Manga Moveable Feast: Sailor Moon

When the Sailor Moon Manga Moveable Feast was announced, I knew I absolutely had to contribute something. After all, it is because of Sailor Moon that I became interested in anime and manga in the first place. I’ve been a fan for almost half of my life, and I still proudly call myself a Moonie. (I even write SM fanfiction!) Though I’ve seen better anime and manga since those early days, Sailor Moon will always hold a special place in my heart.

But what to write about? The obvious choice was a review, but I only review completed series on this blog. That would mean I would have to review the Mixxzine/Tokyopop version of the manga, and, well…there’s nothing really nice I can say about it, other than that I’m glad it came out at all, even with the shoddy binding — my copies are pretty much falling apart — and loose translation. Hey, it was better than nothing, but eternal love to Kodansha for the awesome rerelease. (However, I did write a review about Codename: Sailor V, which you can find here.)

Then I thought about writing an essay, but I’ve been involved in the fandom for so long, there’s very little I haven’t already discussed about the series in some fashion before, whether on message boards, Livejournal posts, or among friends. I couldn’t even decide on a topic. Comparison between the manga and anime? Mythological influences? Feminism and the Sailor Senshi? My favorite Senshi, and why I love her? (Pluto, by the way, because she’s awesome and tragic.) Why Chibi-Usa/Helios is my all-time favorite OTP? Who is Sailor Cosmos, really, or how the heck does time travel really work in the SM universe? (I actually did write that essay a few years back. If you’re interested, you can read it here at my website, but it may give you a headache, as anything related to time travel tends to do.) Clearly, it was impossible to pick just one, and I don’t have the time to write on all those topics, as much as I would like to.

So, I’m going to stick to something fun, fast, and simple: My Top Ten Favorite Sailor Moon Manga Moments. And if you have a favorite moment not on this list, feel free to mention it in the comments!

(It should be obvious that the following will filled with unmarked spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the series and want to remain surprised, I suggest you back-button now. Also, I’m using the Tokyopop version to put this list together, so volume and act numbers may be different from the Kodansha version.)

10. Volume 2, Act 9: The revelation of the real Moon Princess – When Tuxedo Kamen takes the brunt of Kunzite’s attack intended for her and is seriously hurt, Sailor Moon begins to cry, causing her tiara to crack and reveal the crescent moon sigil underneath. She turns out to be the Princess Serenity they had been searching for, not Sailor Venus, who had been posing as a decoy princess. Tuxedo Kamen, Sailor Moon, and the rest of the senshi unlock the memories of their past lives, and the seal on the Silver Crystal is broken as one of her tears transforms into a crystal. I just thought this was a beautiful moment.

9. Volume 4, Act 10: The first appearance of Chibi-Usa – And, boy, did she make one heck of an entrance! Shortly after the Dark Kingdom is defeated, Usagi meets up with Mamoru for a date after school. She gives him back his pocketwatch, which she had repaired, and he kisses her. However, at that moment, a little girl suddenly drops out of the sky and lands directly on Usagi’s head! The girl, claiming her name is also Usagi, holds Usagi at gunpoint and demands that she hand over the Silver Crystal.

8. Volume 14, Act 39: Life with the Outers’ family – Pluto may be my favorite, but I love the rest of the Outer Senshi as well, so I really liked the beginning part of this chapter. At the end of the Infinity arc, Setsuna (Pluto), Haruka (Uranus), and Michiru (Neptune) decided to “adopt” the reborn Hotaru (Saturn), and together, the four of them created a close-knit, if unconventional, family. However, though Hotaru is growing at a rapid pace and each of them can sense that a new threat has arrived, they can no longer transform into Sailor Senshi. I just loved the slice-of-life vibe of these domestic scenes contrasted with the sense of foreboding each of them feels concerning the enemy. It’s also really sweet how Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna all wear a ring to symbolize their commitment to raising Hotaru.

7. Volume 11, Princess Kaguya’s Lover: Luna becomes human – The entire story — which was the basis for the Sailor Moon S movie — is wonderful, but the best part is undoubtedly the scene in which Sailor Moon uses her powers to grant Luna’s wish for one night: to become human for so she can confess her feelings to Dr. Kakeru Ohzora, a sickly astronomer she has fallen in love with. Pretending to be the Princess Kaguya he had always dreamed of meeting, she takes him into outer space to watch the sunrise, but knowing that his true love is his friend Himeko, she encourages him to get better so that someday he and Himeko may someday return to space together.

6. Volume 18, Act 52: The wedding – I’m not a huge fan of the Stars arc — the anime did it better — but it’s hard to deny that seeing Usagi and Mamoru get married is a fantastic way to end the series, and of course, Usagi’s wedding gown is gorgeous. Usa/Mamo fans couldn’t ask for more.

5. Volume 15, Act 42: The coronation ceremony – It’s not a real coronation ceremony, as Usagi isn’t fated to take the throne for a few more years, but it is a lovely way to end the Dream Arc, with everybody transforming into their royal forms and the revelation that the Amazoness Quartet –formerly their enemies — is actually Chibi-Usa’s future guard. Actually, had the series ended right there, I would have been perfectly happy. (Like I mentioned before, not a huge fan of the Stars arc in the manga.) It would have made a great finale.

4. Volume 10, Act 33: The battle against Pharoah 90 and awakening of Sailor Saturn – In order to defeat Pharoah 90, Sailor Moon decides to release the power of her crystal and the Holy Grail directly into him, sacrificing herself to save the world. At that moment, the Talismans begin to resonate, awakening Hotaru as Sailor Saturn. Sailor Saturn drops her Silence Glaive, ending the world, but Sailor Moon, who managed to survive, uses the crystal to revive the world, including resurrecting Hotaru as a baby. One of the things I disliked about the ending of the S season of the anime is that we don’t really get to see the final battle, so the manga ending for this arc is a marked improvement and features one of Sailor Moon’s most awe-inspiring feats: resurrecting the entire world.

