When I read the debut issue of e-Choco I was greatly impressed by its artwork and I also found some of the stories’ plots and characters intriguing. With that said, as with any anthology, some of the pieces included were weaker than others. The magazine’s second volume came out recently, and it features seven stories by as many creators. How do they compare to those in the first issue? Is e-Choco Vol. 2 good?
The best comic in this issue is probably “Torsomelt” by Zippo Natsuki. It’s not as heavy on actual romance or sexuality as many of the other stories, but it does have some of the most interesting character work. Its protagonists visit an art gallery (a nice change of pace from other more school or date-centered yaoi) and have a discussion about the advantages of lacking a sense of direction in one’s life. Instead of settling for feeling anxious, they point out how a lack of direction can be a freeing opportunity to do whatever you want. It’s a nice sentiment that’s likely to resonate with many readers. This story’s visuals are also well-done. Natsuki uses a nice airy style that matches the emotional heft of the piece and makes heavy use of white space. What pops of darker color are present help to add texture, especially on characters’ clothing. All in all, “Torsomelt” is a charming story that doesn’t bite off more than it can chew, and it succeeds as a result.
There are a handful of other solid comics in this collection. “Love Pt. 1” by Hakomochi impresses with its uniquely heavy inking and thick outlines. Haruka Momozuki’s “Circle, Triangle, Square” is also enjoyable. Its workplace setting distinguishes it from the rest of the volume’s comics, and the contrast between the different values in its shading is great. Unfortunately, both of these stories are hindered by somewhat ineffective usage of their page-time. In the case of “Love Pt. 1” an intense plot point (an older sibling sexually assaulting their younger sibling) is brought up but barely unpacked at all. As a result, there’s an uncomfortable heaviness that counteracts the lighter tone of the rest of the story. Your mileage may vary, meanwhile, with regards to how effectively “Circle, Triangle, Square” is concluded. There isn’t any glaring conflict left unresolved, but it does end on a very open-ended note with regard to the protagonist’s emotions. Whether this ambiguity is a good reflection of the character’s uncertainty or just an unsatisfying lack of closure is up for debate (and I personally am still unsure even after a few rereads).
Unfortunately, the other half of this volume is largely forgettable. Though the individual comics have their own specific drawbacks, there are some recurring issues throughout. Many stories struggle to both introduce and resolve characters’ plot lines within brief page-counts. It often feels as if the stories end just as they begin to pick up and really build upon their foundations. Alternatively, plot threads sometimes get wrapped up suddenly in the last few pages, leaving no sense of a middle portion to the narrative whatsoever. These problems with ineffective pacing are sometimes made even worse by the inclusion of unneeded sex scenes. A lot of this volume’s more erotic moments feel shoehorned in, like the creators knew they wanted to include such elements but didn’t know how to smoothly integrate them into the larger stories.
Overall, e-Choco Vol. 2 is a solid but insubstantial read. There’s a lot of great art throughout, and some of the stories have interesting characters and dialogue. Unfortunately, a solid half of this volume’s comics suffer from ineffective pacing choices. There’s a recurring sense throughout that the subject matter isn’t explored to its full potential. Though none of the manga are outright bad, their more boring and rushed elements prevent this book from being a must-read.