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! 

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.

How I Got Into Reading Manga and Watching Anime

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Art by: randyadr

For the first time I’ve decided to do a purely anime related post! I’ll still be primarily talking and blogging about books and novels, but I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for some time now. I only recently (as in a few years) got into anime so figured I didn’t know enough to comment on anything.

After reading so many enjoyable and insightful posts from fellow bloggers like Michel@ Raistlin0903Zbourie, Karandi@ 100 Word Anime, Anime_girls_NYC, and in different ways by all my supportive followers, I’ve been motivated enough to finally give it a try. P.S. Any words in blue have links attached.

Now on to the post! I’d like to start with:

What is anime?

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Art by Animalunleashed

I have come across various definitions that get into “anime” needing to fit a certain criteria in order to be “real anime”, but I’m not even going to pretend to understand all that well enough to get into any of it. I’m just going with the most basic definition. Anime, from what I understand, is short for “animation”, but when used in this context it exclusively refers to animated material originating from Japan. 

How/Why Did I Start Anime?

I grew up watching many of the same anime shows as other 90’s kids: Dragon Ball Z , Pokémon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, and Cardcaptor Sakura. But had no idea what anime was. In fact I spent years thinking anime was…it pains me to admit this… “some weird thing to be scoffed at”, and had no interest in.

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I sincerely apologize to all anime lovers/watchers and of course to Anime!

I was thankfully educated by an old friend and closet anime lover, and learned the truth: I had unknowingly been interested in anime all along lol. Now I’ll do something I generally opt to avoid like the plague, I’ll get a little bit personal:

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I’ve always been into reading (like that scene from Matilda I was that kid that would be carting home a wagon full of books from the library). I had some other hobbies/interests, but spent most of my free time between books and binge watching the latest TV show. With the exception of when I went off to school this remained true until around mid-March in 2014.

I won’t get too into it, but unfortunately I got sick. I had a bunch of inexplicable symptoms and did a ton of tests, but for about a year doctors couldn’t figure it out. For one, I had a lot of trouble focusing on anything, and worst of all I couldn’t write or read more than a few sentences without getting really dizzy. If I pushed things (which considering my love of books I did quite a bit of at first lol), I lost the ability to make sense of any of the words, along with getting a horrible migraine. At first doctors thought it was stress, then possibly MS, then about a year later they thought they found a brain aneurysm. Of course saying this was not the best of times for me is an understatement.

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But lucky for me I remembered the old conversation I had with Closet-anime-fan. So I decided, with nothing better to do since I wasn’t actively going to school and could barely handle most tasks, I’d start on some of the most popular anime series; shows I’d caught glimpses of as a kid, but hadn’t gotten the chance to watch them: Naruto, InuYasha, and Bleach, in that order

To be honest it was a bit of a rough start. I couldn’t understand why Naruto was so popular, but desperately needed something to take my mind off of everything (regular TV shows/movies just weren’t doing it anymore) so kept going. An entire 20-something episodes in my eyes were open. Once I finished those three I immediately went on to other top shonen (young male) shows:

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Art byAxelVera96

Needless to say, I was awed. Similar to how I was when I’d come across a mind blowing book series, I found myself wondering, “how did I not know about such amazingness before!? I quickly fell in lust, and moved on to shojo/shoujo (young girl) anime shows:

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Ouran Host Club: art by mixed-blessing; The Wallflower: washue; Fruits Basket: kuro-mai; Skip Beat!: alexielart

I watched a bunch of random shows before getting a bit tired of the young adult atmosphere, and eventually coming across something called seinen and josei (adult male/female) anime shows: 

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Samurai Shamploo: drodilla; Darker Than Black: talesvf; Black Lagoon: Hallucination-Walker; NANA: Alicechan

I was shocked to learn anime had so many different genres/stories, and could be so dark/psychological and thought-provoking. I pretty much became an addict for the first year, haha. 

What is Manga and How/Why Did I Start Reading It?

Manga, again in the most basic terms from my understanding, is basically Japanese comics. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but they differ from North American comics in both how they are published, and in the fact that they are always (with the exception of special editions/pages) published without colour in black and white.

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Of course, it was anime that had gotten me into manga in the first place. It ended up much like when I had started anime and had yet another shameful thought (it seems I’ve had many of these): “I’ll never watch subbed!” Then I ran out of most of the dubbed shows I had a high interest in watching, tentatively switched to subbed, and once again had my eyes opened. For manga, despite my early reservations, I ran out of patience for waiting on so many anime shows that had been dropped to possibly be picked up again by another company. So to start I went on Bookoutlet, found a couple cheap manga and bought them, because of course it never crossed my mind to just go to the library. 

