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Manga First Impressions 3: Land of the Blindfolded, I.O.N., Sand Chronicles

Dear Readers,

Two more vol 1′s from Viz. But the first is a Vol 1 from CMX, another publisher who brings quality shoujo to the US.

Land of the Blindfolded by Tsukuba Sakura. CMX. Retail $9.99. Not rated, but I’d say high school and up. 9 volumes (complete in Japan and in the US.)

(I should mention that the main story only takes up about 2/3 of the first book. There are also two unrelated short stories at the end that are rather sweet, both romantic.)

I actually heard of this story back when I first started reading manga and the concept intrigued me. I never knew it was released over here though until recently, and so I bought the first volume. It’s definitely a cut above other shoujo.

The story involves a high school girl named Kanade who can sometimes see the future when people touch her. She thinks of it like living in the land of the blindfolded, only her blindfold sometimes slips. One day she bumps into a young man in the hallway, Arou. He can see the past when he touches someone. He’s a bit bitter about the fact that he can’t change anything, but Kanade can. Kanade thinks she was given her gift to make things better. Arou’s philosophy is that they were given this gift to observe, and he won’t help Kanade.

The book plays with both of these ideas a lot, showing the good and bad of interference and non-interference, and how both Kanade and Arou are torn by what they have and what they can and can’t do with it. It hurts, being able to see what they do when they can’t change things, or when they screw them up worse. This draws them to each other, because no one else understands what they’re going through.

There are a few interesting side characters in this book as well. Kanade’s best friend, who is shallow and self-depreciating in her pursuit of the boy she likes, but completely aware of what she is doing and why. The boy she’s chasing almost qualifies as @sshole of the year, until the author shows that maybe that girl got through to him. And then there’s the new kid at school, another psychic who can see the future, but one who likes to play games with it, a jerk but one there seems to be hope for. All of them are three dimensional, and I look forward to reading more about them.

Most high school romances don’t concern themselves with the ethics of the special gifts the characters have, or about the characters surrounding them. The fact that this one does, and does it well, makes it a special series above and beyond the average shoujo romance. I hope it sustains that. B+.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I.O.N. by Arina Tanemura. Viz. Retail $9.99. Rated: T for Teen. 1 volume, complete.

Ms Tanemura is the mangaka of the very popular Full Moon wo Sagashite and Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, so I was familiar with her work. KKJ doesn’t have much depth and really is rather silly (a magical girl reincarnation of Joan of Arc who fights demon-possessed paintings? Okaaay.), but Full Moon wo Sagashite does have depth and I recommend it, only be prepared to cry. But considering how different those two works are I had no idea what to expect from this single volume story.

ION turns out to be a fairly standard shoujo romance that didn’t do much for me. Like Monkey High the characters are quite young looking, and act it. And while I don’t mind this in a book like oh, Kitchen Princess where the focus isn’t so much romance but following your dream, when the focus is solely on romance older is just better for me.

The book is about a young girl, Ion, who chants her name when she’s in trouble because it makes her feel better, maybe like a mantra or something (funny, when I do that it sounds conceited). But when she comes in contact with an experimental substance made by the psychic research club at school and starts chanting, she’s suddenly telekinetic! This leads to hijinks galore!

Young teens might think this is a cute story. Or they might be bored from comments I’ve seen on message boards. I tended to agree with the message board commenters. Another DNF.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara. Viz. Retail $9.99. T+ for Older Teens. 10 Volumes (complete in Japan, 2 out here)

I instantly fell in love with this series. It’s so good. 26 year old Ann is getting ready to marry and move overseas, and is packing up her things. An old hourglass falls out and makes her remember when she got it 14 years before, the year she met, I think, her husband to be.

It starts when her parents have just divorced and she and her mother have gone to live in the country with her grandmother. She’s such a real 12 year old, emotional, volatile, cynical, vulnerable, trying so hard to act the adult and help her mom make it through tough times yet still child enough to enjoy the world around her. Her own older self comments at one point, “I was still so innocent.”

I think everyone could identify with Ann. Her troubles are shown honestly, from her serious family ones to less serious problems with her period and friends. But the fun times are shown honestly too. Her friends never let her forget to laugh. Sometimes it’s the only thing they can give her. That leads to some incredibly funny moments, as does the mangaka showcasing everyone’s foibles through asides and comments in the background.

