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review 2020-02-23 17:32
I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up (manga) by Kodama Naoko, translated by Amber Tamosaitis
I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up - Naoko Kodama

Machi is tired of her parents' constant efforts to match her up with a successful man and half jokingly says she should marry someone they'd hate just to spite them. Her friend Hana surprises her when she suggests that the two of them get married. The news so shocks Machi's parents that they do indeed back off, at least temporarily. The special partnership certificate requires that they both live in Shibuya, so Hana moves in with Machi, which also helps them maintain the marriage charade.

Machi can't help but wonder if Hana is actually serious about all of this, though. Back in high school, Hana confessed her love for her, and Machi turned her down. They've continued to be friends, but what if Hana hopes their fake marriage will become a real one? As Machi starts to ponder her and Hana's relationship, she also takes a long, hard look at her life.

This was okay. I wanted something light and non-explicit, and that's what I got. I kind of wished it had a bit more substance to it, though. Machi seemed to just work, eat, and sleep, which fit her characterization, but I would have thought Hana would have had a more visible social life beyond the one meet-up with her ex.

Hana was the energetic and positive one, while Machi spent a large chunk of the volume looking tired and depressed. I was glad when Machi started evaluating her life and deliberately became a more active participant in it. I cheered her on when she became more assertive at work, and the part where she told her mother off for the first time was great. She was standing up for Hana, yes, but also for herself.

I had some issues with the romance aspect, mostly due to the fact that Hana and Machi's expectations for what their marriage would be like once it went from being fake to real didn't seem to match up (although the special partnership certificate was real, so honestly they were married for real from the start, but whatever). Machi seemed perfectly fine with the way things were - living together, spending time together, making meals for each other, and just generally supporting each other, no sex required. 

There's no problem with that, and I actually would have been on board with it, if it hadn't been so obvious that Hana expected their relationship to eventually include sex. She made it clear that she was willing to wait and take things slow, but it never seemed to enter her mind that it might never happen, or that it might happen but that Machi might not be as into it as she was. There were no moments when Machi realized she found Hana sexually attractive, and all physical affection, except for a few head pats and a hug, were initiated by Hana. But they did eventually kiss and Machi enjoyed it, so maybe I was concerned for no reason.

Overall, this was nice, but it could have used a second volume. Or a full volume devoted to this story and these characters. It's common for one-shots to include one or more additional stories, and this one was no exception. The last quarter or so was devoted to an unrelated short called "Anaerobic Love."

If you were flipping through the volume, you'd likely think it was a flashback to Machi and Hana's high school days, because the character designs are so similar, but the story actually stars Oshimi and Mutsumi. Mutsumi is the school's track star, while Oshimi used to be in track but hurt herself and now dedicates herself to studying. Mutsumi seems cold towards Oshimi, and yet she frequently has Oshimi give her massages after practice. Oshimi, for her part, eventually realizes that her interest in Mutsumi may actually be love.

I liked this story a good deal less than the main one, and the times when Oshimi deliberately hurt Mutsumi while massaging her made me uncomfortable. I'd really have preferred it if this story had been scrapped and the main one fleshed out a bit more.

Extras:

A color illustration, a 2-page author afterword in manga form, and four pages worth of extra scenes relating to the main story.

 

Rating Note:

 

I debated between 3 and 3.5 stars. It wasn't the most memorable thing ever, and I doubt I'll ever want to reread it, but I did really enjoy Machi's personal growth, so I went with 3.5.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2019-07-29 05:30
Secret of the Princess (one-shot manga) by Milk Morinaga, translated by Jennifer McKeon
Secret of the Princess - Milk Morinaga

When she was a child, Miu's mother told her that she needed to be cute all the time, because she could meet her prince at any moment. Now that she's in high school, Miu understands that her mother's attitude is a bit old-fashioned, but that hasn't stopped her from taking her advice to heart. She really wants to meet her prince someday and get married.

However, she's currently attending an all-girls school, so it's unlikely she'll meet her prince anytime in the near future. The person she meets instead: Fujiwara, a popular member of the volleyball club. When Miu witnesses Fujiwara accidentally break the principal's expensive vase, Fujiwara begs her not to tell, saying she'll do anything Miu wants. Miu sees this as an opportunity. She asks Fujiwara to go out with her, explaining that it would be good practice for when she finally meets her prince - she'd already know how to be a great girlfriend. Fujiwara agrees because the activities Miu says they'd be doing - walking home together, eating lunch together, texting each other good night, etc. - sound like exactly the kind of friendship activities she has always felt she's been missing out on, due to the way all the other student put her on a pedestal. But what happens when their fake relationship starts to feel real?

I went into this expecting ridiculous and adorable fluff and was a bit surprised when it got a little heavy at times (content warning:

attempted suicide - a character threatens to jump off the school roof

(spoiler show)

). Considering the premise, I thought some of the implications would be flat-out ignored, but, oddly, Morinaga opted to bring some of it up but just...not fully deal with it all?

I'm torn on this volume. Miu and Fujiwara were cute together, and I loved the way Miu struggled with her gradually shifting perception of her own sexuality after years of her mother's heteronormative pep talks. Her journey from viewing her and Fujiwara's relationship as practice for her eventual "real" relationship with a guy to realizing that she was in love with and attracted to Fujiwara, and that romance between two girls was real and valid too, was nice.

