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Review: Yotsubato! – The Manga

8 Sep
(Note: All manga panels must be read from right to left)

Good morn/eve/twilight folks, have you all been well?
Chewed your nails to the quick in anticipation of the lovely tidbits I drop you all?
Well your wait is over! Rejoice! Particularly because I have something utterly delicious for you today.
Ready? Yes/No?
This week I’d like to present my all time favourite manga to all of you: Yotsubato! (referred to as some by 4chan’s mascot, to my extreme horror) is one of those slice-of-life type of manga’s that never fails to cheer you up. Sort of like your Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield, this manga will make you crack up with it’s insane, yet completely normal situations – all the while reminding you in little bits about your own childhood antics.
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The story is centred on Yostuba Koiwai, a five year-old with ever expanding curiosity and the child-like energy to match. Encountering new people and situations in her daily life, Yotsubas unique reactions make this manga one of a kind. Along with her adoptive dad, his friends Jumbo and Yanda and the three girls from the neighbouring house, each of little Yostubas adventures are unique and yet reminiscent of the kind of scrapes only children seem to get themselves into.

In addition to the always amusing yet different encounters with adults and with people closer her own age, Yotsubas reactions to inanimate objects also often yield uncontrollable laughter.
The mangaka unfortunately cannot be sued for blood vessels and stomachs bursting while reading.
What makes the shows context funnier still, is that the adults are no less childish. The relationship between Mr. Koiwai and Yotsuba makes for an excellent Father-daughter relationship, because he encourages her inquisitiveness and often participates in her escapades himself.
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And characters like Jumbo and Yanda remind you that no matter how mature adults seem, they all have a kid inside them, just waiting to get out and stick it’s tongue out at you.
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And the hilarious dialogues seem to add to the simplistic drawing style – for example, when asked where she’s come from, Yotsuba points and says, “from the left!” to the amusement and confusion of her new neighbours. Witty writing that makes one break out into giggles seems to be Kiyohiko Azumas forte. Deliberately incorrect spellings or ideas are portrayed through lines like “Make home at yourself!” – a line used by Yotusba to welcome visitors to the house.
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 I could keep going on about the manga, and drop endless spoilers, but that might ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself. Personally, my favourite chapter happens to be Chapter 9, “Yotsuba and Revenge”, an amusing chapter showcasing the effects of mature content aired on television on children nowadays.
Was I convincing enough? Because I can’t emphasises how much sunshine this manga adds to my day.
It’s like happiness wrapped up in paper.
Give it a shot. This might just be what you were looking for all along.
The Resident Drama Queen
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Mon… Err.. Tuesday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities III

2 Aug
Lets talk about Akira.

It was once upon a time (quite a while ago) when I was going through the inexhaustible information that is the internet, that I came across a particular poster. It was not something out of this world. Looked like a standard Sci-fi poster to me. But something about it caught my eye. Perhaps it was the slick looking bike that instantly attracted my vision, or perhaps it was the mysterious Capsule logo on the back of the protagonists jacket. Or maybe was it the cracked road underneath hinting possibly at an apocalypse.

The iconic poster

Either way I did what any sensible anime fan would do upon encountering such a poster – devote my meager resources to hunting down and watching the movie. Needless to say, my mind was blown.
Akira the movie dealt with such a diverse degree of emotions and actions that I had never seen before in an anime. It was, and probably still is, one of the most complex and issue-laden movies out there. But surprisingly instead of answering all those questions that had popped into my head, the movie had raised a whole bunch of new ones.
How could this be? Was I missing something in the bigger picture? Was there something more? Was there some manner of material available on Akira that I had missed? INCONCEIVABLE!

Oh shi…

Turns out there was a whole library load of stuff on Akira that I had missed! I had missed the manga.

Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterwork was the pièce de résistance to the manga genre. This manga screams “EPIC” from page one and will continue to scream so in your head long after you have put it down. Oh what a manga.
What artwork, to be crafted with such finesse and infinite attention to detail that it brings the bleak world of Akira to life. What writing, to create such a story, truly worthy of remembrance long after all of us are dust.