Volume one shows Ann gradually making friends, in the real way young people drift toward one another in small communities. Two of her best friends are boys her own age, the athletic Daigo, who she falls for and who likes her, and the upper class Fuji, who falls for her. It’s a love triangle that I have the feeling will last for the next 14 years, and we won’t know the outcome until we see just who she’s going to marry in the future. The whole set up lets me know that these relationships will be treated seriously, and that there will be some hard decisions for all three after they learn to see themselves and each other honestly. This has the makings of a great romance.

If there’s a short-coming, it’s in the second half of the story where for a moment it veers close to shoujo cliché territory when a rival for Daigo appears. But the reason for that section is all in how Fuji and Daigo respond, which seems to foreshadow an awful lot to me.

OK Viz, you sold me. I am a complete and utter fan. I want more of this story NOW. A-.

Sincerely,

ジェーン

(Jān)

These can be purchased or pre-ordered at most bookstores, or they can be found at a discount at one of my favorites places to buy manga here:Land of the Blindfolded, I.O.N., Sand Chronicles

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

13 Comments

  1. Liviania
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 17:12:31

    I usually like Tanemura, but I suppose I’ll avoid ION. Everyone has missteps.

    I’m glad I subscribe to Shojo Beat. Every month I can savor another bit of Sand Chronicles.

    I’ve seen Land of the Blindfolded but knew absolutely nothing about it. I’ll give it a whirl next time I have a couple of hours to spend in Borders.

    ReplyReply

  2. (Jān)
    Apr 14, 2008 @ 19:25:30

    I think ION is one of Tanemura’s earliest works, so it’s understandable that it’s not up to par.

    I’m tempted to buy the Japanese of Sand Chronicles, but I don’t want to spoil it for myself. So if anyone knows how it ends don’t even hint about it here please!!! It’s truly wonderful though, at least so far.

    I like the fact that both the series that I like are 8 and 9 books so I can get them for maybe $60-70 with discounts.

    ReplyReply

  3. Estara
    Apr 15, 2008 @ 06:08:15

    Wohoo, Mekakushi no Kuni and Sunadokei^^. Actually Sunadokei is a big hit in Germany as well, but while I leafed through the first volume it didn’t quite grab me.

    I adore Mekakushi no Kuni, though, and was so happy to get all nine volumes. I believe the story had a good length and dramatic progression and I was very happy with how it ended. Her current release, Penguin Revolution, is not as strong – but you really have to hand it to the mangaka: she CAN draw animals with amazing detail.

    Now go and get High School Debut, too! ;-)

    ReplyReply

  4. Lena
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 20:51:02

    It actually makes me happy to see older adults reading manga, since usually everyone thinks it’s for kids.

    i just wanted to add that i found out that there’s drama version for sand chronicles.

    ReplyReply

  5. (Jān)
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 21:15:12

    Lena, really? Who made it? Is it still running? Is it subtitled? Where can I get it????? *is excited* I just got volume 2 of the series and WOW! It’s just as good as the first.

    Manga is definitely not just for kids. Say what you will about Narutards and yaoi fangirls, I’ve been more moved by some volumes of Naruto and Love Mode than many a novel I’ve read. And there are many manga series out there like that.

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  6. Lena
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 22:51:48

    There are 60 episodes total, 25 min each, and they are already finished broadcasting. Theres also a movie that came out in april 2008. You can find fan subs of the series but i don’t think there are any official translations.

    Also this series reminds me a lot of parfait tic, i hope it doesn’t end up like that one.

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  7. Estara
    Jun 02, 2008 @ 11:31:35

    It looks like Sunadokei only has a few episodes subbed on D-Addicts, but at least they have the drama information: http://wiki.d-addicts.com/Sunadokei

    Although Lena basically already gave you the length ^^.

    Any medium is for adults, you just have to find the gems: US comics have the Finder series by Carla Speed McNeill and Castle Waiting by Linda Medley or even Calvin & Hobbes (in the daily strips category) – and they’re extremely good. It’s just different from what manga offers and that’s fine.

    ReplyReply

  8. Wednesday Late Night Links | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jan 28, 2009 @ 19:53:55

    [...] the titles listed were published in 2007 and 2008. Says Jan of these offerings: “We reviewed Sand Chronicles and REAL was on my top 10 for last year. Uzumaki creeped the heck out of me, and I had a blurb [...]