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I wasn’t a big fan of either, namely Your & My Secret, but more importantly not only did the big difference in how to read it go well, but I found I could actually get through it without feeling sick. At this time my mysterious illness had been really improving, but I still couldn’t get through half a book before feeling too sick to continue so I was really hesitate to start. Thankfully my first attempts went well, and I found I could get through a few volumes before I had to call it quits. Soon enough, just like with the anime, I became a manga reading addict for almost a year lol.

I notice I’ve been kinda/pretty vague on details, but will say I eventually I got the good news of the brain aneurysm being a misdiagnosis! Yeah! As things got better I gradually started reading more and more manga at a time. Then slowly and gradually got back into reading regular novels. As you could probably tell from all the novel reviews and posts, I’ve been much better since and will be going back to school later this year or next!

So that is my story on how I started manga/anime, and ultimately how they both helped me deal with all that crazy life stuff. I’ll eventually get around to doing a post on my top favorite anime shows and movies. Thanks for reading! Now on to more anime!

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

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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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!

Midnight Stranger, Vol. 1 by Bohra Naono

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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Midnight Stranger is a Yaoi/BL Manga that follows, Roi and Xiu. Roi is a black goat spirit and is responsible for exorcising foul spirits and healing the sick. At the beginning of the manga, Roi is being attacked by villagers in a town plagued by illness. As the villagers see Roi’s ugly “goat” body they believe that this hideous creature must be the cause of the illnesses and they decide to kill Roi. Xiu saves Roi from the humans and grants him the ability to take human form. The story jumps forward a handful of centuries and the reader sees Roi and Xiu living together after all that time as Roi had decided to serve Xiu when he saved him. Xiu is incredibly apprehensive about humans and slightly despises them, but regardless of Xiu wanting very little to do with them, Roi is unable to deny his duties as a black goat spirit. The story progresses with Roi trying to suppress his romantic feelings for Xiu, going behind Xiu’s back to help humans, and an unlikely friendship. 

This story is totally Roi’s story, although the manga greatly revolves around both Xiu and Roi, Roi is definitely the star of the show. There honestly isn’t anything incredibly amazing or mind-blowing throughout the story that allows this manga to stand out from the rest in this sub-genre. BUT…it did stand out for me personally because 1. It was that first BL that I read with two main characters that were spirits/gods and 2. IT DIDN’T HAVE “RAPE OCCURS, THEN RAPIST CONFESSES FEELINGS TO VICTIM…because supposedly these feelings (of like or love) were there all along, the rapist just didn’t know how to act on said feelings and instead decides to rape….AND THEN VICTIM IS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT BUT AGREES TO RELATIONSHIP, OR AT THE VERY LEAST, CONTINUED COITUS” SYNDROME! On the other hand, if you read this critically, you will notice other instances and scenarios that obviously display abusive behaviors. However, as I’ve said in other Yaoi/BL reviews, BL will ruin your moral compass and as much as it pains me to admit this…most of the abusive behaviors and unhelthy relationship dynamic can be mentally glossed over and kind-of ignored. It’s like once you’ve read so much BL you go into it with very low expectations for consent and/or good examples of relationships and sex. 

Although I have read BL mangas that have an additional or side story besides the title/main story, I wasn’t expecting the “Hollow Romance” chapters to be as long as the were. Both parts of “Hollow Romance” collectively took up almost half of the manga. So just go into reading it knowing that. There is a second volume of Midnight Stranger if you would like to read more about Roi and Xiu. Although this BL is not the most memorable/impactful that I have read there are some really good moments and enough things happening throughout the plot to keep the reader entertained. The story also gains points with me for not succumbing to the SYNDROME mentioned in the above paragraph. Overall, I give Midnight Stranger 7.25 Unicorn Horns out of 10. 

Romance Read: Say I Love You Vol. 1 by Kanae Hazuki

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7/10 Unicorn Horns

Say I Love You by Kanae Hazuki is a fairly popular 17 volume on-going shojo manga series (Yes!! I finally got around to reviewing one! Lol) that surrounds the life of a 16-year-old high school girl named Mei Tachibana. It has gotten a 13 episode anime adaptation by the same name that, so far, follows the manga fairly well, though if memory serves (I recently re-read the first volume, but read the series up to volume 10 or 12 early last year) the anime starts to leave out a fair bit of good information as well as makes changes here and there later on in the series. Even so I’d definitely recommend checking out both (but of course more so the manga, especially since it goes a lot further than the anime did). 

I could say this series is pretty generic in terms of the whole overdone popular boy falls for unpopular girl bit, which isn’t entirely untrue, but I still really enjoyed this series on a whole. This isn’t because the series did so well with developing the main characters relationship, which is actually done quite well, but mainly because of the main character and how she struggles to develop. Mei Tachibana is the typical high school outcast who has no friends and rarely speaks to her fellow classmates, but not for the usual reasons I’ve come across so often. Mei is an outcast primarily by choice. Within the first chapter we find out that due to her negative past experiences she has closed herself off from others and refuses to make any new friends, something she had been adamant about until a rather funny and unexpected encounter with the popular high school playboy Yamato Kurosawa. Of course this encounter leads where you’d expect based on the title and cover page, but what has made this story stand out so much to me is the struggle Mei goes through as Yamato abruptly begins to lead her back into having a social life, and the hard, albeit good, realizations she makes about others and primarily herself along the way. 