But beyond the art and the many pitfalls and climaxes that follow a story, beyond the shackles of stereotypes that bind so many mangaka today, beyond even the hero’s journey – Akira is a tale of transcendence. A tale of humanity’s greatest triumph and its greatest tragedy. One that tells us that we have the greatness of God within us, yet none of the divine wisdom necessary to wield such awesome power. And this beautiful tale is told so truthfully and honestly, that the manga itself transcends the boundaries it sets down. This manga inspires hope.

A hope for a brighter future. A hope for wisdom.

Counting all the heroes and villains, there are so many characters in this manga that it is impossible to touch upon them all in this space and do them justice. I will however touch on Kaneda. The heroic leader of “The Capsules”. A streetwise gang of bikers who rampage through the streets of Neo Tokyo trashing anything they choose. Kaneda makes for a very fresh kind of hero – we never see him turn into a typical super-powered manga hero. The tropes are done away with for good. There will be no training montage chapter that will lead to the unlocking of great inner power. No miracle shall occur to rescue him in the face of great adversity. No, Kaneda survives one disaster after another not because he is a super, he survives because that is his way. He is good at it, a survivor born.

And because he has something to do before he kicks it: He bears the demonic Tetsuo a grudge he cannot let go.
A grudge that takes both of them spiraling down an all too familiar path. The cold shrouded path of death. And of death there is no shortage here. But death is not an ending, and there are greater things at stake here than simply dying. There is absolution. There is enlightenment.

But hey, dont you just take my word for it. Akira is a labyrinth of story and art dripping with awesomeness. Explore it on your own time, at your own pace. Find your own favorite characters and villains, find your own nuances. But for the love of all that is holy, read this story of human power and glory at least once…before it is forgotten.

I still dream of that bike.

xxxHolic

26 Jul

xxxHolic: Review by Seema Kakade

There are some Manga that are so popular, that they don’t even need an introduction, let alone a review. Yet, I’ve seen a lot of people shunning away from these amazing pieces of works either due to a misleading title or a shoujo-ish outer appearance. Case in point – xxxHolic.
So for all those who are lingering around this manga without enough confidence to start reading it, I’m here to give you a brief overview of this cult classic.


xxxHolic, also simply known as Holic, is a fantasy, psychological and philosophical story by the famous group of manga artists CLAMP. Since the story happens to be a crossover series of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and Card Captor Sakura, many incidents in the story might throw you off the course, but I assure you, that you can totally understand the story even if you don’t know squat about the aforementioned stories. So, without further ado, let me give you a brief introduction of the story.
Plot – The story opens with a young high school boy, Watanuki Kimihiro, who has supernatural powers to see demons and spirits (no, it’s not the usual cliché story of saving the world; there’s much more to it in this one!) being, as usual, followed, trapped and tormented by a bunch of spirits, while he does everything in is power, which is next to nothing, to get rid of them. While he is busy performing this feat, he ends up landing in front of a strange, old styled building that is squeezed between two modern sky scrapers.
xxxHolic 1 Cover

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While he is contemplating what the building is doing in such a strange place, he is involuntarily dragged inside the building, where he meets a strange woman, who calls herself a fortune teller and the owner of the fortune telling shop, which is what the strange building happens to be. This woman, who introduces herself as Ichihara Yuuko, a wish granter, strikes a deal with Watanuki that she’ll help him get rid of his power for a certain price. Before Watanuki can contemplate what is happening to him, the deal is sealed and as a price, Watanuki becomes Yuuko’s servant.  

xxxHolic
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Story – That’s just the beginning of the story as it takes you into a rollercoaster ride of strange events that slowly change Watanuki’s life as well as his personality, as he begins to understand and discover little truths of his life and finally realize where he really stands.
So what is so philosophical about the story, I hear thee ask? The philosophical part about the story is the fact that you can clearly see Watanuki growing as a person from a nagging and slightly self-centered person to a truly responsible, mature and an understanding individual. Since anything more than this is going to give away a lot of spoilers, let’s just say this series is a feast for those with an appetite for intellectual stories and you would definitely not want to miss it! 


