Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

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MANGA REVIEW: My Darling Kitten Hair by Haruko Kumota

MANGA REVIEW: My Darling Kitten Hair by Haruko Kumota

Cover of My Darling Kitten Hair, a 168-page manga by Haruko KumotaTitle: My Darling Kitten Hair
Story and Art: Haruko Kumota
Publisher: JManga
Genre: BL (Boys’ Love A.K.A. yaoi)
Rating: M for Mature
Length: 1 volume (168 pages)

Dear Readers,

I can’t deny it was the title that caught my attention. What on earth does My Darling Kitten Hair mean? I didn’t know when I started reading this comic.

Still don’t after I finished reading it.

Well, I do have my guess as I think I found the answer in a bonus chapter. Regardless, I enjoyed the ride through Haruko Kumota’s good-natured tale of a male couple moving in together and adapting to unexpected revelations about each other. Enough to earn grade B off me, anyroad.

Keichi “Kei” Sawada is utterly thrilled when he finally moves from Otaru, Hokkaido (think Alaska or Greenland), to Tokyo to move in with his boyfriend, Hanabishi “Mii” Misaburo, whom he’s known since they were six years old. They’ve been dating for six years, in spite of Mii moving to Tokyo when they graduated after their high school.  Kei imagines that now he’s arrived, their home would become their cosy love nest.

His dream, however, gets smashed to smithereens when he discovers Mii’s home, Matatabi House, is actually a boarding house where a small bunch of odd people also live. A sexy, fun-loving and busty single mother with an eight-year-old sweet son. A dopey, nerdy and soft-hearted pervert. A tall, cheerful transvestite. A cat named Nana (Seven). And there’s Mii, whom he discovers has been hiding some little truths from him.

(read from right to left <—) 

In spite of his apprehension, Kei settles in quite quickly by finding a job as a salaryman (office employee), learning to take his housemates’ quirks in stride, and getting know to his beloved boyfriend better.

And that’s when they run into a wall. Namely, the physical state of their relationship.

In spite of being together for six years, they haven’t consummated their relationship yet. They have their reasons for not wanting to take their relationship to the next level, no matter how much they want to. On top of that, they’re surprised to discover another depth to their personalities and quirks along the way.

My Darling Kitten Hair is – in form of the main story as eight chapters with two bonus chapters – largely an episodic story that, while charming and funny, doesn’t quite sink its teeth into issues and walls Kei and Mii face. Each wall they encounter, they knock it down with a simple but straightforward talk after fretting for a moment or two. They seem to just glide through their adjustments.

Basically, there isn’t any deep angst. Nor is there a villain, serious dilemma and unknockdownable wall. There are some moments of anxiety, concern, insecurity and jealousy, but nothing deep. At times, it seemed almost like I was watching a Disney film of the 1960s where everyone’s charming, perky and affectionate, even when cranky, sulking or – thanks to secondary character Haruki – devilish.

(read from right to left <—) 

Oh, sure, Kei and Mii have two human walls, in form of Mii’s grandmother and Mii’s cynical colleague, who aren’t that impressed with their relationship, but they don’t make life difficult for them. Well, they do have their own ways of tormenting them, which Kumota’s clearly intended as a comedic effect.

I was surprised the story doesn’t involve boarding house residents that much. Thanks to the first chapter, I was led to believe they would have bigger roles in the story, but they don’t. The main story focuses on Kei and Mii knitting their lives together whilst at the house and outside and when alone or with other people.

All this does make it sound as if My Darling Kitten Hair is shallow and rather forgettable, but no. It’s comic artist Kumota’s art that makes her somewhat mediocre story surprisingly a stand-out.

Basically, there’s so much going on in her art. Face and eye expressions, body language, and sound effects (which are mostly left intact with English translations next to them). She has successfully made each character’s looks unique, which makes it incredibly easy to tell them apart. She’s also successfully made all characters’ personalities shine through. Even Nana the cat.

(read from right to left <—)

The pacing seems pretty spot on. And so is the comic timing. The English translation, as a whole, is pretty good (only one grammatical error, which is seriously a miracle!). It’s managed to make all dialogue seem to flow naturally, which makes the reading a nice breeze.

It’s all those that makes it such a fun and charming read.

The main story somewhat tapered off towards the end, which suggests there would be another volume. My best friend Google tells me my guess is right. Further adventures of Kei and Mii are currently serialised, which could mean the second volume of My Darling Kitten Hair wouldn’t be complied until at least 2013.

If there’s anything I liked about My Darling Kitten Hair, it’s how solid Kei and Mii are with their relationship. Even though one has expressed moments of concern whether his beloved truly loves him. In other words, their relationship is pretty ordinary. And this makes it a rather refreshing change. Especially after I waded through a recent batch of comics that revolved around crazy melodrama, dark angst and wtfery. Nice one, Kumota.