3. Volume 11, Casablanca Memories – Yes, it may be cheating to call it a “moment”, but I’m talking about the entire short story. After Setsuna (Pluto) and Chibi-Usa (Chibi-Moon), Rei (Mars) is probably my next favorite senshi in the manga, so I love that this story focuses on her, fleshing out her family history — her mother died when Rei was young, and she doesn’t get along well with her politician father, so she lives with her grandfather — and explaining why she has such a distrust of men after her heart was broken by her first love. If I absolutely had to choose a single “moment” I liked the best, it would probably be the kiss shared between Rei and Kaidou, the aforementioned first love who broke her heart when he became engaged to another woman. It’s such a sad moment, to see Rei so desperate for him to love her even though he most likely only ever thought of her as a kid sister.

2. Volume 15, Act 42: Chibi-Moon awakens Helios with her kiss – I mentioned above that Helios/Chibi-Usa is my One True Pairing, and this is, without a doubt, my favorite moment between them. (In fact, it was difficult to choose between this moment and the next for the number one spot on this list.) After Nehelenia’s defeat, the curse on Helios’ body, which turned him into a Pegasus, is broken, transforming him back into his true human form. However, having used up his power to help them during the final battle, his body is lifeless. (It’s never made quite clear if he’s dead, or simply in a coma.) Chibi-Moon begs him to open his eyes, then kisses him, the power of her crystal bringing him back to life. As Helios awakens and sees her crying, he realizes that she is the Princess Lady Serenity he saw in his vision. *melts*

1. Volume 7, Act 23: The death of Sailor Pluto – My absolute favorite scene in the entire manga, and a large part of the reason why Pluto is my favorite senshi. Just as Prince Diamond is about to touch the Silver Crystals of the present and future together — which would destroy the world — Pluto uses her forbidden power to stop time. However, the price of breaking the greatest taboo is Pluto’s death. As she lays dying, Pluto implores Usagi to save Chibi-Usa (who is currently in her adult Black Lady form) and tells King Endymion that she was proud of her duty. Her final words are an apology for not being able to protect Chibi-Usa. Hearing that, Black Lady remembers her friendship with Pluto and begins to cry. One of her teardrops transforms into her own Silver Crystal, allowing Chibi-Usa to awaken as a Sailor Senshi for the first time, but it’s a bittersweet moment as she realizes her closest friend is dead. *sniffles* Even knowing that Setsuna/Pluto will return in the next arc, that part almost never fails to make me teary-eyed.

2 comments December 30, 2011
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Codename: Sailor V

TITLE: Codename: Sailor V
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Naoko Takeuchi
PUBLISHER: Kodansha
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Naoko Takeuchi (mangaka of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon), magical girls, comedy, romance

It is no secret that Sailor Moon was the series that introduced me to the world of anime and manga, so what a pleasure it is to finally be able to read Codename: Sailor V, the series which inspired the creation of Sailor Moon!

Codename: Sailor V is set about a year before the beginning of the Sailor Moon series and focuses on flaky, but athletic first year middle school student, Minako Aino. During gym class one day, she accidentally lands on a white cat with a crescent moon bald spot on his forehead while performing a complicated gymnastics move. The cat, named Artemis, later appears in her room, gives her a magical compact, and tells her that she has been chosen by destiny to become Sailor V, a champion of justice. At first, she believes it’s all just a dream, but the next day, she is forced to battle against her current crush, who has been enslaving the female students of the school. Though initially opposed to the idea of becoming a magical girl, when Minako realizes that Sailor V is gaining fame for her heroics, she accepts her role and sets about to fighting the bad guys.

Among the Sailor Senshi (or Guardians, as the rerelease calls them), Minako/Sailor Venus is one of my favorites, so I expected to really love Codename: Sailor V. While the series is amusing enough, I actually found myself liking Minako a little less after reading it. The great thing about Minako in the main series is that she’s a nice balance of silly and serious; in Codename: Sailor V, however, she’s in silly-mode about 90% of the time, with most of her serious moments coming in the last couple of chapters. Don’t get me wrong — I usually love energetic characters like Minako, but being familiar with her older, more mature self, the younger version can be a litte off-putting at times.

Then again, maybe it’s a bit much to expect her to act serious about her mission when most of the enemies she fights against are goofy celebrity idols. Codename: Sailor V is definitely more light-hearted than its companion series, with most battles following the same basic formula: idol-chaser Minako goes ga-ga over some celebrity (or occasionally a handsome guy), Artemis suspects said celebrity is involved in some nefarious plot (which they always are, of course), Minako uses her compact’s power to disguise herself in order to get close to the celebrity, then transforms into Sailor V when she realizes Artemis was right and fights the enemy in a (very short) battle. Fun, but they’re not exactly the type of stories that keep you on the edge of your seat.

However, I loved learning a little bit more about Venus’ previous life as one of Princess Serenity’s guardians, and her relationship with the mysterious Phantom Ace leads to a rather emotional climax. Usagi and the rest of the Inners gang also each make at least one minor cameo appearance during the course of the series, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing if you read Codename: Sailor V before starting on the main Sailor Moon series and a fun shout-out for those already familiar with the other story.

Speaking of characters from Sailor Moon, readers may do double-takes at how similar some Codename: Sailor V characters look like people from the other series. (Or, actually, I suppose that should be the other way around, since Codename: Sailor V came out first.) Minako’s best friend Hikaru is practically a dead-ringer for Ami/Sailor Mercury, and there’s a geeky otaku guy named Amano who could pass for Umino’s twin brother. Natsuna Sakurada — inspector general of the police force, obsessed Sailor V fan, and presumed relative of Usagi’s teacher Haruna Sakurada — is pretty much an adult Rei/Sailor Mars. Clearly, uniqueness of character design is not Takeuchi’s strong point, but her artwork is cute and works well with the story.

In comparison to Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Codename: Sailor V may be a bit lacking, but the story is a lot of fun, and I would consider it a must-read for any Moonie, particularly Minako/Sailor Venus fans.

