels! It still counts right? Yes? Well let’s pretend it does even if it doesn’t! Hahaha! Anywho, as someone who isn’t a big fan of shojo (manga for young/teen girls) in general I never really thought I would not only pick-up the manga Yona of the Dawn, but begin collecting it. Despite my continuing overall apprehension towards most romance this is now one of my very few shojo favorites. 

Synopsis: Yona of the Dawn is a fantasy set in a kingdom called Kohka. The story centers around main character princess Yona as she prepares for her 16th birthday. Yona, the only child of widow King Il, is a pampered young lady, but things quickly change. Very quickly. As most know nothing good happens for royalty on their coming-of-age birthdays. On the night of her birthday Yona ends up witnessing the assaiassassination and usurpation of her father, and with the help of close childhood friend General Son Hak, the two manage to escape Hiryuu Palace with their lives. 

Rating: 8.5/10 Unicorn Horns.

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To be honest, I was considering dropping this after the first couple pages as even though I was enjoying the comedy, the whole love struck pampered princess scene really wasn’t doing anything for me. But then came the plot twist and suddenly I’m 4 volumes deep and searching up the next release date. I honestly loved this story and the unexpected action. The fight scenes were really well done and nothing I’ve ever come across in shojo (the art in general was really good). And the characters! I loved even the antagonist as a character, the character dynamics, and the often hilarious bantering and interactions. So far the major players are complex, and each had a side to him/her that was mysterious and at times unpredictable. For some what most caught my attention was the revelation of past or hidden thoughts/motives, for others it was major character development, and for the main protagonist Yona it was both in leaps and bounds.

As the 1st volume mainly dishes out the events that lead to her transformation so you won’t get to see the real results till the second volume. But I can promise watching this fiery spirited princess transition into a determined warrior with open eyes to the reality of her kingdom is every bit worth it. I can’t get too into it without spoiling something, but I loved the deeper fantasy aspect that arises once the mystery behind Yona’s red hair is revealed, as well as love how this story plays with the idea of right and wrong (Vol. 2-3). Safe to say I’ll be checking out the 24 episode anime adaptation available on both Crunchyroll and Funimation asap.

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As for the romance…well, there are some tantalizing scenes here and there, but overall I’d say this actually doesn’t have a strong enough romantic theme to actually be considered a straight up “Romance Read“. It plays an important role, but Yona’s adventures with new/existing comrades and impending fight to regain all that she’s lost soon take center stage most of the time. Yet…once again- cop out. That’s in later installments, and since I’m technically only reviewing the first volume I’m going to conveniently pretend it still counts! Yay me! 

Shaman King, Vol.1: A Shaman in Tokyo by Hiroyuki Takei

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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After finishing an epic manga reading binge I was in desperate need for another series to read. While I was at the library where I lived I was struggling to find a series where all the volumes were available to be borrowed and that I would not have to put on hold and have to wait to be able to read. The only series that fit the bill, that was NOT shojo, was the Shaman King series which is a shonen series. I had not really heard much about the manga series prior to borrowing it from the library, but I decided to take a leap of faith because why not…some of my greatest finds have been impulse purchases/borrowing. Also, the covers and spines for each volume are incredibly gorgeous and colorful…which doesn’t hurt the selection process lol!

The series is about a young Shaman named Yoh, who in the first volume is starting at a new school in Tokyo. The first volume mainly focuses on Manta, a fellow student at Shinra Private Junior High. While Manta is taking a shortcut through a local cemetery he happens across Yoh who is wearing his trademark headphones and just chilling in the graveyard. Through a series of events which involve ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and encounters with a “thug” named Ryu, Manta and Yoh become friends. In the series there are various types of Shamans, Yoh is one that is able to connect with ghosts and allow them to possess his body so that they can lend him their powers. In this volume we are introduced to Admidamaru, a 600-year-old samurai ghost and to a fellow Shaman named Ren who has a particularly sinister interest in Yoh and Admidamaru.