  9. J Oponce
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 16:15:20

    I’m very critical of the shôjo I read, but Tsukuba Sakura is actually one of my favourite shôjo mangaka (right behind Kyoko Hikawa, Setona Mizushiro and Bisco Hatori). “Land of the blindfolded” is one of the series I can not only stomach, but digest too; I also agree with with Estara about Penguin Revolution: like it, but I’m waiting to see where it’ll end up.

    As for Sand Chronicle it hadn’t come under my radar yet. I usually cringe at the long, drawn-out love triangle but since everyone agree that it’s so good, I’ll try it — and then I’ll come and thank you for a great find! ;-)

    Um, on the yaoi front… (I know, I know, this review is not about yaoi, but I’m one of those crazy fangirl that has to plug it everywhere) can I strongly and very very insistently suggest Wild Adapter and Love Pistols…? Anything done by Kodaka and Nitta has NOTHING on those two series. (As for Yamane, well, it’s only because she created Asami. He rakes in all the chips, all by himself.)

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  10. (Jān)
    Mar 11, 2009 @ 17:04:39

    Yes, I used Jane Austen’s name in katakana. :)

    I picked up the rest of Land of the Blindfolded after I wrote this, and enjoyed it a great deal. Penguin Revolution I’ve still not read.

    I finished reading Sand Chronicles recently and am not sure how I’d rate it now. It turned into something, well, odd. I need to see a translation before I can grade it, because my Japanese is poor at best, but some things don’t appear to have been handled well. :(

    Love Pistols is fun and inventive, but the story is incoherent to me in parts. I still don’t get parts of Volumes 1-2 even though I’ve read it several times (the snake / leopard story wtf?). Wild Adapter, I’m sorry to say that I’m just not a fan of.

    I love Kodaka because of the emotions she evokes. Her characters are human and their love stories touch me more deeply than most BL. She’s so good at giving us romantic moments. Her Kusatta Kyoshi no Hyouteishiki is just a primer on how to do a slow and gentle love story (with a side of manic comedy lol).

    Nitta, well, after last year I have troubles with her art. But she still wrote one of the most heart-wrenching series ever, the When a Man Loves a Man series. It’s a total soap opera but I love the complexity of the characters and their relationships. It’s a great BL work. And Harudaki is just love, especially the whole Winter Cicada arc.

    Asami… yeah. He wins. But Viewfinder as a whole is just a great manga. Yamane’s subtle storytelling methods that show the growth of his character and Fei Long’s from the beginning up until the end of the Naked Truth arc really put her in the ranks of the best BL mangaka. (Takaba grows, but his extroverted character is right out there for everyone to see.) But half the English fandom doesn’t even seem to get what happened in that series, so they don’t realize her accomplishment. There’s so much subtext to that story in the graphics and the way they’re used. It the best BL series I’ve read.

    I wish someone else would license BeBeautiful’s series so we could buy them. Their licenses have to be up any day now.

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  11. J Oponce
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 07:41:25

    Hahaha, sorry, I deleted my katakana comment, so now your answer is left hanging all by itself ;-)

    I enjoy Youka Nitta's book, but they tire me: the “Embracing Love” series is great, but with too much focus on only one pair of characters, and those two always living high moments of emotion. Phew! It is exhausting to get through. I haven't read the latest chapters yet, but it looks like there won't be any end. The lack of closure will leave a bad taste in my mouth I expect.
    (I haven't gone through “When A Man Loves a Man” series yet; I pile the chapters up, until “Irokoi”, then maybe “UV” is done… I hate stopping in the middle of a series and lusting for the rest of it… lusting is great but only when you know more is coming!!)

    I prefer Kazuma Kodaka. Luckily I didn't start with the first volume of “Kizuna” – another doujinshi that got turned into a series – or I might have been turned off for life. I enjoyed KK no H that you cited, but I found it diluted, spread on too long. I much prefer “Ren-ai Houteishiki” (a favourite of mine). Megu's stumbling about in Ren-ai was more real to me than Arisawa's turn about or Shibata's hesitations in KK no H.