2 comments December 28, 2011
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Rasetsu

TITLE: Rasetsu
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Chika Shiomi
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 9
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Chika Shiomi (mangaka of Yurara, Canon, and Night of the Beasts), Ghost Hunt, supernatural manga, romance, comedy, drama

I feel Rasetsu is a rather appropriate title to review this month, for the title character happens to share my birthday, which was November 2nd. Granted, it probably would have been even a better fit for October, considering it’s a supernatural romance about a group of exorcists, but I didn’t have time last month to write a review.

Rasetsu is the story of an eighteen-year-old girl of the same name who has the ability to see and exorcise spirits. Three years before the start of the story, Rasetsu was marked with a rose tattoo by a powerful demon, who informed her that if she did not find true love by her twentieth birthday, he would take her and make her his. Because of the demon’s threat, Rasetsu is obsessed with finding a boyfriend while also working as an exorcist for the Hiichiro Amakawa Agency.

One day, a handsome young librarian by the name of Yako Hoshino (of Yurara fame) comes to the agency for help with a possessed book. Though he has paranormal powers of his own (over water), he cannot exorcise the spirit himself. Through various circumstances, instigated by Rasetsu and her co-worker Kuryu, Yako ends up fired from the library and forced to work at the agency as well. As they work together, Rasetsu begins to think Yako might be the “true love” who will save her from the demon’s curse, but, unfortunately, he’s still in love with the departed guardian spirit Yurara, who Rasetsu greatly resembles.

First of all, I think it’s important to note that even though Rasetsu is a sequel (or spin-off, as it is billed as on the cover) of Yurara, no prior knowledge of the previous series is needed to enjoy it. Rasetsu stands fine on its own, with everything you need to know about the events of Yurara explained in the story. That being said, I do recommend you read Yurara first. Not only is it good series in its own right (though not as great as Rasetsu), but several characters from Yurara make guest appearances as clients, and you’ll get more of a kick out of their cameos if you’re familiar with their backgrounds and relationship with Yako.

To be honest, going into this series, I wasn’t expecting to like it very much, mostly because I never really cared much for Yako. I was a total Mei fangirl, so a story with Yako as the lead male didn’t interest me at first. However, I am a Chika Shiomi fan and thought the premise held promise, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Rasetsu is by far my favorite of Shiomi’s works currently released in English. One of the things I really like about the story is that it kind of straddles the line between shoujo and josei. The romance is very shoujo-y, but the fact that it takes place in an office enviroment and the characters are all over eighteen gives the story a bit of freshness, compared to the usual high school stories that dominate the genre. The supernatural aspect was also a big appeal for me, as it is with all of Shiomi’s works. Admittedly, the majority of the cases the agency works on over the course of the series aren’t terribly interesting on their own merits, usually being wrapped up within a single chapter — which is pretty much the main reason I didn’t give Rasetsu a Masterpiece rating; I was hoping for a bit more of a Ghost Hunt vibe, involving actual paranormal investigation — but I enjoyed how the cases served to reveal more about the characters and the overall plot involving the evil spirit who cursed Rasetsu.

But the main reason I love Rasetsu is the relationships and interactions between the five main characters who work at the agency. At heart, Rasetsu is a rather dark story, what with the main heroine cursed to die on her twentieth birthday and the male leads dealing with their own past issues, but its the romance and especially the humor that sold the story for me. For example, it’s rare that I find the ubiquitous Big Eater found in many anime and manga all that hilarious beyond the first couple of gags, but Rasetsu’s fanatical love of cake and anything sugary cracked me up in almost every scene it appeared (which was a lot, considering sugar actually fuels her psychic powers). Her facial expressions during these scenes are just priceless, and I also love how watching her eat all that sugar — sometimes even resorting to sugar cubes just to get her fix when Yako complains about how much company money she spends on expensive cakes — has a tendency to make people sick to their stomach. Another big source of humor for me is the rivalry between Rasetsu’s two love interests, Yako and Kuryu. They have a like/hate relationship similar to the one that Yako shared with Mei in Yurara, but the hate part is more subtle, in keeping with the fact that they’re both in their mid-twenties. It’s just plain fun watching Kuryu tease Yako, frequently abusing his kotodama powers just to do so, and Yako’s always at his funniest whenever he’s annoyed.

Another highlight is the characters themselves. Rasetsu is a great lead, with just the right amount of strength and vulnerability. It’s remarkable to see just how much Rasetsu has grown since she was first marked by the demon when she was fifteen, as shown in the several flashbacks to the period right after, but even after the story proper begins three years later, she continues to develop into a stronger person. At the beginning of the story, Rasetsu is desperate to find someone — anyone! — to love her, in order to save her from the evil spirit’s curse, but as the series continues and she falls into (what she believes is) unrequited love with Yako, she begins to realize that “true love” really means and that having a boyfriend may not actually be the answer to saving her from the demon. (Love doesn’t actually conquer all in a shoujo manga? Shocker!) I thought that was a fantastic message to put forth in a series like this, meant to be read by teenage girls who may feel they are worthless without a boyfriend by their side.  

As for Yako, I ended up liking him a lot more here in Rasetsu than I did in Yurara. He’s still recognizably Yako…but different. More mature, I guess you would say, which makes sense, considering Rasetsu is set around eight years post-Yurara. I do rather miss his love of telling ghost stories, which was a fun quirk of his from his teenage Yurara days, but the new and improved Yako is much kinder and warmer than his younger self, making him a more palatable love interest in my eyes. He’s definitely more swoon-worthy here.

Unfortunately, even with his improved character and new leading man status, Yako still manages to be outshone by an even more interesting rival. That would be the Kuryu, whose sly, cheeky personality hides an incredible inner pain. His speciality, as I mentioned before, is kotodama — one of the most fascinating psychic powers I’ve ever come across in fiction. Basically, he can use his voice to manipulate people, animals, spirits, objects, and even the weather to do whatever he commands. He claims that his power isn’t very useful and that he can only use it a few times a day — in the first chapter, it was just once a day, but that seemed to be retconned in later chapters — but as the series continues, it becomes apparent that he is a heck of a lot more powerful than he initially seems.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Chika Shiomi’s work is that she almost always gives her stories some sort an unexpected twist. The twist in this case concerns Kuryu. It’s foreshadowed early on that there’s something a bit different about him, and I suspect many readers will think they’ve figured it out the twist within the first few volumes. In fact, had Shiomi stuck with her original plans as explained in one of her author’s notes in the last volume, those same readers probably would have predicted correctly, as Kuryu’s character was meant to go in a different direction. Had she actually continued developing him in that direction, it still would have led to a great, if somewhat more predicable, story, but the real twist is almost guaranteed to leave you in tears by the end of the series. Really, Rasetsu has one of my all-time favorite manga endings. I can never read it without sobbing my heart out. (It’s happy, but very bittersweet.)  