As this development doesn’t really start to take off till later volumes I can’t say much about it, only that it was, for me, a real highlight to this series. As for the romance I have to say I really have been enjoying watching the relationship between Yamato and Mei grow. It’s a bit troublesome at some parts in the beginning as Yamato is often pushy at first when it comes to developing their relationship (though never even close to the level of most BL manga lol). Though I wouldn’t call anything he does blatant harassment or abuse, as he backs off the moment Mei becomes upset with his actions (one instance being the exception), and Mei isn’t the type of character that is afraid to tell him to back off, these scenes could be off putting for some. After that their relationship was one of the healthier I’ve come across in books as they slowly learn about each others personalities as well as weaknesses- resulting in some hilarious, emotional, and dramatic moments- and then work together to overcome past and present emotional issues.

One other thing I loved about this book was the author’s note at the end of each volume. This is where the author talks a bit about her own negative experiences with others (primarily bullying) and how that warped her view of the people around her, and her struggles to overcome the trust issues and insecurities that came from those experiences. You can see a lot of the things Hazuki, the author, talks about reflected in the main character Mei, something I believe she has mentioned doing in one of the volumes. That is something that made reading these volumes an even better experience for me, especially with how reluctant I was to pick it up in the first place. Safe to say this was a good start to a very good series. There is a host of other characters Asami, Nakanishi, and a couple others that come in later in the series that all, in one way or another, very relatable in their struggle with various things from crushes, gossip and unrequited love to more serious problems like self-esteem issues and eating disorders. Reading this has actually been pretty enlightening at times and has on numerous occasions hit me on a personal level. So it’s at times offered, indirectly or otherwise, me some pretty great advice through the characters interactions and actions. Though there was a couple other minor things that I did find a bit off putting (for example some of the teasing Mei puts up with in the 1st chapter and the fact no one addressed it), most of it was admittedly realistic in comparison to how high schoolers typically react, and as a whole didn’t take away too much from my enjoyment of this series, especially since these scenes were usually part of building the story. 

Goodnight Punpun, Vol. 1 by Inio Asano

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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10/10 Unicorn Horns. Goodnight Punpun, also known as Oyasami Punpun, is something I’d only gotten interested in because of the hilariously odd sounding title. Within the first few pages I figured I’d drop this very odd and nonsensical series…after one more page. But one more page became one more chapter, and one more chapter eventually become one more volume. Somehow I quickly devoured the first 2-in-1 omnibus volume, and was reaching for the second. I’m not even completely sure what makes me give it such a high rating.

Synopsis: Goodnight Punpun is something that comes off as an odd comedy at first, but eventually snowballs into a rather heavy read despite all the comic relief. It’s 3rd person narration begins with the main character Punpun in middle school. On the surface Punpun seems like a typical, albeit sensitive, kid, but is tying to cope with domestic abuse and all the complicated emotions that go with it. As the story goes on it occasionally branches off into the stories of side characters as they deal with past trauma, financial difficulties, insecurities, life choices, romance and the ups and (primarily) downs of life, but remains focused on Punpun up through high school (this is an on-going series with the 3rd volume ending with Punpun at 18 years old).  

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Goodnight Punpun is really strange. The host of strange things from imaginary figures to wacky facial expression and randomly blurted out comments is at times confusing, especially since I can’t always tell whether I’m meant to take it seriously. Punpun is annoying at times. His dysfunctional family infuriates me. There are triggers pretty much everywhere for readers who have experienced abuse/depression of any kind. Yet, I kept reading. Despite my many criticisms in the beginning, I am amazed with how this story was constructed.

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This was a downright grim and pretty messed up coming of age story, but is also about some of the most negative and conflicting aspects of being human. The emotional, social, and even psychological struggles and questioning these characters experience are things I’d say most people can relate to. It delves into all this on a psychological level expressed not just through the character’s conflicting actions, thoughts, and dialogue, but also through a lot of symbolism, metaphor and imagery. The abundant comedy in this manga- exaggerated drawings, ridiculous situations, nonsensical images and dialogue- contrasts with heavy emotional scenes and the troubling thoughts of the main character.

People are free…That’s why they insist on teaching you cooperation and ethics when you’re young. But the world is set up to force people to fight, cheat and steal as a default. Trying to live with that contradiction is torture…

I’d recommend this to any adult or older teen regardless of genre preferences, but warn off those who would be bothered by sexually explicit content as this story doesn’t shy away from it. This is a complete 13 volume series, but the English publication is currently on-going (the last volume is set to be released September 19th, 2017).