I have continued on with the series and can say that this volume is quite slow in comparison to the remainder of the series. So, if you ever do pick this series up don’t quit until you’ve read up to volume 3. That will give you a much better feel for the series as a whole. As I previously mentioned the first volume has a heavy focus on the character Manta, this only lasts for this volume. As you get to the conclusion of this volume the focus shifts to Yoh and continues that way for the rest of the series (…well for as far as I have read a.k.a Vol. 9). The story itself serves as a backdrop to the rest of the series and helps to slowly immerse you into the world of the series. You are able to get a pretty good understanding of how Yoh’s abilities work and  how they are able to be beneficial to both him and the ghosts that he encounters. The reader gets an introduction to the different types of “relationships” that can form between ghosts, shamans, and non-shaman humans (that sounds kinda pervy, but I swear it isn’t lol). The illustrations in the series are not the best I have ever seen, but it’s absolutely far from the worst. The art style is somewhat minimalistic yet is still detailed. The styling of the illustrations makes it incredibly easy to decipher what is happening in faster paced segments of the story, namely battle/fight scenes.

As a whole package (story and art) I enjoyed volume 1 of Shaman King. It serves as a good set-up to the series and gives the reader enough detail to not feel left behind and unprepared for the following volumes. Overall the story was not amazingly entertaining, but that did not bother me at all because the story quickly picks up towards the end and you can easily identify the main focus/purpose of this initial volume in the series. I give Shaman King, Vol. 1: A Shaman in Tokyo a rating of 7 out of 10 Unicorn Horns. Happy Reading! 

A Silent Voice By Yoshitoki Oima

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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Bullying, miscommunication, and atonement. This is by far one of my all time favorite manga series: 10/10 Unicorn Horns! I’d been a little hesitant to review this series, but this is such a powerful story. With the movie now out (depending on your region) I decided to finally review the manga that I found so incredibly moving. So in my unashamed attempt to convince you that “you need this series in your life“, here’s a link to the beautiful, short, spoiler free trailer of the movie- I CANNOT WAIT to see- on YouTube, and of my review:

A Silent Voice- Official Trailer

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Synopsis: In the first volume A Silent Voice (a.k.a Koe no Katachi), before jumping ahead 6 years, surrounds young and very adventurous elementary student Shoya. Jumping off bridges, play fighting, getting into trouble, Shoya is a typical crazy daredevil whose friends join him in his everyday “battle against boredom”. While trying to think of the next great adventure they get a new transfer student, a young girl named Shoko Nishimiya. Being new isn’t what catches Shoya’s attention, it’s the way she introduces herself- using a pen and notebook. Nishimiya is hearing impaired. This of course leads to a ton of curiosity from classmates. Unfortunately this lighthearted curiosity quickly begins to take a turn for the worse as misunderstandings build into a frustration that results in deeply scaring both Nishimiya and Shoya.   

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It is narrated from the point of view of Shoya, the one responsible for instigating the bullying and harassment that eventually forced Nishimiya to transfer schools. And that, the POV, is something that I found so incredible about this series. To be completely honest, as someone who has been on the receiving end, I may have never picked this up if I had known it would be from the point of view of the bully, but after some internal struggling I came to really like the 17yr old Shoya in spite of everything. 

This story manages to bring up a ton of important themes, strong emotions, and issues- depression, self-loathing, shame, a bit of social anxiety, etc.- but more than that I think this story is also about unheard voices. The rest of the story really starts when six years after the so very incredibly infuriating events in elementary Shoya, using the same sign language he scorned, reaches out to Nishimiya, making a tentative attempt to apologize for what he did. This leads to an emotional journey that had a real impact on me, where characters struggle to develop the ability to truly listen and to make their voices heard.

Through the diverse group of characters, personality wise, that come to surround Shoya and Nishimiya you get to see a side of each person’s painfully real and unique voice, as well as dive into the issues with human communication/ miscommunication and of bullying- primarily dealing with the aftermath of it. There wasn’t a single character, major and minor alike, that felt out of place or unrealistic in their emotions. I recommend this all-feels-train of a series to just about everyone.

Zeros by Scott Westerfeld

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I can’t say I love all his books, but I will say I am definitely a fan of Scott Westersfeld. So I was genuinely excited about his new series Zeroes…well new at the time seeing as this was published late in 2015. Aside from the author the premise seemed pretty interesting as well so, like with many of his books, I added it to my collection.

