Wow in the time we were inactive, the blog hits surpassed 100,000 lol. Anyway, as Chromite briefly explained, we’re both busy. That has somewhat settled down for me now though and yes, I have been making progress with Grimm. But even though it’s the same as Okashi na Shima no Peter Pan, the common events aren’t cut out as clearly. So the reviews will take a bit longer to arrange – what does that exactly mean, you’ll see when the posts are done.
In the meantime, let me do another manga review. Santousei no Spica (三等星のスピカ) is Ishino Aya’s first shot at shoujo, published by Kiss+ (Kodansha) in 2012. Only the 1st volume is out now, and the 2nd is expected to be released next year. Tsubaki Biyori (椿びより) and Tsubaki Dayori (椿だより) are my all-time favourite titles by the same mangaka, published by Opera (Akaneshinsha) in 2009/2010 respectively. You may wonder why I don’t label these two connected titles as BL even though Ishino Aya’s BL titles (Kimi ni Shizumu, Yume Mita Shuumatsu) or the well-known Doukyuusei series by Nakamura Asumiko were with the same publisher. That will be explained.
But first let me review the 1st volume of Santousei no Spica. The main characters would probably be Takumi and Tetsurou, both first years, happen to be in the same class and both join the baseball club. They’re also both paired up in the club as one is a catcher and the other a pitcher. (Baseball is one of the sports I hardly follow so bear with me.) Their personalities couldn’t be more different and on the first day of school, the chattier Takumi almost appears like he’s pestering the shorter Tetsurou lol. Besides them, we’re introduced to their childhood friends, classmates, club members, coach and the manager (whom they first mistook as a guy; refer to bottom right photo).
Similar to Tsubaki Biyori/Dayori, the chapters can range from 8 pages to 22 pages. Despite how brief some chapters may seem, as always Ishino Aya does a convincing job of showing the episodic events of their school lives. It doesn’t always focus on Takumi or Tetsurou though, and does shift to the other club members, and even a former student under their baseball coach. One of my favourite moments is when the team lost a competition match and Umeki, the 3rd year vice-captain, goes to secretly cry in the washroom. Takumi comes in to wash hands and a very amusing misunderstanding occurs. Umeki thinks that his junior is laughing at him crying, and then giving him a cloth to wipe his tears. But actually Takumi is pretty thick-headed and was laughing at how he’s so slow – while everyone else has already changed back to their school uniform he hasn’t – and he gave him the towel to wipe his hands. Needless to say, I love Takumi – a slow but kind-hearted, sweets-loving guy.
One may wonder why this is labelled as a shoujo manga aka is there any romance? Where are the female characters? There are, but only subtle hints. For example, Takumi seems to develop a strange and curious interest in the manager. Tetsurou’s childhood friend (female) has a crush on Tetsurou, but it doesn’t come across as obvious at first as the few hints we get are ones like of her focusing her camera on him from a distance. A preview of the next volume seems to suggest more development of the romance, but I would say that this isn’t your typical shoujo manga – not when the lead characters are male. Then others may wonder if there are any BL hints since Ishino Aya originally did BL titles. From this first volume, I would say no, which is good in my books. Personally, I would go read a proper BL title if I want to, so I liked to see the line drawn clearly in that sense.
She keeps what I already like about her works though – telling the story with images. So far I really enjoyed Santousei no Spica and due to the short, episodic chapters, it’s very easy to go back and just read any chapter on their own again. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume!
Tsubaki Biyori and Tsubaki Dayori are related titles, with the latter being the sequel. However you can read them on their own without much problems due to the episodic nature of the chapters – but of course, it is recommended to read them in order. Both follow the story of Tsubaki, Hiraiwa – former classmates – and Fumio, Hiraiwa’s daughter. Tsubaki Dayori takes place when Fumio is an elementary school student. I won’t lie and I will admit that there are small hints of shounen-ai, but they are all light and comes almost in a form of teasing the readers. However, the reason why I do not label this as BL still is ‘cos unlike others where it would focus on Tsubaki and Hiraiwa’s relationship, this focuses on all three characters’ relationships. In other words, Fumio is not tossed outside of the picture. In fact, she is just as important a character and family member. So basically, you can read both titles as simply a sweet family setting, and believe me, it leaves behind a heart-warming and fluffy feeling!
Tsubaki is an adorable, awkward airhead, who adds laughter and colour to Hiraiwa and Fumio’s environment but we are reminded that he was actually a rather lonely man in the beginning. Hence he acts very awkward in their initial meetings and we don’t see him blatantly barging into their residences. He’s also referred to as a “woman” at first: a “prettier” guy is something we are probably used to seeing in such works. Though he does act like a mother figure, especially with his sewing and cooking abilities, I appreciated the moments when Ishino reminds us otherwise, such as when Fumio sees him shaving.
