March was my first full month of dayjob. I also took a small break from writing after a major breakthrough in the revision. Unfortunately, that means rewriting the entire thing. In spite of that, I did get a lot of reading done. I even read my first physical copy of the year.
To be fair, I am finding a lot of solace in manga right now, and I can’t quite articulate why. When I figured it out, I will definitely let you know. I have also gotten majorly into buying earrings from indigenous creators. More details about this can be found on my Instagram.
The interview I did this month with C.L. Clark to celebrate their debut, The Unbroken, is one of my favorite interviews yet. I also posted a personal-feeling advice piece on beta reading and giving feedback in general (Writing is Hard Part 8).
Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen Year Release in English: 2018-2019 Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription
Click here to read my review of Volumes 1-3, and click here for my review of Volumes 4-8. Major spoilers for the anime. General spoilers for the manga.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Content warnings: hunting of children, gun violence
My lord, is the Goldy Pond Arc just ramping up the tension. We think we’re getting to the bottom of the mystery of Mr. Minerva and all we get is…a literal golden pond. It’s so disappointing, and opens up so many questions. But the questions don’t come in a way that obfuscates everything that came before. The thread remains and the kids’ search for Mr. Minerva continues.
I do love the relationship between the older kids and Lucas. The dramatic irony of knowing the fate of “the man,” and Lucas thinking he is the sole survivor tugs at the heart strings.
We also find out what’s going on with Norman. The poor boy has landed himself in yet another farm-like facility, this time without any other children around. He’s being prepared for something, and those questions are left up in the air, but it is nice to get confirmation of his fate. Which only makes Emma’s recollections of him hit differently.
It’s tender in a way that draws a straight line to everyone gathering together to finally take down Leuvis and his team of demons. I blitzed through these chapters because the action leaps off the page, and you’re rooting for everyone to survive. Everyone has their own strengths, but together, you’re desperately hoping they’re unstoppable.
Content warnings: Gun violence, body horror, cannibalism (demonic), impaling
The internal screaming and stress continues as Emma faces off one-on-one against Leuvis, counting down the minutes for the other teams to take down the other demons. These fights are tightly-paced and the action leaps off the page. On one hand, you’re cheering the kids on, but on the other hand, you’re a little concerned how proficient they are with firearms. But the demons fall, and hope rings. Until the fight with Leuvis, who is the strongest demon we have seen so far.
What I greatly enjoyed here is how balanced the battles are. The demons aren’t completely overpowered. While the kids have their weapons and their cleverness, there is still a real sense of danger and tensions are through the roof.
So, I read these pages while my boyfriend showers. It took all my energy to not cheer out loud when two familiar faces show up. The gang is kind of back together, but there’s still the problem of seemingly-unstoppable Leuvis to deal with.
Content warnings: Gun violence, gore, blood
The way my eyes watered during this volume sure was something.
The kids defeat Leuvis, and Lucas reunites with the man, named Yugo. The tenderness between them borders on romantic, but it is cathartic given that they haven’t seen each other for thirteen years. The relief across both their faces and the use of flashback throughout this volume as so evocative.
There is much healing and reunion to be had. One arc closes and another begins. A happy found family lives in the bunker, and there is no way this happiness can last. Peter Ratri and his clan show up at the very end and the stress kicks up once again.
Genre: Horror Shonen Year Release in English: 2019, 2021 Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription
Note: Volume 0 came out in 2021, while Volume 1 came out in 2019. I’ll be reviewing them in numerical order.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Content warnings: Body horror, loss of a significant other
I recognize this was published a few years after the first volume, but this is where I started with the story of jujutsu sorcerers and the curses they exorcise.
Keeping true to prequel form, this volume follows the older students when they were first years. A new kid, Yuta Okkotsu, enrolls in the academy with some serious baggage: his girlfriend had been brought back in the form of a powerful Queen of Curses.
The monster fights in this one are fun. The demon designs are inventive, with clearly delineated powers. There’s a sense of horror-type fear, rather than just nerves informed strictly by the world-building.
The characters also leaped off the page. I was particularly endeared to Maki and Yuta, but thoroughly creeped out by Toge. I did enjoy the tenderness that developed between them as Yuta grew to trust his classmates.
The resolution was bittersweet, but it was a great introduction to the tone of the series, and I’m fully onboard with this delightful blend of shonen and horror.
Content warnings: Body horror, consumption of body parts, animal death, gore, death of a relative
Volume 1 kicks off the series with Yuji’s occult club being disbanded, which results in a curse haunting him. Then Yuji’s grandfather dies, leaving him with some inspirational words, leading him to consume a cursed object and become possessed with the King of Curses, Sakuna. We’re introduced to the hierarchy of Jujutsu sorcerers and all their quirks. And the volume ends with Sakuna taking over Yuji’s body.
So much happens, and it’s a fun ride from first chapter to cliffhanger. As with Volume 0, I love the creepy and scary monster designs. Building up the relationship between Yuji and Sakuna also works, in a way that pits them as simultaneously enemies and reluctant allies.