As the most recent of Shiomi’s works to be released in English, it’s no surprise that Rasetsu boasts her best artwork to date. Some of her full-page and two-page spreads are just gorgeous, making me wish for an artbook for the series. (There might be one in Japan; I haven’t checked.) Even her character design for Yako has improved from Yurara. The slightly longer layers of his hairstyle are much more flattering on him, and his wardrobe gets a stylish boost. Actually, I really loved everybody’s clothing in this series, from Rasetsu’s trendy outfits to Kuryu’s suits to even Hiichiro’s yukata.

Really, there’s a lot more I could say about this series — I didn’t even get the chance to talk about super-lazy Hiichiro and his faithful, non-psychic assistant Aoi, who are also great characters — but I think you get the picture. I love this series, and if you’re a fan of supernatural romance, I think you will, too.

Add a comment November 15, 2011
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Death Note

TITLE: Death Note
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Ohba
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shonen
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 12
SCORE: 10 (Masterpiece)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Tsugumi Ohba (writer of Bakuman.), Takeshi Ohba (mangaka of Bakuman. and Hikaru no Go), Death Note anime, Death Note live action movies, supernatural, drama, mystery

I’m not, generally speaking, a big fan of shounen manga. It’s definitely the least represented demographic in my personal collection, but there is one shounen series that managed to completely win me over. That series is the megahit manga Death Note.

The story begins when the brilliant, but bored, high school student Light Yagami finds an abandoned notebook on the ground. On the inside cover is a list of rules on how to use the so-called “Death Note”, which allows a person to kill whoever they want just by writing down their names. Light believes the notebook is nothing but a silly prank, but when his curiosity leads him to test out the notebook’s alleged powers, he discovers that the Death Note is real and was dropped into the human world by a shinigami (death god) named Ryuk, who is also looking for a little excitement in his life.

Though at first horrified by what he has done, aspiring police officer Light decides it his responsibility to put the Death Note to good use. Wanting to rid the rotten world of evil, he begins a mass murdering spree, killing dangerous and evil criminals with his “divine” punishment. It doesn’t take long, however, for the mysterious deaths of numerous criminals to catch the attention of the authorities. Enter L, the number one detective in the world. When L is put in charge of solving the “Kira” case, it begins an epic game of cat-and-mouse between intellectual equals as Light attempts to keep his identity as Kira a secret at any and all costs.

Death Note is a very plot-based series. Although the premise obviously brings up questions concerning the morality of the death penalty and whether or not “Kira is justice”, the series isn’t particularly interested in answering idealogical dilemmas. (It was, after all, targeted toward the Shounen Jump crowd, not adults.) If you go in expecting deep philosophical debates, you’ll probably be disappointed. What you will get, however, is a well-crafted intellectual thriller that will constantly keep you guessing how Light will manage to outsmart those who are after him. I was extremely impressed with how much thought Ohba put into the various schemes and gambits employed by the characters in the story.

I also liked how the story developed into different arcs, keeping things fresh and exciting. If all twelve volumes had been dedicated toward the conflict between Light and L, I imagine things would have gotten rather stale after a while, but with the addition of new Kiras and other groups looking to bring Kira to justice, the main conflict changes several times over the course of the series. In fact, in one of my favorite arcs of the series, Light and L actually work together on the same side when a new Kira comes into power. Though some fans feel the story loses steam around the mid-way point, thanks to a shocking spoiler (that I will not divulge for those who have somehow managed to remain spoiler-free), that was not the case for me. In fact, I think I may even like the second half slightly more than the first half.

Even though the story is mostly plot, that doesn’t mean the characters are lacking. Light is actually one of my favorite manga characters ever, despite the fact that we hold completely opposite beliefs regarding the killing of criminals. It can be a risk to set up a villain protagonist as the hero of the story, but Light’s descent from an idealistic teen who believes he’s doing what is right to an egotistical serial killer with delusions of godhood is fascinating to watch. Even those like me, who are opposed to Light’s methods, can’t help but be impressed by his powers of manipulation and the lengths he goes through to successfully evade capture.

Quirky, sweets-loving L is also quite the memorable character, although he’s not really one of my favorites. (He’s a little too quirky for my tastes.) Though he’s the leader of the “good” side — depending on how you view things — he’s not exactly a paragon of morals, agreeing to head the Kira investigation not out of any real sense of justice, but simply because he wants to win against Kira. If it can help the investigation, he has little problem with kidnapping, torture, and even letting other people die. It’s only due to objections from the members of the Kira task force that L’s more troubling plans never come to fruition.

As for the artwork, it’s amazing how dynamic Obata’s drawings are when there’s actually very little action in the series itself. Death Note is definitely a “wordy” manga, with the majority of scenes consisting of characters talking, talking, and — for a change of pace — talking some more, yet it never feels as dull as that, thanks to the art. I also really loved the character designs, especially for Ryuk (who looks like the Joker-gone-rock-star) and the other Shinigami. The human characters are well-designed as well, from clean-cut pretty boy Light and eternally disheveled L to Light’s cute Goth-Loli “girlfriend” Misa and the various members of the task force.

Even if you don’t tend to read much shonen manga, I would recommend giving Death Note a try. With fascinating characters and an engaging plot, it’s well-worth a look.

Add a comment September 15, 2011
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Manga Moveable Feast: Fruits Basket

This review was written for the Manga Moveable Feast, but I tried to make it as spoiler-free as possible. I won’t say that there are absolutely no spoilers, but there are definitely no major spoilers. However, I cannot guarantee the same for any possible comments that may be made, so read those with caution.