Zeroes is YA about a group of diverse teenagers born with special, and somewhat unique/original abilities. The story bounces from each of  six main character’s POVs, but starts off with just two, Ethan and Kelsey. Ethan (code name Scam) has just come from a date and using his unique ability- he thinks of something he wants, walks up to a person, and a foreign voice comes out of his mouth with enough intimate knowledge about the person to charm them into just about anything- tries to get himself a ride home. Unfortunately for him his ability appears to have a somewhat dark side, and ends up getting him into a very complicated situation where he’s forced to call up his old friends (Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, and Bellweather A.K.A Glorious Leader) each with there own special ability. 

Kelsey (A.K.A. Mob), a mysterious girl with the ability to feel the pulse an flow of a crowd and influence it, pulling or pushing them along with her moods, is mainly focused on just enjoying this crowd riding feeling at parties. Though all this fun comes to a screeching halt the night she crosses paths with Ethan and finds her father in deep trouble.

I honestly can’t tell if I really liked this group of characters or not. Watching them as they learning to use and control their abilities was pretty compelling, and I found myself anticipating the moments when they learned new aspects of their gifts, questioned their abilities, and revealed snippets of their childhood struggle with what they were and could do. But other than a few moments here and there, I can’t really say I loved any of them. The flow of the story and the diversity (race, economic background, gender, physical abilities, and overall personality) of the characters kept things interesting enough that even with less liked characters I didn’t feel the usual need to skip right over someones POV. The story line wasn’t action-around-every-corner interesting, but had a really nice flow going for it, balancing action with character insight and development.

Overall this was a good start to an interesting series. 7/10 Unicorn Horns

NEW RELEASE: Anonymous Noise, Vol. 1 by Ryoko Fukuyama

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Two words: The. Cover. Once again in my complete predictability I picked up a book, without even reading the premise, for no other reason than that I liked the cover. In my defense before buying it and taking it home using one of my now many gift cards, I did notice that there was a guitar on the front. I like guitars. See! I call that progress. Ahem, now to talk about this new shojo-shoujo?- (see, even more progress, now I’ve reviewed two of them. Ha!).

Thankfully my not-so-random manga pick worked out, as this story is was better than I expected considering my usual aversion to shojo. I can’t get too into things, but this is primarily about a high school girl named Nino, two male childhood friends named Momo and Yuzu, lost connections, romance, and the music they share. MUSIC THEME!! Happiness all around! After seeing the anime for NANAYour Lie in April and recently starting up Nodame Cantabile I can say I now have a realllyy strong interest in music themed things. The story begins with 5-year-old best friends Nino and Momo singing through the noise of his parents arguing. The manga shows a few humorous scenes of the inseparable pair together when one day, without a word, Momo moves leaving Nino confused and alone with the pain of the sudden separation. It’s this that leads her to meeting another young boy named Yuzu.

The scenes of how they meet as kids deeply ties into their relationship with music, and I was impressed with how Fukuyama conveyed their thoughts and feelings. I have a few early concerns with Nino’s character, but there is something about the way Fukuyama tells this story that has drawn me in. I liked the premise, the characters, and the art- namely the way panels were arranged for some scenes. I can’t say I got to know the main characters too well yet, but will say I genuinely like them so far, especially Yuzu and the humour he shares with Nino. There is quite a lot left unanswered by the end of the volume so I’m looking out for the next release!

Overall 6.5/10 Unicorn horns!

Half Bad by Sally Green

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When I first picked up this book I knew nothing about it, all I cared about was the gorgeous hardcover look. The series was a gift from a friend who also had no idea what this series was about, but knew I’d love it just for it’s look (a blatant case of judging a book by it’s cover but in this case? I care not lol). After admiring it’s beauty on my shelves for almost a year, I finally admitted to myself that the many, many books I’ve collected and not read deserved more than just outward admiration. It was long past time to get to know my books on a more personal level and love them for what’s on the inside as well (yes I’m aware I’m speaking of my books as the living beings they are =p). So Half Bad by Sally Green is one of the many I’ve got lined up on my to-read-this-year list. 