The story manages to remain on track and does a surprisingly good job at blending itself with the story of Tsubasa Chronicle and not to mention, maintain the right timeline without giving away the spoiler for the latter series and what’s more, everything makes sense in the end! Now that’s what I call a planned story! I’d give it for the sheer lack of possibility of being able to predict absolutely anything in the story. Heck, it doesn’t even give you enough time to get over one shock and it drops the next bomb! 
Center Spread – Watanuki spots Yūko for the first time

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The story does go off track now and then, which I feel was necessary to make sure the story isn’t too heavy to digest. It’s like a light breeze that blows in once in a while that pulls you out of all the tension before pushing you into another crazy rollercoaster ride.


The story also gives you little tidbits on the values of life now and then, which is a perfect addition for those who love a bit of intellectual essence in the story, which is why I put this in the philosophical genre.

Characters – Characters are undoubtedly mature and not your usual moe or tsundere characters seen everywhere these days. So, this one’s a safe haven for those who are sick of them – yes that includes me too. So how are the characters so unique? For starters, you have a character like Watanuki who explodes like a fire cracker at every little thing and is yet, extremely understanding and happens to be an excellent listener. He just does not tolerates anything that doesn’t make sense, which is why he explodes!
Watanuki meets Yūko with Maru & Moro 
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And there are characters like Yuuko, who is all-knowing and extremely intellectual, yet, fun loving and bullying Watanuki happens to be her favorite hobby. Apart from these two main characters, there’s Himawari -Watanuki worships the ground she walks on, who is an extremely strong girl with a strong will to continue to keep utmost faith in herself and keep moving forward no matter what life throws in her way. Her outwardly cute personality if effective in hiding the strong person that she is, on the inside, which Watanuki begins to adore even more.

There are loads of other supporting characters like Doumeki , Mokona and Doumeki’s grandfather who continues to support Watanuki from the sidelines and several characters from Tsubasa Chronicle that make occasional appearance in this manga. I’d give it an 7 on 10 for the uniqueness of the characters alone.

Art – Character design, as expected from CLAMP, is unique and exceptional. Well, this might not exactly be a treat for gory lovers, but the delicate and elegant appearances of the characters fits the feel of the story perfectly. It’s also quite evident that the manga artists have adopted a slightly Indian feel to the characters, at least on the covers that just makes it so much more enthralling.


 The overall art has a very enchanting and fantasy feel to it and occasionally, you might come across art work that seems to be inspired by the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e wood prints style of art and a little bit of traditional Japanese and Chinese art style thrown into the mix that mokona, the character designer of CLAMP, churned into the unique art style that you get to savor in the story. Apparently, art was also inspired by Alphonse Mucha, who Mokona is a huge fan of. Apart from that, you can also notice that the art style is very similar to the one that is incorporated in CLAMP’s previous work RG Veda, but this is one unique style that you would fall in love with. Everything from the enchanting smokes that is so ukiyo-e, to the gorgeous detailing of the outfits and the alluring waves in which the hair flows has a way to pull you into the world of ancient Japanese fantasy. 

All-in-all I’d give it 9 on 10 for everything ranging from the originality of the story to the character design and the overall enjoyment factor. I’ll have to take away the one point for the fact that the story kind of drifts away from the main story once in a while, which never made me complain though.

xxxHolic 2: Cover
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Monday Manga Madness: The Bare Neccesities – I

18 Jul

I have been talking about a wide variety of manga in this little writing space. We have ranged from swords to fantasy and onward to more diverse topics. Most of the recommendations have been generic and I am certain an avid manga reader would have managed to recognize more than a title or two. In addition I try and stay away from grading a manga on any scale, for simplicity’s sake. Considering how subjective the very idea of manga and it’s appreciation is, grading stuff would lead me down a sticky slope I am not very keen on sliding. However this one time I will be breaking from convention, no not by grading anything. But instead by recommending manga that should absolutely, most definitely, under no circumstances be missed by any fan of manga anywhere.

And yes, when I say anywhere I mean the realm of the Elder Gods too.