Unfortunately, there were too many details that I didn't think Morinaga properly dealt with. For example, I initially rolled my eyes at the premise, wondering why it didn't occur to Miu that her practice relationship might get her a reputation as a lesbian and hurt her chances at eventually getting a prince. Then there was the possibility of homophobic reactions from others. I figured that Morinaga was just going to ignore those possibilities, and I'd actually have been fine with that. Sometimes it's best if cute, fluffy fiction ignores uglier realities.

Homophobia came up, however, after Miu made her and Fujiwara's relationship public. At first it appeared to just be slight jealousy - Miu's friends viewed Fujiwara as an untouchable idol, and Miu was breaking unspoken rules by actually dating her. Eventually, though, it became clear that jealousy wasn't the only issue. Several of Miu's friends announced that they were no longer going to be Fujiwara's fans because, well, it was a bit weird now that she was publicly a lesbian (those weren't the words they used, but that was the implication - my guess was they were worried they'd be viewed as lesbians too). I'd have expected Miu to be hurt and taken aback, because their rejection of Fujiwara for being a lesbian also indicated, on some level, a rejection of her as well, even though they continued to speak to her and be friends with her. I found it odd that this implication was never addressed or dealt with.

There were a few other little annoying things that weren't really dealt with. For example, one of the maids at Fujiwara's house indicated that she'd been worried when Fujiwara announced that she was bringing a friend home. If the person had been a guy, she wouldn't have allowed him in, but Miu was fine. There was no indication that her view of Miu changed after Fujiwara and Miu went from being in a fake relationship to being in a real one and it made me wonder, a little, if the maid and possibly others were still viewing Miu and Fujiwara's relationship as something less real than a similar relationship between a boy and girl. There was also the implication, in another part of the volume, that romantic relationships didn't really count unless they included physical components, like kissing and sex.

I don't know. It was nice and sweet overall, but there was so much that I felt needed to be properly addressed that wasn't. I wish Morinaga hadn't brought some of that stuff up at all if she wasn't going to do anything with it.

Extras:

"After School Girl," a short manga about an all-girl chemistry club with one particular member who looks a bit like a stereotypical juvenile delinquent and doesn't seem to care about chemistry in the slightest. This isn't explicitly a yuri story, but it could be interpreted as the beginnings of one.

There's also a 2-page author afterword comic that includes a sweet little story from the author's time at an all-girls school.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-11-25 16:47
Taking advantage of seasonal sales
The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution - Yuri Slezkine

Yesterday I took my son to some used bookstores in the area for some Black Friday book shopping. At our first stop I found the book I'm going to give by father-in-law for Jólabókaflóðið (yes, it's happening!) and at our second I picked out four books for myself, two of which were part of my never-ending quest to acquire a pristine set of Robert Caro's LBJ biography.

 

I could have purchased more books, but I didn't. At one point at the book store I even had a stack of five additional books that were not only cheap but were purchasable for an additional 20% off. Yet I ended up putting them back on their respective shelves, for the simple reason that I have no space for them. This is increasingly the primary constraint in my book-buying activities, as my shelves already packed end-to-end with titles. In one respect, I value the limitation, as it highlights that I need to make space by reading more of them. Yet it can be frustrating to see an enticing title that I would like to get, only to realize that the odds of getting to it anytime soon are slim.

 

I mention all of this as context for my upcoming dilemma, which is my local independent bookseller's annual New Year's Day sale. Every year on that day they open their doors at noon and offer buyers 25% everything in their store. As most of my brick-and-mortar discounts are for used bookstores, this is a rare opportunity to buy new, buy cheap, and buy local – the purchasing trifecta when it comes to book buying for me.

 

The only problem is, what to buy?

 

Currently the store has two books on their shelves which look particularly interesting. The first is the second volume of Stephen Kotkin's biography of Joseph Stalin, which I will need to get at some point. The other one (and one I may purchase if someone snatches up the Stalin biography before I do) is Yuri Slezkine's new book about the residents of a government apartment complex in Moscow during the Stalin era, which is getting rave reviews and is appearing on more than a few best-of-the-year lists that are already coming out. The problem is, can I justify owning a book that is less of a necessary purchase and which may sit unread for a few years before being sold? Fortunately I still have a few weeks to work out an answer, but it is something I think about as more of an encapsulation of my book-buying issues than it is something that I won't have to worry about again.

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text 2016-11-26 20:43
Currently hooked on: Yuri on Ice

[Warning, non-book post coming up.]

 

It's all about men's figure skating, and at this point I'm hoping the writer is going for a story in which Yuri not only learns to be confident in himself as a skater, but also finally realizes he's in love with famous figure skater Victor Nikiforov, his current coach. Like, love-love, not just hero worship or professional admiration. Literally all of Yuri's performances so far (7 episodes) have been great big love letters to Victor.

 

I really wish there were a manga version I could binge-read, but alas, this appears to be an original production.

 

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review 2016-08-15 00:00
Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearl
Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearl - Yuri Rasovsky This is ridiculous but so entertaining. A lot of the dialogue is funny. The actually storyline is scary, a barber killing people and a cook selling them in her pies. It’s worth the time.
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