The magic just also speaks to me, and it’s presented in a way that doesn’t require too much exposition. My personal favorite is Megumi’s ability to summon shadow monsters, and oh boy, are they useful in a pinch. Though are mains are not overpowered from the get-go, which I appreciate in terms of tone-setting and pacing. I’m concerned and excited to keep reading.
Content warnings: Heart outside of body, death, body horror
I am completely charmed by this series. In this volume, Yuji has a heart-to-heart with Sakuna that ends with a kind of fae agreement that I’m sure will end great later. Gojo trains him via watching movies to control his emotions. There’s a face off between Gojo and a scrub, and we learn what Gojo’s powers are.
The illustrations are so rad from start to finish. I love how Akutami depicts the cursed techniques without too much explaining or dialogue. Getting to see the actions unfold really tickles my brain. Especially with the domain expansion, for which I’m sure the physics is complete bullshit, but the series is convinced and so am I.
I’m also very much enjoying the dynamics between the students, with my current favorite character being Gojo Satoru (I am weak to white-haired lads). He’s so goofy, but not easy to underestimate. It seems a mistake that the villains are committing to, and I wonder how their plan to “defeat” him will go through.
February is the shortest month and wow did so many things happen. I quit my dayjob because I got an offer for another day job more aligned with where I want to be and the things I want to do. My boyfriend got (and accepted) into a PhD program. I managed to do a lot of manga reading and a fair amount of audiobooks. All in all, it was a fine month.
Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen Year Release in English: 2017-2018 Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription
Click here to read my review of Volumes 1-3. Major spoilers for the anime. General spoilers for the manga.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Content warnings: Child abuse
Correction: this is the chapter that ends with the explosion.
There’s still a bit of a lull as the kids plan their escape. But the mortal chess game they’re playing against Mom tightens its deadline as Norman is the next kid to be sent out for “adoption.”
What I really enjoyed was the way the reveal was handled about the greater structure of the world. Shirai definitely trusts the readers a lot more, much like in the previous volume. It’s also fun as a reader to learn details as the kids discover them.
This volume is an absolute delight. From the pacing to the planning to the world-building.
We finally see the world on the other side of the wall around Grace Field House and, ho boy, is it a forest full of terrors. It’s not just demons, but also man-eating carnivorous plants and a brief glimpse into the hierarchy of the demons.
The art in this volume is just so dynamic. And I really liked how the stakes don’t just end at whether or not they will escape. It’s not even as simple the group of older kids who escaped surviving. At some point, they’ll have to go back for the younger kids, and I’m reading more to see how that unfolds.
I am thoroughly enjoying the demons’ complexity. We have our main villain set, but in this volume, the kids are rescued from a feral demon by two pious demons who reveal that the world was actually split in two. It gives me major Tales Of vibes, which was a treat.
This throws another wrench in the plan to rejoin the human world in a twist that couldn’t wholly be predicted. It does work, and it’s great that Emma proves to use her powers of endearment to learn additional secrets.
The volume ends with them arriving at B06-32 which looks like a temporary reprieve.
Content warnings: Attempted murder, guns, body horror
Of course the kids wouldn’t be alone at B06-32. Why would they be? They’re met with a formidable deuteragonist in the form of Mister. He too has a brand like the kids, and he reveals that Mr. Minerva, a figure who left clues in the kids’ books that led them to the shelter, has not been found.
Ray and Emma elect to go out with the man to find the next destination. The reveals here reminded me of certain moments in Attack on Titan where we get glimpses of the human world outside the context of the farms. Emma and Ray discover a cache of weapons and have to do battle against symbiotic demons. The battle is fierce and the body horror is exquisite.
Content warnings: Hunting children, gore, dismemberment, child death
The next destination, Goldy Pond, is nothing what it seems to be. It’s a secret hunting ground for demons called Poachers, who are not affiliated with the farms.
Emma, of course, true to character, wants to save the other kids trapped there. But the dangers are on a whole other level. The Poachers are on the same level of villainy as Mom, with Emma on her own facing off against this new enemy.
She’s not alone, though. There’s another group of escapees and their adult leader, Lucas, knew the man from the bunker. It’s emotional and gives an uncomfortable cyclical nature of the orphans’ plight, and I fear it’s only going to get worse.
A young man is on his way home when a girl dressed up as a gothic lolita sits in a trash heap and asks him if he would like a little sister. He answers her, and what begins is a nightmare of stalking and supernatural entities. I could not tear myself away from this read, even as shit escalating to the murderous.
What this manga does so well is set up its world rules as soon as we hit the first chapter. There is an urban legend, but otherwise there is no magic in the world. So everyone involved is left to their own devices in terms of dealing with the terrors that unfold.
This one is creepy from start to finish in a way that you hope the protagonist unlocks some kind of key to getting his fake-sister to leave him alone. Until the ghostly lolita tricks his landlady into giving him a copy of the key, and starts terrorizing his younger sister. Their parents aren’t safe either, and though he tries to tell his friends about the lolita, they’re scumbags who can’t see past their own interests.