Right, so here it is. This isn’t my list of favorite manga mind you. I’m not sure I like them too much. I prefer my manga more light hearted and funny, and these are pretty serious in both content and delivery. But these manga, have surpassed the norms and cliches that hold down other more commercially viable manga out there. These works have transcended into a realm where they are now truly without exception masterpieces of fiction. Each series presented here is a hallmark blend of brilliant story writing and excellent artwork. They are surreal, and moving to such a degree that I assure you….go through this list of manga and you will not come away unmoved.

Let us begin.


Oh yeah, I went there.
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20th Century Boys:

Man, what more can I say about this manga that has not already been said. A classic of the mystery/sci-fi genre. Naoki Urusawa’s magnum opus will draw you in from page 1, and it will not let you go until the story is done with you. This manga has a force to it, a power, a spell perhaps crafted delicately and elaborately. A spiraling story line hooks you not just once, but many times over. With many of the hooks coming in only later much later into the story line. So much so that you might get jittery by the sheer power of the cliffhangers that dot its storyscape. They are infrequent, they come when you least expect them and almost always they have something to do with that one character in the series upon whom you would pray and wish no harm befall. But there is harm, heaps of harm. And there is much much more.20th century boys, is one of those manga out there that openly defies constraints like genres and stereotypes. Tropes are used and discarded with unbelievable abandon, and nothing in this manga is what you expect. The title itself comes from the classic rock and roll track by T. Rex. The tale begins in distant past, proceeds into dizzying future and an unusual narrative allows for time skips and jumps that reveal the present. Mystery is the name of the game. For indeed the entire story is one big unraveled mystery, as the tale progresses our heroes unravel bits and pieces of the great mystery. However the answers bring with them more questions, hard questions. And not all questions want to be answered. Some are old questions, some are secrets. And secrets always protect themselves.

20th Century Boys
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It is a roller coaster ride across a fantastical Sci Fi background and one of the few manga that should probably me made mandatory reading at such level. Would do wonders to the education system. The writing has a very Stephen King feel to it, an otherworldly feeling of despair and unease will constantly creep into your thoughts as you read on. Which of course allows for great atmosphere for the manga. There are definitely things about this manga I dont like, for instance the pacing of the story over the course of many chapters becomes decidedly Shonen like. The climaxes and constant cliffhangers become almost repetitive. As cardinal a sin as it gets. This reminded me of JJ Abrams and his disaster in Lost, of the promising start and how hey bungled it up simply because they did not know when to stop. But thankfully the series ends before this can become a serious problem. Smart decision that, very smart decision.

A visual treat
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A problem with reviewing of manga series like this one is that I am unsure as to what elements of the story, if any should be revealed. And as such anybody expecting details of story from this review would be disappointed. In fact, this isn’t even a proper review. Consider this a very strongly worded recommendation. Read 20th century Boys, find it right now and read it. Just trust me else this distant disembodied cyberspace entity will haunt your dreams forever. Trust me and find this manga and read it. You will not be disappointed, you might not be elated with what you find… but what I do know for sure. Is that you wont come away from it unchanged.

La Mangafique

13 Jul



Anime: The who, the what, and the where (and other nitty-gritty’s)



It’s out there and it’s coming to get you.
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So, sometime in the past 10 years or so, you must have noticed this craze going about infecting young and old people alike, called “Pokemon”, which seems to consist of absurd fantastic creatures, a parallel reality and the ability to capture said creatures and battle with them. (If you really still don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve been living under a rock). Ever scratched your head and wondered just what it is and why people are crazy about it? Some if not all of those questions, can be answered if you delve into the world of anime.

Out of pets to collect? Start collecting these.
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Anime, is essentially defined as animation created specifically in Japan. Ask a fan and they’ll tell you there is a world of difference between the animation that pours out of Japan and that which is made in the rest of the world. So much so, that anime is now more than just a term to define a certain kind of animation. It is now a phenomemon, a movement, a cross culture ideology that has managed to cut across barriers of race and language to bring together followers from across the world. Cult much? Hell yes.