Hiraiwa comes off like a serious, sulky man but we see him in a different light with his daughter, and later with Tsubaki when he warms up to his old classmate. It was especially funny to see him have a childish side when he argues with Tsubaki and Fumio is the one making the two of them make-up. Speaking of Fumio, though she is older in Tsubaki Dayori, it also means she’s more vocal and she did have fall-outs with both her father and Tsubaki at points in time. But it was also especially entertaining to see her take initiative such as making the two adults go to an amusement park on their own ‘cos she can’t but wanted the prize for sitting on all the park rides in one day lol.
There are other side characters, for example their other family members and work life, though somehow of course it all links back to the three main characters. The thing is, Tsubaki + Fumio, Tsubaki + Hiraiwa, Hiraiwa + Fumio, all three relationships get a good amount of focus. In fact, Tsubaki grows closer to Fumio when they first meet, rather than Tsubaki to Hiraiwa. But eventually at the end of Tsubaki Biyori, Hiraiwa remarks in front of his colleague that Tsubaki is like family to them, and invites him to come along for the first day Fumio enters elementary school.
Key word: Family. Though at the end of Tsubaki Biyori, both Tsubaki and Fumio whisper to each other that they like each other and Hiraiwa, the usage seems to imply for how one would like one’s family. One interesting chapter was when Hiraiwa’s subordinate has lunch together with Hiraiwa and has trouble deciding on the menu – he sees another table sharing their food so that they can try more stuff. Of course he can’t suggest that to his superior. Then one day he sees his boss casually sharing food with his daughter and Tsubaki. I found this very clever. At the end of the chapter he tries asking Hiraiwa to share his set menu and receives a flat-out rejection, as expected lol.
Most of the two volumes are light-hearted and the only ‘conflict’ you would see is in Tsubaki Dayori, when other people look at how close they are and find it odd. Tsubaki’s sister finds it very weird and exclaims out as to whether he’s a bride or something while Tsubaki looks oblivious as to what is wrong in the first place lmao. Nice. She tells him in the end to start looking for someone he loves and to settle down etc. On the other hand, Hiraiwa is hounded by his superior to go for a match-making session (which he eventually rejects to go BBQ-ing with Fumio and Tsubaki). But he’s posed with the same statement and he later asks Tsubaki if he has anyone he likes. Once again, Tsubaki is pretty clueless so Hiraiwa dismisses the issue. The thing is, usually in BL manga this would be quite a touchy issue I think? But this trio don’t really bother lol. Basically, they’re as close as a family. In one chapter, it is suggested that Tsubaki bumps into Hiraiwa’s close friend (maybe his ex-wife?) and without him realising who she’s talking about, she remarks that she’s rather envious of their closeness.
As mentioned, besides the above ‘conflicts’ which subtly hint at their not-so-ordinary situation, you only get teasings such as the above photos. In the omake of Tsubaki Biyori, Tsubaki is surprised that he has his own cup at Hiraiwa’s place and when he drops it, Hiraiwa picks it up at a certain level lol. Another example is in Tsubaki Dayori when Hiraiwa reaches for the tissuebox and Tsubaki panics at the closeness, and ends up running off pfft. So while there may be such moments when Tsubaki gets self-conscious, really, don’t expect any further.
At the end of Tsubaki Dayori, Tsubaki reflects on him meeting Hiraiwa and Fumio and the events they have gone through together – and he realises that the answer is simple: it’s just as he whispered to Fumio at the end of Tsubaki Biyori, he likes both her and Hiraiwa. That’s the most ‘concrete ending’ we get and from my point of view, I don’t see any romantic relationship developed between the two men. But that doesn’t take anything away. Reading about daily lives and seeing how Tsubaki realises that he has grown to be inseparable from Hiraiwa and Fumio (and vice versa), hence he wasn’t alone anymore, was good enough for me.
Highly recommended if you’re looking for slice of life, easily likable characters, something to make you feel warm and fuzzy, and unique art. It was a very fresh read, and even though it appears simple, there was attention paid to the little details. Tsubaki Biyori/Dayori is a great example of how Ishino Aya “shows” with pictures rather than “telling” with words. As described in a few examples already, she shows the changes in their relationship in a subtle manner, with hardly any drama to be honest. Each chapter is short, but each volume is stuffed full of chapters (both of the volumes are probably the thickest manga I own). Basically quick, light reads, and I can easily say that their the most read titles in my collection.