But that title? Doesn’t make sense. Same in Japanese. It may refer to one of Mii’s favourite things about Kei, as mentioned in a bonus chapter, but that’s just a wild guess. Judging by the titles of comic artist Kumota’s other works, quirky titles seem to be one of her trademarks. The English translator could at least modify it as ‘My Darling’s Kitten Hair’ or ‘My Lovely Kitten Hair’ to make sense somehow.

As for the maturity rating, there are partial nudity, mild profanity, some kissing and one sex scene. I would say it’s fine for readers age 16 and over. Or with parental guidance, 14+.

As far as I can see, My Darling Kitten Hair is available only at JManga. I wasn’t exactly over the moon when I learnt all JManga titles can only be read online at the site, but when I explored the basic functions of their comic reader, it isn’t too bad. Especially when I discovered the online reader’s Full Screen mode function. I’ve never liked reading a comic within an online comic reader or a web browser. So it’s great that the Full Screen mode has helped me to forget I was even at the site while reading the comic.

I still can’t work out how JManga’s subscription system operates, though. In fairness to them, I have dyscalculia (like dyslexia, but with number, value, distance and time) so I can’t say whether JManga offers good value for a digital comic like this one.

My Darling Kitten Hair is worth getting if you’re looking to give JManga a trial run. Or for a charming introduction to the BL comic genre.

J Manga

GAME REVIEW: Matches and Matrimony: A Pride and Prejudice Tale

GAME REVIEW: Matches and Matrimony: A Pride and Prejudice Tale

I was pruning my hard drive when I stumbled across a game labelled Matches and Matrimony: A Pride and Prejudice Tale.

I somehow forgot I bought this game last year. Since I was in the mood for a game set in Jane Austen’s fictional universe, I was all for it. Even when I discovered it’s not an adventure game, but a RPG (role-playing game) or strategy game. I hadn’t played this type of game before but hey, it’s Jane Austen. So I was willing to try.

Right off the bat, the game opens with a tutorial to explain that you’re the heroine in the world of Pride and Prejudice – which includes some elements from other two Austen novels: Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility – and your actions will determine your matrimonial path, and blah blah blah. I was impatient enough to leap over the rest of tutorials into the game.

A big mistake.

Because I somehow ended up marrying someone I didn’t expect to marry. To say that my jaw was on the floor would be the understatement of this century. I’d expected to marry Mr. Darcy himself. Oh no, Matches and Matrimony won’t make it that easy for the likes of me. Well chastened, I went back to the game’s tutorials and dutifully read all before trying again.

Matches and Matrimony: A Pride and Prejudice Tale is essentially a dating sim that revolves around your decisions in how you would pick an activity for each day of your five-day week — depending on your path, there are potentially fourteen weeks in total per game — and how some characters who might like you more or less, based on your responses. And this would affect the percentage of your sum and subsequently influence your matrimonial path.

Each activity has points, plus or minus, for each of nine characteristic traits: Willpower, Wit, Talent, Kindness, Propriety, Sensibility and Energy.

If you select ‘Go Visiting’ for one day of your week, it’ll increase Kindness (+6) and Propriety (+4), and decrease Energy (-10). And ‘Read a Book’ for another day, which would increase Wit and Sensibility while decreasing Willpower. ‘Rest’ for one day would mean Energy 40+ alone.

Note: sometimes it’d reverse unexpectedly. When you might expect more points for certain traits, it’d go in the opposite direction and decrease those much-needed points. (I later figured out why that happened, so you’ll probably figure out yourself, too.)

At the first try, I had no strategy – none whatsoever – so I randomly clicked on an activity for each day and hoped for the best. Oh, I did have a bit of a strategy: I’d made sure that I was nice to everyone. Never rude or confrontational. Good manners, always.

And that, readers, is how I ended up with that dreadfully dull cousin, Mr. Collins, as my husband.

Oh, the horror.

So, how you choose activities for your heroine each week does affect your path. Sometimes, crazily so. Likewise with your interactions with various characters throughout the story as their reactions will influence your path, positively or negatively.

To begin with, you get to name the heroine – clearly based on Elizabeth Bennet – however you like. I found this rather disconcerting, to be honest. I mean, ‘Fia Bennet’ doesn’t sound quite right, does it?

I did later have fun by naming my heroine after my baby brother, ‘Alasdair Bennet’, though. Pretty immature, but so fun.

While most characters are from Austen’s fictional universe, the details of some characters are different. Such as Mr. Wickham, from Pride and Prejudice, is renamed as Mr. Wickeby for this game, but everything he says and does in this game resembles those of Mr. Willioughby from Sense and Sensibility. Mr. Bingley’s first name went from Charles to Edward. For a while, I didn’t notice this change until I vaguely remembered that Edward is from Sense and Sensibility and that his surname is Ferrars. It explains why Mr. Bingley seems a combination of Charles Bingley and Edward Ferrars. I don’t think there are any more significant changes. Not as far as I can recall, anyroad.