TITLE: Fruits Basket
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 23
SCORE: 10 (Masterpiece)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Fruits Basket anime, Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Tsubasa: Those With Wings and Phantom Dream), fantasy, romance, humor, drama, slice-of-life

Right off the bat, I’m going to admit that Fruits Basket is my favorite manga series of all time. I’m not even going to try to come across as unbiased during this review, because I’m not. I’m totally, completely 100% biased, and I make no apologies for that, because Fruits Basket is just that awesome.

Fruits Basket is the story of orphan teenager Tohru Honda. Not wanting to be a burden to anybody while her grandfather’s house is being renovated, she decides to camp out in the woods. Yuki Sohma — a classmate of hers and the “prince” of their school — and his older cousin Shigure happen to come across Tohru’s tent one night and inform her that she has been unknowingly trespassing on Sohma land. Tohru offers to pay them rent if they will let her continue camping in the forest, but snce neither Yuki or Shigure is good at cooking or cleaning, they offer to let Tohru stay with them in exchange for becoming their housekeeper instead.

Shortly afterward, Tohru meets another member of the Sohma family, the martial-arts-obsessed Kyo, whose goal in life is to beat his rival Yuki. It isn’t long, though, before Tohru learns that Kyo, Yuki, and Shigure are under a terrible curse. Whenever certain members of the Sohma family are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into an animal from the Chinese zodiac! As Tohru meets more of the cursed Sohmas and comes to care for them, she becomes determined to find a way to break the Sohma curse, once for all.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Fruits Basket is a fluffy shoujo high school romance at first glance. It does come off mostly as a romantic comedy at first, what with people turning into adorable animals and losing their clothes in the process, but it quickly becomes apparent that the Sohma curse is far more dark and sinister than it first seems. All the cursed Sohma members hold a deep pain in their hearts and have experienced plenty of darkness in their lives due to the curse, ranging from mental and physical abuse and bullying to rejection from family members and the loss of lovers. If you were to ask me who I thought was the worst off, I couldn’t even give you an answer, because the majority of their pasts are just that horrible. The Sohmas are the very definition of a dysfunctional family. In fact, it’s hard to think of a character in Fruits Basket who doesn’t live with some secret pain. Even Tohru and some of the more minor characters have their own tragic backstories.

Even with all the angst, though, Fruits Basket never completely loses the humor and warmth present from the beginning. Honestly, one minute I’ll be laughing my head off, then the next I’ll be on the verge of tears. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so emotionally invested in a manga series before. What’s more, it’s the type of series that makes you analyze and consider things you might never have thought of otherwise.

Takaya is known for putting little “lessons” in her works, and there are two from Fruits Basket that particularly stick with me. The first is Tohru’s brilliant “umeboshi” analogy. She tells Kyo that everybody has a umeboshi (a plum usually used as flavoring in a rice ball) on their back, and the reason why people probably become jealous of each other is because while they can see the umeboshi on other people’s backs, they are unable to see their own — meaning they are unable recognize what is good about themselves. The second comes from a speech Yuki gives to Kisa, who has been the victim of bullying at her school. Her teacher sends home a letter, telling Kisa that if she wants her classmates to like her, she should try liking herself first, but Yuki realizes that it’s not that simple. A person needs to told that they are liked for who they are before they can start liking themselves, because otherwise, they won’t know what it is to like about themselves, only what they hate. I know from personal experience that is true, so Yuki’s speech really struck a chord with me.

There are other such lessons I could go on about — such as Momiji’s story of the Foolish Traveller or any number of things Tohru learned from her amazing mother — but this review lovefest is already getting ridiculously long, so I’ll leave those for readers to discover and ponder on their own.

The main draw of Fruits Basket, however, is the characters and the various relationships between them. It’s actually rather amazing how well Takaya handles such a large and varied cast. The characters are integrated so well with each other, with the possible exception of Ritsu Sohma, who basically disappears from the story after his introductory arc. That was a bit of a shame, but at the same time, Ritsu is the type of character who is most effective in small doses. He had the potential to become annoying very quickly, so perhaps it was for the best that he didn’t appear too much in the story.

The cast of Fruits Basket holds the honor of possessing not only the manga character I quite possibly love the most, but also the character I quite possibly hate the most. Those two characters would be Shigure and Akito Sohma.

For those who watched the anime before before checking out the manga like I did, the differences between anime!Shigure and manga!Shigure will probably come as quite a shock. The anime (which I also adore and consider one of my all-time favorites) version of Shigure, while incredibly hilarious and loveable, lacks the complexity and somewhat manipulative nature of his original manga personality. Underneath his goofy, lazy, and perverted exterior is a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means possibly hurting those he claims to care about. He’s sadistic and selfish, yet at the same time, he does ultimately have good intentions. That contradictory nature of his makes for a fascinating character to watch.

Akito, on the other hand, makes my blood boil like few other characters. It’s difficult to put into words just how much I loathe the character, who is the cause of so much pain and suffering to the cursed members of the Zodiac. Perhaps the best way I can put it is that even I, an avowed pacifist, wouldn’t hesitate to punch Akito in the face if we were to ever meet. Though Takaya does a good job of showing exactly how Akito came to be that way and even manages to draw up a little sympathy near the end, it doesn’t change the terrible things Akito has done. Yet I still really appreciated the utter ruthlessness of Akito’s character, for it underscored exactly how disturbing and messed up the curse was.

Another thing I loved about the series is the love triangle between Kyo, Yuki, and Tohru. When it comes to most love triangles in shoujo manga, it’s usually pretty obvious who the heroine will end up with, right from the start. The unlucky suitor is mostly just there to cause drama for the main couple before they inevitably get together. Not so in Fruits Basket, since Tohru is not initially interested in either boy in the romantic sense. Her relationship with both of them starts out as just friendship, which to me, who whole-heartedly believes that the best romances happen when the couple starts off as friends, makes the gradual growing of romantic feelings that blossom naturally over time that much sweeter when they happen. Really, the romance is such a subtle development that up until about the halfway point of the series, when it becomes clear who Tohru has actually fallen for, I could see her ending up with either guy. Truly, one of the most well-done love triangles I’ve ever read, and the resulting romance is just as wonderful.