A fantastic urban legend horror, but keep in mind the trigger warnings before diving in because it is a lot.
Genre: Slice-of-Life Horror Year Release in English: 2021 Source: BOOK☆Walker
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Content warnings: Ghosts, body horror, disturbing imagery
It took so much of my self-control to not immediately inhale this as soon as it hit my phone. Continuing with the excellent ghost designs, this volume introduces new characters and new lore (?), while still keeping up the slice-of-life pacing.
I winced at every new ghost introduced here. They are larger, more intricate, but I really liked how Izumi introduces softer moments where maybe the ghosts aren’t all bad. In fact, helping them find closure Sixth Sense style might be a way for Miko to find peace with her new horrifying ghouls.
One of my favorite archetypes is the character who declares themself to be someone’s apprentice. Here comes Yuria, a fledging medium who wants to know why the old woman closed up her shop and what exactly is up with Miko seeing ghosts beyond ever her comprehension. I can’t wait to see how this relationship evolves, especially since Miko tries to maintain that she cannot see anything going on around her.
Genre: Adult Horror Year Release: 2017 Source: Library Audiobook
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Listened to the audiobook Content warning: Vomiting, menstruation, cervical injury, stalking, gaslighting
A couple finally gets their shit together, buys a house, and move in. But there’s no evidence of the realtor. Their neighbor stalks them and goes missing. There are teeth in the walls. This quick read is creepy, atmospheric, and makes you question reality along with Julie and James.
The simplicity of the prose in this one was what got me. The details and terrors are presented so plainly, there’s no attempt at using metaphor to describe what’s going on, it’s brilliant. The house just has teeth in the walls and secret doors everywhere, it’s not a big deal.
The other edge of the blade that makes this novel work really well is the almost literary presentation of Julie and James’ relationship. He has been keeping a gambling addiction from her. She resorts to the comforts of friends who only have platitudes to offer. When the hauntings move to physical ailments and distortions in reality’s fabric, the house almost becomes a Dorian-Gray-esque reflection of the couple’s inner turmoil.
Getting your life together seems like a terrible idea.
Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen Year Release in English: 2017-2018 Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription
As with most things, this blog is a work in progress. I’ve decided that instead of spamming with multiple blog entries if I read a whole bunch of chapters at once, I’m going to do a compilation post instead. The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Content warnings: Child murder, gaslighting
What an idyllic start to a dark fantasy. Kids with serial numbers on their necks live in harmony at an orphanage with a Mom who takes care of them, a daily test, and entire afternoons spent playing. Things are a little strange, with the gate, the smooth wall, and lack of other humans around, but it’s fine (for now).
When one of them is picked to be adopted, the children are elated. Emma and Norman notice that the child left behind her beloved bunny. They go to the gate. Instead of a loving family, there are demons waiting to eat the child. The kids are not to be adopted at all; they are meant for a feast.
The tone shifts with a snap and instills immediate dread. If things seem too good to be true, they likely are, and this manga so far leans into that energy spectacularly. The kids start planning an escape, but it seems futile. I’m very invested in what tricks and secrets are revealed to get these kids out this nightmare.
Content warnings: Child murder, gaslighting, caricature of a Black person
In Volume 2, the children continue planning their escape. This one was a bit of a struggle for me on a few fronts.
The first being the introduction of Sister Krone. Her design and depiction were certainly a choice, in that she is a Black character with exaggerated features reminiscent of caricatures of African-Americans. It is pretty uncomfortable to look, but in terms of her characterization, it was interesting to see someone who’s also interested in taking down Mom, but not for the benefit of the children. This execution of a third party conflict really works, but it’s really difficult to appreciate it with the depiction on-page.
The second point of struggle is the pacing. This volume gets interpersonal between Ray, Emma, and Norman with some fascinating reveals. I just wished that things moved along a little bit more quickly. It feels at times as if Shirai does not trust readers to keep the facts in their heads.
Content warnings: Child murder, gaslighting, caricature of a Black person, death of a Black character
Finally, there is plot movement as the kids get closer and closer to escape they. But Mom knows all and uses her influence to both literally cut the escape plan at the knees and eliminate Sister Krone. The tension amps up, and I am so relieved that it is less dialogue-heavy. It seems that Shirai is finally trusting the reader more, and I hope that momentum continues
The ending ends on an explosive note, but wow do these kids need to get out as soon as possible, for all our sakes.
Listened to the audiobook Content warning: medical experimentation, vomiting, self-harm
Lena’s grandmother dies and her mother needs medical treatment. She drops out of college to care for her mother, but then a too-good-to-be-true offer comes her way in the form of participating in a research study. It involves being part of some testing at a facility that hides behind a venture called Lakewood Shipping Company. Horrors come to light as they make Lena and the other participants take untested medications.
Disturbing in a way that is all too real, I could not pull myself away from this read.