Well, not all characters from Pride and Prejudice appear in this game. Younger Bennet sisters – Mary and Kitty – don’t show up. So, along with the Bennet parents, it’s just Elizabeth (you), Jane and Lydia (who’s renamed Lydianne for this game).

Did all those changes mess with my head? Yup. I think the game designers did it to make the game unpredictable for various paths to the nine possible endings.

 

In other words, what you know about Austen’s novels may work against you.

My sketchy recollections of the novels had clearly worked against me because I kept marrying the wrong suitors, from Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility) to Captain Wentworth (Persuasion), or ending up alone as “an old maid”. I mean, I was left pretty nonplussed when I somehow managed to marry Mr. Bingley as well. And that cad, Mr. Wickesy (a.k.a. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice and Williboughy from Sense and Sensibility). I also ended up being well liked by the dreadful Bingley sisters and thoroughly disliked by my supposedly best friend, Charlotte.

The competitive cow in me was annoyed enough to replay the game to correct all that as well as to achieve the ultimate goal: marry Mr. Darcy.

Although the game itself was easy to master, finding the Darcy route wasn’t that easy. In fact, it was so challenging that I ended up playing the game repeatedly for a couple of hours, trying every possible route.

If you play this game just right, you’ll be involved with all main key plot points of Pride and Prejudice including the awesome confrontation with a certain snobbish Lady and the famous first proposal scene with Darcy and Elizabeth (you).

I oddly felt thrilled whenever the red line in Darcy’s ‘attachment’ bar increased. He likes me, he likes me! And I let out a little cheer when I finally married him. I admit I did feel a little pathetic afterwards but hey, I nabbed that surprisingly elusive bloke.

 I don’t think I’d have enjoyed replaying the game so much if it wasn’t for the game’s Skip function, though. This function allows you to speed through all dialogues and scenes you’d already seen until a new dialogue line or scene appears.

So you can replay the game until you reach your chosen ending.  I read somewhere online that three endings involve Darcy, but I had managed to reach just six out of the nine endings so there are two more Darcy endings I haven’t tried yet. Gah. At least it shows that this game’s replayability value is pretty high.

The game also has an option to save a spot any time throughout the game, up to 10 slots. And believe me, readers, you will definitely need this option.

Because when you realise you don’t like where your path is heading, you can’t return to change your selection of activities for that week. Once you’ve made your choices, your path is determined. So each time your heroine says “Now is probably the best time to save your game” before you could make your selection of activities, do it! You can save a game over a previous save when you run out of the save slots.

The game’s options page is pretty basic as it has functions for you to control the Music and Sound Volume, ‘After choices’ (stop skipping or keep skipping), Display (full screen or windowed mode), and Text Speed.

Also, bundled with the game are Austen’s full novels: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, that you can read within the game.

And of course, it has information guides (mostly to explain each character trait) and character profiles.

While it’d grown on me during the game, I found the general art rather frustrating. This sort doesn’t usually bother me, but since we  see the background art repeatedly throughout a game? And when we see Darcy’s supposedly magnificent home? It can make one wish the game makers had invested in a better artist.

Some dialogue exchanges – especially the ones involving Mr. Collins - were a tad long-winded. I did wonder if this was intentional, though. Occasionally, some parts felt repetitive but I can’t tell if it was due to my impatience or the pacing of the game itself.

It’s quite a short game, too. Perhaps between twenty to forty minutes per game, I’d say? Well, it depends on each path. The ‘best’ path lasts roughly fifty minutes while each of ‘bad’ paths varies between twenty to thirty minutes. The shortest – and the worst – path is the Mr. Collins route, which typically lasts twenty minutes. Of course, it also depends on your pacing preference. I’m a speedy gamer, so it was a quick play each time. Well, except for that damn Darcy route.

And I really don’t understand why the game creators set Jane Austen’s novels in “Victorian times” (see left for the ‘TALENT’ screenshot). I don’t know much about period costumes, but I’m pretty sure some background characters are wearing 1880s-era clothes and hats, too.

Anyhow, the competitive cow in me quite enjoyed playing the game repeatedly so it deserves a B from me.

Suitable for all ages and ideal for players who are looking for a fun dating sim. Also for those who like simple RPGs with a bit of a challenge. Some parts of the game might have Austen purists twitching, but Matches and Matrimony: A Pride and Prejudice Tale is honestly a gentle fun and sweet-natured game.

Available in Windows and Mac at all major online retail stores including Big Fish Games ($2.99), Amazon US/UK/etc. ($6.99) and iWin ($6.95).