But romantic relationships aren’t the only relationships of importance in the series. Friendships and family ties — whether or not the people involved are blood related — are given just as much focus. I particularly loved the stong friendship between Tohru and her two best friends, former deliquent Uotani and mysterious Hanajima. There’s also the hilarious Mabudachi Trio, featuring three of my favorite characters: the aforementioned pervy Shigure, the straight man Hatori, and the over-the-top Ayame, who also happens to be Yuki’s older brother. Yuki himself becomes a part of a rather ecletic group of friends when he joins the student council later in the series. I know there are a lot of people out there who tend to dislike the student council and the chapters that focused on them, but I actually rather adored them. They (especially Kakeru and Machi) served an important part in developing Yuki’s character, turning him from a guy I really didn’t care much about at the beginning of the story to a character I actually loved by the end. And they made me laugh in the process, which is always a plus in my book.

When it comes to family relationships in Fruits Basket, there are a lot of complications due to the nature of the curse, especially when it comes to mothers who give birth to cursed babies. It is said that mothers of Zodiac members tend to either become overprotective of their child or reject them. We see examples of both kinds throughout the story, and it is truly heartbreaking to witness some of the more painful rejections, such as Momiji’s and Rin’s. Even those parents who don’t totally reject their children — such as Yuki’s and Ayame’s materialistic mother — are often cold and unfeeling toward them, and being the overprotective sort can be just as bad, such as in the case of Kisa, who can’t bring herself to tell her mother about being bullied, or Kyo, whose mother tries so hard to love him that it basically destroys her. It’s no wonder that several of the cursed Sohmas come to view Tohru as a surrogate mother.

Perhaps the most important familial relationship in the series, though, is that between Tohru and her late mom Kyoko, who raised her as a single mother after Tohru’s father’s early death. Even though Kyoko dies before the series begins, she’s one of the most important characters in the series. Her influence on Tohru continues well after her death, as Tohru strives achieve the dreams Kyoko had for her, but her bond with her mother is so strong that it also holds Tohru back from truly moving on and letting her go, which serves to support the main theme of the series — that there is no such thing as “unchanging” or “permanence” when it comes to bonds between people, that it is okay for things to change and to end.

Boy, this thing turned out way longer than I thought it would be. And to think I was actually holding back on a lot of things I wanted to say, since I was trying to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I think my overwhelming love for the series is pretty clear by this point, so the only thing more I can say is that if you haven’t read this yet and can get your hands on it — it’s unfortunately out-of-print now that Tokyopop has closed — do it. Obviously, I can’t guarantee that you’ll love it, but there’s a pretty good chance you will if you just give it a try.

11 comments July 29, 2011
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Short-Tempered Melancholic and Other Stories

TITLE: Short-Tempered Melancholic and Other Stories
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Arina Tanemura
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Arina Tanemura (mangaka of Full Moon wo Sagashite, ION, The Gentleman’s Cross Alliance), romance, comedy

I want to apologize for the lack of a review last month. I’ve been busy with other projects and just didn’t have the time to read any manga. This month isn’t much better, but I did manage to squeeze in Short-Tempered Melancholic and Other Stories.

Short-Tempered Melancholic is an anthology of short stories written by popular mangaka Arina Tanemura early in her career. I’m not a big Tanemura fan, but I actually did enjoy this collection of cute romances.

My favorite is the the title story “Short-Tempered Melancholic”, which is actually a two-chapter story. It’s about a female ninja named Kajika Yamano, who has possession of her family’s legendary secret weapon, which other ninja clans want to steal for themselves. Yuga Tanimoto, her loyal childhood friend, has a crush on her, but she only has eyes for Fujisaki, the handsome president of the tea ceremony club. When Fujisaki tells her that she should be more ladylike, Kajika decides to give up being a ninja in order to pursue more traditionally “feminine” pursuits in the hope that he will return her feelings.

I’m not positive, but I get the feeling that the first chapter was meant to be the pilot to a possible series that probably didn’t do too well in the reader surveys. I say this because the first chapter ends with Yuga about to confess his feelings to Kajika, only to be interrupted by Kajika running off to rescue a dog before he can spit it out. It’s kind of a shame that it wasn’t picked to become a series, because I thought the premise had potential and the characters were quite vibrant and charming. It isn’t often that I finish reading a short story wanting to know more about the characters, but I definitely got that feeling after reading the first chapter. Fortunately, Tanemura went back and wrote a second part (subtitled “Without You”), giving the story a proper conclusion, as well as giving the main couple some backstory.

The second story is “This Love Is Nonfiction”, about a girl named Yuri who convinces her prettier best friend Karin to pretend to be her on a date with her penpal Ryono after sending him Karin’s picture. However, while on their date, Karin forgets that she’s supposed to be posing as Yuri — who is stalking them, along with a strange boy in a mask and glasses — and finds herself falling in love with Ryono as well. Though the ending twist is a bit silly, giving both girls their happy endings, and spoiled-sweet Karin is a bit of a ditz, there’s no denying that the story is really cute.

The last two stories are “Rainy Afternoons Are for Romantic Heroines” and “The Style of the Second Love”. As Tanemura’s earliest works, I feel they’re the weakest of the collection. The stories aren’t terribly interesting — the first is about a girl who keeps “forgetting” her umbrella in order to get close to the boy she likes, while the second is about a girl secretly in love with her best friend’s boyfriend — and the characters are rather boring. In addition, as “The Style of the Second Love” was Tanemura’s debut, the artwork isn’t as polished as the other stories. Still, both stories are enjoyable enough, I suppose.

Those who prefer deeper stories won’t get much out of this anthology, but if you’re in the mood for fluffy romance, you could do worse than Short-Tempered Melancholic. It’s cute, romantic, and even quite funny at times. Just don’t expect too much out of it and enjoy it as the light reading it’s meant to be.