Though I really enjoyed going into this story with absolutely no expectations or having any idea what it was about, for all those who aren’t up for spending time and money on a book they may have no interest in- Half Bad is set in the U.K. and is about a young boy named Nathan. Nathan, our main protagonist, is a witch, more specifically a half White and half Black witch. This very rare fact in the world of unseen magic users is something that brings Nathan a lot of trouble and a lot of pain- “a lot” being an understatement here. The story starts off with Nathan thinking of ways to “survive” the mental and emotional burden of being locked in a cage every night, and his jailer’s physical and psychological abuse. After we’re introduced to Nathan and his current circumstances, the story goes back to his family and how he came to be in a cage in the first place. 

I have to say I love this story. It’s not the best or most original out there, some things could have been done better, and many things were (to be completely honest) very predictable. Even so, I still loved this story. I loved the contrast- more like prejudiced and abusive discrimination- between Black and White witches despite them having very unoriginal powers. Despite some mild annoyances and repetitive behaviours/thoughts, I really liked Nathan. He has his good qualities of course, and I liked the fact that he’s a diverse character (has a learning disability he struggles with throughout the series). He is also angry with the world, distrustful of people, and makes some stupid choices. Even so I really liked him, and would say his anger is more than justified. I also loved or liked most of the other characters who come into play- most of his family, a handful I can’t name, and even his jailer I found myself liking (couldn’t help being interested in her personality). With few exceptions (three to be exact) I found most characters enjoyable.  

I’m on the 3rd book and, even despite my avid hatred of love-triangles and near-enough-to-it-insta-love (not actual inst-love since the romance happened over time, but quick and serious enough to feel a bit off), I still really enjoy this series as a whole. I genuinely liked the whole idea where White (supposedly good) witches and Black (supposedly bad) witches where quickly revealed to have equally good/bad personalities. It’s a pretty good read if you don’t expect an amazing and epic tale. The first book started off amazingly well, but did start to drop off a bit towards the end. If it wasn’t for that I’d rate this book 9/10, but deserves an honest 8/10 Unicorn Horns overall

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

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I Hunt Killers in the first book in the Jasper Dent Trilogy by Barry Lyga. The novel’s main protagonist is Jasper “Jazz” Dent who’s father is a notorious serial killer who is now in Prison. When a serial killer emerges in Lobo’s Nod, where Jazz lives, suspicions rise because “The Impressionist” is fashioning their kills after those that Jazz’s “Dear Old Dad”, Billy Dent, committed in the past. Being raised by a serial killer couldn’t possibly be easy, but it was the norm for Jazz growing up and through Billy he experienced horrors up-close and personal. Although the knowledge that Jazz has about his father’s crimes frightens him and causes him to worry about ending up like his father, Jazz decides to use that information and his experiences to help catch a killer.

I Hunt Killers was the second novel that I had read by Barry Lyga, with Boy Toy having been my first. So, I already knew that I liked Barry Lyga’s writing style and approach to story telling. I had previously experienced that the author could write a novel that makes you think about things that are sometimes viewed as uncomfortable and taboo. As soon as I read the synopsis of the story I had no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy the Jasper Dent series because it would make me feel conflicted and keep me intrigued. This novel did not fall short of my expectations and *surprise* I ended up thoroughly enjoying my reading experience.  

Jasper Dent is a very well thought-out and executed character. He has understandably conflicting and dark thoughts about women and people in general. He is an absolutely tortured and damaged soul. In certain portions of the novel it becomes increasingly difficult not feel empathy towards Jazz and sad for former child-Jazz. The supporting/side characters were a welcomed addition to the story and did not feel unnecessary or arbitrary. The secondary characters added to the overall story, actually benefitted the story and had pivotal moments in some of the novels more memorable plot points.

The storyline is easy to follow, yet complex and keeps the reader engaged throughout the entire novel. There were definitely a few situations that arise that take the reader by surprise. I was able to guess a bit of what was going to happen, in terms of being able to predict the general direction the story was going to go in, but I was never bored or disinterested. The story is suspenseful, mysterious and has components of  a thriller that is for a more mature audience (not in a bad way). Lyga doesn’t underestimate the target age group’s level of comprehension and includes thought processes, flashbacks and circumstances that could have been targeted to an adult reader.

I would recommend this novel to readers that enjoy mystery, thrillers, and crime novels. There is also the less obvious group of readers that I would recommend this series to and that would be fans of dystopian and fantasy novels. I give I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga a rating of 8-out of a possible-10 Unicorn Horns!