Though prevalent in Japan, manga magazines have never really taken off in the U.S. Outside of weekly Shonen Jump updates, there aren’t a whole lot of places here to find manga serialized on a chapter-by-chapter basis. This relative lack is part of why Juné Manga’s new publication, e-Choco, is so exciting. Add in the fact that it’s specifically a boys’ love magazine and there’s no other series like it in America. With all that said, though the series’ debut volume made a good first impression, the second installment was just so-so. The third issue is out now, and it’s the first to feature some continuations of past stories. What developments do these latest chapters bring to the table? Is e-Choco Vol. 3 good?
In terms of the returning series, Zippo Natsuki’s “Torsomelt” is easily the best. The facial expression work is lovely, and Natsuki does a great job on the transitional shots as well. The whole chapter has an open, airy feel to it that makes good use of white space. The story’s pacing is also solid. There isn’t a lot of character development, but this is still an enjoyable comfort read.
The two other returning series in this volume are also good, though not standouts. Shimako Wan’s “Bratty Bowl” is probably the most improved from its debut chapter. The pottery company setting continues to be pleasantly unique, and there’s a lot of good focus on the main two characters and their tense relationship. The series’ inking is still strangely heavy in a way that doesn’t completely work, but there is some nice shading and the visual flow of events is well-done. Shiba’s “Cafe Time in Love” also has a decent second chapter, thanks largely to its good pacing and art. With that said, the series’ characters are fairly bland and their sexual tension doesn’t read believably. All in all, it’s one of this issue’s weaker chapters.
While the continuing series here are good, its the new ones that make the biggest impressions. The best of these is easily “Paper Wind” by Natsuo Ito. It stars a young writer stressed over deadlines who goes to an island to try and unwind. He ends up missing his ferry back home and spends the night and next day with another man who’s also a writer. The plot works well enough as a set-up for the characters’ relationship, which is the real point of the story. There’s some lovely narration about how the two help each other find parts of themselves they’d lost, and Ito actually conveys that connection so it doesn’t come across as sappy or unearned. Ito’s art is also the best in this issue. Their page compositions are incredible, with a great variety of layouts that push the limits of how one can present the order and flow of events in comics. The shading and patterns also look fantastic, as does the nature imagery on the island. All in all, it’s a great-looking comic.
Shimaji’s “Reconnect” also makes a strong debut. The story of ex-boyfriends who meet again by chance after years apart, it’s the collection’s second best manga after “Paper Wind.” The characters’ personalities are well-developed through their dialogue and actions, and a lot of emotional history is established in a relatively short amount of pages. Unfortunately the other new story here, Reiko Sakurai’s “Awakened Heart,” is not as successful. Its characters and plot are heavily reliant on yaoi’s more unsavory tropes (i.e. non-consensual sex played up for titillation), and the events depicted feel like they’re being driven by authorial desire for sexual content rather than actual believable character motivations. There are some great annotations and shading throughout, but overall the story is a miss.
All in all, e-Choco Vol. 3 is the series’ best installment thus far. There are a couple of great new manga here, as well as promising new developments in recurring series. The art throughout almost all of the stories is great, and there’s a nice variety of settings and tones that helps keep things fresh throughout. Some of the manga are better than others, but there are only a few I didn’t care for overall. I’d gladly recommend this volume to any boys’ love fan.
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