Though the origins of anime lie buried somewhere in the 1910’s , anime as we see it now didn’t hit the globe till the late 60’s. Osamu Tezuka, popularly known today as “The God of Manga”, adapted western techniques of animation and applied them to his own project, “Astro boy”, which took the world by storm and is still much loved today. Pokemon, Shin Chan, Sailor Moon and Gundam have become some of the biggest symbols of anime culture.

What came first, The transformers or Gundam?
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Anime in itself can be made from scratch or adapted from manga. Most anime is adapted from manga series, allowing a larger audience access to work that may only have been available in Japanese in the manga form. One of the biggest debates among fans of Japanese animation is that of the superiority of one form over the other. Manga fans claim that the anime destroys the authenticity of the storyline to make it more appealing to a mass audience, while anime fans argue that anime is easier to watch for those who don’t have the patience (and of course money!) to acquire and read manga.

Of all the features that draw the line between animation and Japanese animation, distinct characteristics include hair in the most impossible shades, disproportional bodies, eyes that would make your own bulge, out of the world scenario’s and a dollop of fantasy the size of the sun. So, if cute little girls with squeaky voices who save the world isn’t your cup of tea, you can always turn to anime with a slice-of-life scenario, or even some apocalyptic set-up, where contrary to expectations, the world DOES come to an end.

Eyeboggling!
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The image courtesy Akito Maru: http://akitomaru.deviantart.com/art/Anime-and-Manga-Eyestyles-65459083


Does anime have any after effects? Of course it does. In some cases symptoms of excitemet, exhilaration and ultimately addiction may be seen in some of the test subjects exposed to anime. Others may be found instantly allergic and essentially form a part of the anti band wagon. Though admittedly, the former outnumbers the latter by figures you couldn’t calculate if you were anything less than Einstein. Cosplay, figurines, and special edition collector’s items form the main chunk of anime spin off merchandise. Anime conventions worldwide becoming the gathering place for fans who want to invest in the same, alongside showing off one’s cosplaying skills.

So now you know what anime is. Just to summarise, in case it still went over everyone’s head:

  • Pokemon and Shin Chan are anime
  • Power Rangers is not an anime
  • Anything made outside Japan is NOT anime
  • Anime does not always make sense
  • Green/Red/orange/Purple haired people are normal in anime
  • Greeting other people in Japanese is not completely out of the place among anime fans.

And most importantly,

  • The phenomenon is here to stay, so go with the flow, or get swept away!
And in case you were wondering – this is just the beginning of La Mangafique! Pop by every Thursday for your weekly dose of anime news, reviews and madness!


Ja ne!

Calyptra Oujo Sama

Manga Mondays: The Master of all Spirits

6 Jun

This week why not take something from the traditional, Shonen slice of the pie. Nurarihyon No Mago, reads like the typical shonen manga. Initially I almost wrote it off as a cheap knockoff Naruto. But this manga surprises you, if only by the sheer depth of its storyline. This comic draws from a lot of folk sources, Nurarihyon is indeed the Master of all Spirits in Japanese folklore. The popular figure of the demon as a bent misshapen man who has the ability to deceive your senses upon his will is cleverly shown as the protagonist’s aging grandfather.
In fact Nurarihyon is not really the hero of this manga, the hero is the young Master of the Nura Demon Clan, the most powerful Demon clan in all of Japan. And like all good Demons, they too are responsible for most of the mischief associated with spirits of such kind in human circles. However therein lies a twist, somewhere along its conception and evolution the Nura Clan took on a unique take on its position as the heads of Demon Scoiety in Japan. They choose to look upon humans as almost their wards. And sometimes their unlucky tormentees. But all in all, they serve to protect the humans from the darker aspects of the demonic realm.
Young Rikuo who is only a quarter youkai has his hands full at running things for the Nura clan allowing for classic Shonen style character growth. Indeed for shonen fans this is a must read. But something more appealed to me in this manga. Its close following of true Japanese folklore for one, and the mystical storytelling of the author. It just draws you in and before you know it, you are in a fable of old where anything is possible. Elements of horror are present too, and a lot of the character designs might leave you feeling…uneasy.
Rikuo has a traditional entourage of colorful demons who guide/aid him on his many quests. Tales and revelations about his father, former head of the Nura Clan who was assassinated in a manner most foul continue the suspense throughout the story arcs. Hinting at a dark past and conspiracy perhaps within the clan. Enemies of a vaerity are present, from your standard overpowered masters of disaster to subtle snakes who sneak about in the shadows. And some of the villains you might even like. All in all it is quite a complete manga with a well rounded story.
Give it a read for some classic fable atmosphere and shonen pace action.

