Manga Spice Cafe is already the #1 manga subscription box service out there. In fact, it is the only one that caters specifically to manga fans, and it does it in a unique way by offering Asian snacks and drinks alongside the books. In Japan, there are “manga cafes” where one can skim through a large selection of books and discover new manga, plus they can rent a cozy cubicle with a chair or couch to read on. The cafes also supply foods and drinks for customers to enjoy while they’re there. But when you can’t travel to Japan every month (nevermind read Japanese;;), Manga Spice Cafe brings this experience to you!
The company has made a name for itself now as it celebrates its 6th box! This means they are halfway through their first year! And what better way to celebrate than with a Natsu Matsuri (Summer Japanese Festival). As we say good bye to summer, we have one last thing this month to get excited about as we head back to school, the August box! Keep reading to unbox this box with us and get to all the festival goodies.
As we open this box, the first thing we see is the monthly info sheet. But something’s different this time. Instead of the usual maid mascot adorning the cover, as part of this month’s themes of Culture and Tradition, Manga Spice Cafe has decided to feature a piece of art from their in-house artist, AnimeSpice. She has been designing all the original maid characters for the company up to this point and there is a word from her in the info sheet encouraging readers to try enjoying Japanese culture even if they live outside of Japan.
The August info sheet is beautiful! Not to mention the sheet is cram-packed with interesting descriptions of this month’s manga and their artists, summer festival-inspired snacks and drink, and the manga’s anime. Makoto Shinkai and his animated works are featured in the showcase section, plus some news on the differences between the Kuma Miko anime and manga, and on the back is a link to an interview with rakugo-inspired Haruko Kumota as she talks about her work on Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju.
Speaking of which, let’s dive right into her manga’s synopsis:
“A multi-generational human drama set in the world of rakugo, a traditional form of Japanese comedic storytelling, Descending Stories follows an ex-convict whose life is changed by his apprenticeship to a famed storyteller, and Konatsu, who yearns to perform rakugo but cannot because women are not permitted in the craft.”
There’s been some reviews of this manga’s art being too simplistic at times and beautifully moving at others. That may be the case, but it gives a lighthearted feel to the manga that really caters to the idea of rakugo. Rakugo is a traditional Japanese performance put on by one man. He plays the roles of every character by himself, and rakugo can often be humorous. With the sort of serious-looking cover Descending Stories Vol. 1 has, it was a surprise (pleasant I might add) that the manga was quite humorous itself. But it also had dramatic moments and times of calm, that give the story balance and substance. The manga flows well. Every page is entertaining. The characters are strange, and have every potential to be unlikable or annoying and yet they aren’t. They’re interesting in their own complicated and quirky ways. By the end, this manga left us wanting more. Vol. 2 here we come!
We enjoyed this read with a bag of GGE Original Ramen snack (the wheat noodles look like mini dried noodles and tasted a lot like ramen. Could not stop eating them!) and a glass of Shin Chan “namaiki” beer. Namaiki translates to a child who wants to act like an inappropriate adult. Or in other words, a child who wants to swear, smoke, drink beer, the like. (disturbing…) Beer is a regular favorite at summer festivals as the Japanese like to enjoy it with squid on a stick or other festival foods; namaiki beer (soda that imitates beer) is the perfect way to get into the festival spirit without all the alcohol. Just add water!
Kids desiring to be adults is one thing, but what about teens swapping bodies? We take a look at our next manga, inspired by the widely popular Your Name:
“A story of two people determined to hold on to one another.
Mitsuha, a high school girl from a town deep in the mountains, dreams of an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy from Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As the two begin swapping lives, a miraculous story is set in motion.”
This manga is lovely. The design of the characters is very soft and bright, just like in the Your Name (Kimi no na wa) animated feature. As of 2017, the movie is now ranked the highest grossing anime film ever, with over $336 million grossed worldwide. The film itself is beautiful, as are many of Shinkai’s previous works, and Ranmaru Kotone had big shoes to fill with this manga adaptation, but he did it with grace. To a certain extent, the manga is a retelling of the movie, but there are added bits to the story not shown in the anime. This gives the story more depth, especially for Your Name fans who’ve already seen the movie. This book was a nice edition to the cultural theme of this month’s box, since Your Name not only deals with a love story that transcends time and space, but it expresses a need for young Japanese people of today to remember their roots and traditions. Yes, we’ve seen the movie, but the manga is still a must read for its fans!
We devoured these sweet bean-filled fish cakes from Orion. They’re Korean, but Manga Spice Cafe prides itself on supplying a range of Asian snacks (cafes in Japan tend to serve foods that aren’t necessarily native to Japan, so this is fine.) These are the Korean equivalent of taiyaki, or the sweet bean-filled fish cakes you’d find at a summer festival. And we can see why they were called Moist & Chewy, they’re sooo good!
You know what else eats fish? Bears. How about talking bears? Can this unboxing get any weirder. Let’s check out our last manga:
“Machi is 14 years old and has spent her whole life in the Touhoku Mountains as a miko. Raised alongside a talking bear, Natsu, she knows nothing of modern life. But, she’s enthralled with its mysteries and determined to figure them out. Natsu attempts to prepare her for the trials and tribulations she will face entering the fast-paced city in this comical coming of age story of a backwoods girl in Japan.”
Machi is absolutely adorable, and the dialogue between and antics she gets into with her bear friend Natsu are hilarious. This is a sweet slice of life story that has become quite popular in Japan. So much so that it is already an anime. But there has been some unhappiness from fans about the ending of the anime veering from the manga. Even the mangaka, Masume Yoshimoto didn’t seem too pleased with how it went, as he had left the script and direction in (supposedly) good hands with the studio. Manga Spice Cafe mentions on the info sheet that if you enjoyed Kuma Miko, to continue reading and supporting the manga as it is closest to the mangaka’s original work.
After all the manga were read, we got to crafting our mini festival foods with this new edition to the Kracie kit family. Kracie do-it-yourself candy kits are pretty popular in and outside of Japan and you can make tiny candies that look just like authentic Japanese food and more! The Fun Festival kit makes grilled corn, choco bananas, candied apples, and french fries, plus comes with a set to decorate with. We couldn’t wait to start on this, and even though the back was all in Japanese, the info sheet came with links directing you to how-to videos.
This month’s box was a great time! We threw our own little festival with a cold fizzy beer and fun snacks and best of all, we curled up with a great collection of manga, introducing us to rakugo, mikos, and Japanese culture!
If you want to get your own monthly manga cafe in a box, head over to Manga Spice Cafe and subscribe now!