    Nothing beats Tarako Kotobuki for me (except maybe Suzuki Tsuta, but that's a whole other discussion). The prelude of “Love Pistol” is bewildering, but the interactions between the characters are so interwoven and they have so many ramifications… it's fascinating. And the way the seme are wrapped about their uke! It tickles my fangirl heart. (…I tried writing And the way the tops are wrapped about their bottom! but jeez, it doesn't sound right… to be a seme encompass so much more than merely topping…) You read vol.2? I don't know if you remember the moment when Yonekuni (the crocodile guy, the one that hates other guys) looks at Shirou and thinks of the hickey; there's this one panel, right after Yonekuni pictured something he didn't like… he's not that expressive but you know he's just been rubbed raw. I get the same thrill every time I read it.

    But yeah, I guess you have to take in the whole Zoomanity thing, and its hierarchy – dear God let’s not foget the hierarchy… only a Japanese could have come up with this. Also, the relationships are discovered rather than developed… But it gives it all a sense of fate and of indestructible bond, which I like. A lot. I don't know if you kept up with the latest chapters available in English, but Makio – who would be evil incarnate if not for her helplessness when facing Karen-chan – made her appearance, and we catch a glimpse of her father, a very interesting character indeed. I only hope Kotobuki-sensei won't have to hurry to wrap-up her series and cut us short like Yuki Shimizu did in “Love Mode” (another whole other discussion!!)

    As for “Wild Adapter”… I regretted mentioning it actually. It's not something I should still blithely recommend. It's very dark, and if you're a BL fan, you have to get through vol.1, then get over the Huh? factor when vol.2 starts and it’s one year later. Once you’re over that though the story builds and builds and then you get to volume 6 which is… well, you have to let it settle after reading.

    Wow, such a long post, I'm so sorry… ^^; Oh no! I forgot about Viewfinder!!

    Okay, in short, Fei Long didn't do it for me as a character. I found him something of a pest actually. He became a big bad boss, but I can't shake the image of the whiny uke/bottom that stormed off after assuming the worst about Asami and I see all his interventions as one long temper tantrum. (Admittedly, I read through the Hong-Kong arc twice, but in a disjointed way at that. I haven't absorbed all the details yet… I’ll try focusing more on Fei-Long next time, as sure as rain come he’ll get the spotlight one day –> that’s a hunch, not a confirmed fact.)

    Okay I’m done!! Sorry for the avalanche… to think I cut myself short! lol

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  12. (Jān)
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 08:12:35

    Well, it’s hard to say what will happen with Nitta’s stories, but one thing I know is that Libre won’t easily give up a money maker like that. Personally, I like the emotional highs and lows of Embracing Love. To me that’s what romance is all about. When I read romance novels I look for the same thing. It’s why Love Mode is one of my very favorite manga series (I didn’t feel the ending was rushed at all), because she hits those emotional highs better than anyone I’ve read in BL. She brings me to tears throughout the story, even after reading it a dozen times.

    I found Arisawa convincing in KKH because I never saw it as a turn. He was always that way to me but I thought she’d take the conventional way out and turn him LOL. I was glad she didn’t. You think Shibata’s hesitating was unreal? He was Arisawa’s teacher! I thought it one of the most real parts of the story. The pacing of KKH was lifelike, something there’s rarely time for in BL because they feel the need to jam a story into little space. I stopped reading the sequel so I don’t know much about it. I was uncomfortable about the ages portrayed in it.

    I’ve read all of Love Pistols. I only kept up with it at first because I love SF and thought the universe she created was interesting. But I enjoyed the later stories. You may have put your finger on one reason it doesn’t have that great an impact on me. I used to enjoy stories with lifemates and predestined partners in romance so I understand the attraction, but now I dislike them. It removes the need for internal change and character development, and makes submission to fate the only thing necessary for the relationship to succeed, though sometimes to external factors try to get in the way. I like to watch characters grow into romance. It’s probably also why I love Viewfinder so much.

    Fei Long is a character driven by emotion, so he annoys a lot of people. He’s probably the most complex character in the series though, since he’s on so many cusps. Unlike many BL characters, he’s neither seme nor uke, male nor female (in his behavior patterns), boy nor man. He’s a mix of all of these and has yet to find himself. Takaba began to give him some direction. If Yamane ever devotes the time to him, and I hope she does despite all the annoying Fei Long fans out there, she could write volumes about what happens to him. She has said she’ll be writing more about him on her BBS btw, though she implied it would be shorter things.

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