Delinquint Soul Part 2

24 May

(Continued from part 1)


Beezlebub

Beezlebub is a delinquent manga with a twist. Oga, the brutishly strong student of a high school is one day trapped into making a contract with Beel. Beel being a baby demon, and the son of the King of Demons. Oga now has to look after Beel, and keep him safe until he grows up. At which point he will destroy the world.

Quite the twist isnt it?

However despite the apparently morbid tone of affairs this manga is nothing but a laugh riot. From chapter one it is clear that this is a comedy manga. And boy does it deliver. I found myself giggling nearly constantly as I read through chapter after chapter in my quest to find out for myself, what happened next to Oga on his adventures. The characters are not too deep, but then depth is not something you would want out this manga. They sure as hell are funny, newer stronger challenges are introduced to Oga who grows of course at typical shonen pace. Ranging from tough delinquents who wish to take a swipe at Oga’s growing reputation, to Demons come out from hell wishing to take down the Baby Beel before he can fully mature.

All through Oga protects his ward and finds out that there might be benefits to allying himself with the prince of demons after all. Drawing on Beel’s powers Oga can amplify his strength to even greater levels allowing him to wreak havoc and destruction to any foolish or unfortunate enough to get in his way.

A laugh riot with a magical twist. Delinquents and demons and a baby for good measure. This one is a must grab.

Further reading

Cromartie High School, a manga that essentially is a gag manga on Delinquency. It makes fun of the concept with an intensity that is hard to match. The protagonist an honor student forced to enroll in a high school famous for its delinquents adapts to life around him in a series of hilarious adventures.

Kyou Kara Ore Wa!

The title of the manga translates to “From today on, its my turn”. And that’s exactly what the manga is. Two students moving into a new town and a new school, greatly impressed by manga and stories of Banchos and Delinquents decide to become the greatest delinquents ever in their lives. From today onwards of course. Hoping to get an image that matches their heart’s desires they both head to a barber to get some badass hairstyles. And that is how the saga of Itou and Mitsuhashi of Nan High begins. They meet at the barber shop, then again at school in class. And from there their wild adventures takes them off to dizzying heights. For despite the fact that neither of them knew a thing about being delinquents they were both naturally strong fighters. So when push actually comes to shove, they find out that on teaming up they are nigh unbeatable.

An uneasy friendship develops between the honorable Itou and the devilishly evil Mitsuhashi. And the two of them carve out a reputation for themselves in the entire town. Of course not before they have their fair share of pain, heartbreaks and challenges. When I found Beezlebub I was greatly amused and thought it would be hard for a comedy manga to top this. But Kyou Kara Ore Wa! Is exactly that. A manga so good at its core that it will have you hooked from the first chapter. It is a laughter bonanza. You will be laughing so hard that your stomach will hurt. With Mitsuhashi, the Devil contributing to most of the laughs. The characterization in this manga is surprisingly rich with an elegant balance between the comedy and the drama. Of course at its heart it is a comedy manga and that should not be forgotten. The art might turn off a few people but trust me on this, the art is not this series high point. Its the story and the never-ending laughs. This is a not a manga you ought to miss.

Or Lord Mitsuhashi is gonna get you.

Further reading

Angel Densetsu, the tragic tale of Seichirou Kitano born with the scariest face imaginable but a golden heart. A comedy manga that traces Kitano’s attempts at becoming recognized by his fellow students as an equal and the hilarious ways in which they get freaked out by his every effort to approach them.

So as you can see, there is a lot of manga to be read. A lot of stories to be heard, a lot of art to be seen. So what are you still doing here?

Time’s a wasting.