Add a comment June 15, 2011
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Eensy-Weensy Monster

Note: This review is a bit more spoiler-filled than my usual reviews, since I had some issues with the ending.

TITLE: Eensy-Weensy Monster
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Masami Tsuda
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Masami Tsuda (mangaka of Kare Kano), romance, comedy

My last few reviews have been heavy on CLAMP, so this month I’ve decided to focus on Eensy-Weensy Monster, a new series from the mangaka of Kare Kano.

Compared to genius Renge and beautiful Nobara, her two best friends, Nanoha Satsuki is just your average, ordinary high school student. She’s frequently overlooked by her classmates and teachers until one day she unleashes her inner “monster” on Hazuki Tokiwa, the “prince” of the school. Everything about him — his looks, his popularity, his grades, his athletic ability — gets on her nerves for no apparent reason, and the usually nice Nanoha tells him off, calling him an “arrogant bastard” to his face.  

Hazuki ends up taking Nanoha’s words to heart and realizes that she’s right. He’s vain and superficial and only cares about himself. Deciding that he wants to become a better person, he stops hanging around his adoring fangirls, causing his popularity to take a hit, and strikes up a friendship with a disbelieving Nanoha, eventually falling in love with her. But is it Nanoha he really likes, or is it the “monster” inside of her?

Eensy-Weensy Monster is a very sweet and funny romance. There’s no annoying third parties trying to break them up — unless you count Hazuki’s fangirls, who make a half-hearted attempt to separate them in one chapter before finding an even more handsome “prince” to swoon over — and no melodramatic plot twists to keep them apart, just simple misunderstandings as Nanoha and Hazuki struggle to comprehend their growing feelings for each other as they fall in love for the first time. That’s probably the series’ greatest strength. Tsuda does a wonderful job of showing how two people can have wildly different interpretations of the same event. For example, in one scene, Hazuki comes across Renge giving Nanoha tutoring lessons. He smiles, admiring how hard she’s working to understand the lesson, but Nanoha thinks he’s laughing at her since doing well in school comes so easily to him. Moments like these make it understandable why it takes a while before the two of them get together.

The problem is, due to the way the series is structured, it takes <i>too</i> long for them to get on the same wavelength. The series is twelve chapters long, with each chapter covering a month of time. For the most part, this works fine in the first volume. They don’t like each other at first, after all, and it takes time for them to become close since Nanoha isn’t sure if Hazuki is sincere in his desire to be her friend. It’s realistic that it would take a few months before Nanoha accepted Hazuki as a true friend. However, in the second volume, though Hazuki realizes he’s in love with Nanoha and confesses to her in June, they don’t officially get together until the last chapter, happening in November. That’s six months Nanoha keeps Hazuki waiting for an answer to his confession, even though she realizes she’s in love with him too in August.

You really have to admire Hazuki’s patience; most people would probably give up after waiting so long for an answer to their declaration of love. In fact, if Hazuki had started dating somebody else during that six month period, it would make sense why Nanoha waited so long to tell him that she loved him, too. Unfortunately, the misunderstandings that were so charming in the first half of the series start to wear a bit thin in the second as Nanoha makes a mountain out of a molehill, misinterpreting something Hazuki says in the worst possible manner. Honestly, the last few chapters would have worked better if they had happened over the course of a couple of weeks, not months. The one month/one chapter set-up is a clever enough gimmick, but I just can’t help but feel it was really unnecessary for a story like this one.

Still, the likable characters and gentle humor make up some for the mistakes in pacing. I particularly enjoyed Hazuki’s development from clueless, self-obsessed pretty boy to somebody who truly cares about others. I liked his resolve to become a better person, even if it meant losing some of his popularity, and his genuine admiration of Nanoha is very touching, especially since Nanoha doesn’t think she’s anybody special. I also found his slight jealousy of Nobara — who is so beautiful and charming that even the girls want her — quite hilarious. As for Nanoha, she’s admittedly most interesting whenever her “little monster” makes an appearance, but even the “normal” Nanoha can be a little devilish at times, cutely flirting with Hazuki without even realizing it. I also enjoyed the friendship between Nanoha, Renge, and Nobara, which unfortunately fades mostly to the background in the second volume. It would be easy for someone like Nanoha to feel at least a little resentful toward her friends for their brains and beauty, but she doesn’t at all.  

As for the artwork, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Tsuda’s drawing style. Her noses come out strange sometimes, and she overdoes the screentone whenever characters blush or are flustered, which happens often. Still, some of the page layouts are really effective, especially when showing Hazuki’s and Nanoha’s point of views of the same event side-by-side.

I debated between giving this an eight or a seven. The second volume isn’t as good as the first due to the strict adherence to the one month/one chapter format and the relative lack of Renge and Nobara, but the story still made me smile. I also really enjoyed the way Tsuda explored both Hazuki and Nanoha’s feelings in nearly equal measure over the course of the series. In the end, I gave it a seven, but it’s really borderline. I’d still recommend Eensy-Weensy Monster to anybody looking for a cute romantic comedy that isn’t too much of a strain on the wallet.

Add a comment April 15, 2011
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Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders

TITLE: Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Youth (7+)
CATEGORY: Shonen
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, CLAMP School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, X, etc.), comedy, sci-fi, action, adventure, supernatural, romance

Continuing with yet another out-of-print CLAMP title, this month’s review focuses on the goofy, but charming, Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders, in which the mangaka team tackles the world of sentai.

Duklyon, along with CLAMP School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, and some parts of X, is set at the CLAMP School, where the brightest and best come to study. Functioning as a small city, the CLAMP School encompasses all grades from kindergarten up to graduate school, and the extremely wealthy Imonoyama family who founded the school spares no expense when it comes to keeping the students happy, allowing them to hold frequent fun and elaborate festivals and celebrations.

Tenth graders Kentaro Higashikunimaru and Takeshi Shukaido are students at the school, but they are also a part of the CLAMP School Defenders, a secret sentai team formed to defend the school from attackers. Together with team leader and informant Eri Chusonji, the CLAMP School Defenders fight against the evil Imonoyama Shopping District Association, who plan to take over the world.

