What I Recently Read — "Mikado Boy" Volume 1 by Riko Miyagi

I’ve decided to start writing reviews of the Japanese language manga I’ve been reading. I used to write synopsis years ago, but I received some complaints because readers could not read the content in English themselves either because the title was not licensed or scanlated. However, now I feel there are a significant number of readers who are learning Japanese or who can read Japanese at some level.  With these reviews I hope give an opinion on manga that are not Crimson Flower projects, and give readers some idea of ease of readability.

Title: Mikado Boy (ミカド・ボーイ) Chapter 1
Mangaka: Riko Miyagi (宮城理子)
Publisher/Magazine: Shueisha / Margaret
ISBN: 978-4088450704
Language: Japanese

Synopsis: Hideto Shibata (Hide), along with his younger sister, lives with his brother and his brother’s wife, and attends an elite military school.  On his way to his first day at school, he rescues a cute girl and receives a kiss as thanks.  Later he discovers that his school handbook is missing! After school, he meets the girl again and she has his handbook! After giving chase, Hide finds himself in a mysterious office being questioned by a weird man and his busty assistant. When the weird questioning is done, Hideto is informed he’s passed the test and is now a “Mikado Boy”!

“Mikado Boys” are basically child spies. In this first volume, after the introduction and Mikado Boy explainer, the story moves onto the first case for our newest child spy.  This first case involves protecting the son of a Lower House Congress Member from being murdered! Within this story, the difference between the haves and have nots is explored, as Hide is teased and then later comes to be respected by Hamada, the boy he’s supposed to protect. We also learn a little about Gin, Hide’s mysterious partner and master of the “Honey Trap”.

This story is set in the 1930’s around the beginning of Japan’s involvement in World War II.

This volume covers chapters 1 – 4.

Artwork — B+: It’s nice, but typical. Nothing particularly stands out about it, and that’s good because it doesn’t overwhelm the story. The characters are all cute, handsome, or gorgeous, except for bad guys who are either faceless or unattractive.  The mangaka does a good job of drawing expressions and distinct faces. The characters also look their age, which is always refreshing! The action is well drawn and easy to follow.

Presentation — B:  The dust cover is gorgeous. I love the simple red background and steam punk atmosphere of Hide’s uniform. There are no color pages, but there are some informative and entertaining extra’s between the chapters.  The main annoyance about the presentation for me is the mangaka’s tiny handwritten chicken scratch. Because the book is so small, I had to pull out a magnifier to read some it. Also, there are some pages that are so cluttered with text, that it becomes overwhelming to look at.

Story — A-: I’m a sucker for anything with spies, so I was very pleased to discover that this is a spy series. The first chapter is a little hard to get through in the expository sections. For some reason the mangaka felt the need to explain the school system from elementary school to university… ugh… And then there are random unnecessarily detailed explanations of characters and their situation. On the flip side, this style of explanation came in handy when the details of the case were explained. The story itself is nothing original, but it is well told.  And because the story behind the first case was made very personal by humanizing Congressman Hamada’s son, the truth of the situation and impact of the case are deeply felt. Actually, I should point out how rather amazingly well the emotional tie and the consequences of  the case were constructed. Yes, we’re happy the truth was exposed, but at the same time the reader feels the conflict that Hide feels about the ultimate outcome of unearthing the truth. Did Hide do the right thing? But more importantly, was there another way? And is there something coming back to bite Hide and Gin as a result? A more shallow approach would have simply declared the day saved and then moved on to the next case.

This first volume has a good mix of action and heart. I like the character building through everyday interactions between Hideto and Hamada, and the juxtaposition of  Hideto’s thoughtfulness and Gin’s seeming recklessness. I’m interested in seeing Hideto’s growth as a character in the next volume, and I want to learn more about Gin.

Readability — Medium-Hard: This is shoujo, so there are furigana to help with the kanji. For me, though, there were a lot of new political and military words to learn. Also, the expository passages contain some gnarly run-on sentences.  I also had to do a little reading up on some of the historical events mentioned in the story to understand the context and setting of the story more. There are a lot of dialog and narration in the series. I’d say it’s denser than most. Overall, I felt that the quality of the story far outweighed the difficulty of reading it. (Most of the difficulty for me was making out and deciphering the mangaka’s teeny-tiny chicken-scratchy handwriting.)

Overall — A-: Despite the minor presentation quibbles, I really enjoyed the first volume.  I loved the action, the political intrigue, and the establishment of boyhood friendships.  I would love to see something like this licensed so more readers can experience the breadth of shoujo content. I greatly look forward to reading the second volume!

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