It is impossible to take Duklyon seriously, and that’s what makes it such a fun series. The whole thing is completely ridiculous and over-the-top. The Imonoyama Shopping District Association claims that it wants to take over the planet, but it’s difficult to see how any of their schemes — such as holding the president of the kindergarten class (Utako Okawa from Man of Many Faces and CLAMP School Detectives) hostage or taking over the school’s cafeteria — would actually lead to world domination. Not that the CLAMP School Defenders are any brighter, mind you. Kentaro, especially, has a bad habit of almost letting it slip to people that he’s a member of secret fighting duo that defends the school from evil, and neither they nor their classmate Kotobuki Sukiyabashi — the not-so-secret head of the Imonoyama Shopping District Association — figure out each others’ identities until near the end of the series, even though the three of them are always disappearing at around the same time to fight. In fact, they are on rather friendly terms with each other in class. 

However, as funny as the tongue-in-cheek humor is, the first half of the series is etremely repetitive. Most of the chapters in the first volume can be pretty much be summed up as such:

1) Kentaro, Takeshi, and Kotobuki start out by having a conversation (usually about food) when Kotobuki suddenly announces he has to leave.
2) Kentaro and Takeshi hear the music to summon them and head to the Dukylon Bakery, where they travel down a hidden chute in the bakery’s oven to the secret base.
3) There, Eri yells at them for being late, and a person referred to as the General — Nokoru Imonoyama from CLAMP School Detectives, though he never shows his face — gives them their instructions.
4) The CLAMP School Defenders show up and defeat whatever animal-based monster the Imonoyama Shopping District Association has sent out.

I have to admit, it was kind of a chore to get through the first few chapters, but things start to get a lot more interesting when Kotobuki and Eri end up developing crushes on each other, neither of them aware that they are actually enemies. In fact, Kotobuki’s and Eri’s budding romance becomes more of the focus of the story in the second volume, relegating Kentaro and Takeshi to bit players for the majority of the second half — something they constantly break the fourth wall to complain about. It’s a welcome change in my opinion, leading to some great — if somewhat random — plot developments that may take a few readers by surprise. (I won’t say anything more than that, so not to spoil anybody.)

With a lot of the comedy being dependent on the characters, Duklyon also has a good cast. Serious and responsible Takeshi plays the straight man to more light-hearted Kentaro, who loves cooking food for Takeshi and claims to want to become his bride. Their dynamic is similar to that of Kurogane and Fai from Tsubasa Reservoir Chroncle — incidently, they do make a cameo appearance in TRC, along with Eri — and provides plenty of fuel for the slash fans out there. My personal favorite characters were Eri and Kotobuki, though. A tough and rather violent girl, Eri can often be found chasing her subordinates around with a mallet, but she shows a softer, cuter side to her personality whenever around Kotobuki. On the other hand, Kotobuki, despite his role as the antagonist, is actually rather kind and a bit on the shy side when he’s not playing the bad guy, and it’s pretty clear that his “civilian” identity is far closer to his true personality. Seriously, the two of them interacting together is just adorable.  

There’s no need to mention that the artwork is great. It’s CLAMP; that’s pretty much a given. I do take issue with Takeshi’s and Kentaro’s character designs, though. With the two of them being roughly about the same size and sporting dark hair that’s styled somewhat similarly, it can be difficult at times to tell them apart until they speak. It’s even worse when they’re in their armor, which features helmets that completely cover their faces. While their suits are different colors, that doesn’t help a bit when the manga is in black-and-white and the colors are indicated with similar-looking screentone.

If you were a fan of the Power Rangers or other sentai shows growing up, you’ll probably enjoy the wonderful cheesiness and humor present in Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders. If you weren’t, there’s still a lot to enjoy, like the cute romance between Eri and Kotobuki. I wouldn’t call this a must-read, but it’s a fun, short series that even younger readers can enjoy.

Add a comment March 15, 2011
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Miyuki-chan in Wonderland

TITLE: Miyuki-chan in Wonderland
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo-ai
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 3 (Very Bad)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of X, Chobits, Legal Drug, etc.), fanservice

I have made it my mission this year to collect every CLAMP title that has ever been released in English, with the exception of X. (I refuse to read that long a series without confirmation that they will continue it.) Why? Eh, I don’t really know myself. The idea just kind of struck me one day, and I do have a completist mentality… Anyway, you can expect a lot more CLAMP reviews from me over the coming months, starting with this out-of-print title that I bought used for cheap, Miyuki-chan in Wonderland.

The plot of Miyuki-chan in Wonderland can be summed up as such: Cute high school girl keeps inexplicably falling into alternate worlds filled with scantily-clad women who want to get Miyuki naked and do naughty things to her. Obviously, this is a pure fanservice title, so I wasn’t expecting much out of it. Just boobs, butts, panty shots, and very pretty artwork (because it’s CLAMP).

Did it manage to exceed than the low expectations I set? Sad to say, no, it didn’t. Oh, certainly, the art is very pretty, and I adore the character designs in Miyuki-chan. Miyuki and the rest of the cast are just too gorgeous for words. I was especially fond of the design for the catgirl Cheshire Cat. Unfortunately, the character designs and the stunning color artwork that is included as a bonus are the only redeeming aspects of this title.

First off, just judging it as a fanservice title, it’s fairly tame. There’s a little bit of nudity, but it’s just Barbie doll nudity — not a nipple in sight. If I was a fanboy who picked up this title expecting some detailed female nudity, I would be sorely disappointed. Even that would have been fine, though, if the character interactions had been sexier. Some suggestive poses and dialogue, maybe even a kiss or two for the yuri fans out there… But like I said, things are pretty tame. You get sexy, lingerie-inspired outfits, a little wardrobe damage here and there, and some light teasing — and that’s about it. It’s just…not very titillating, in my opinion. (Granted, I am a straight woman — not exactly the audience for this kind of title — but I can appreciate and even enjoy fanservice on occasion. In fact, Chobits, which is another fanservice-y title with a much better plot, is one of my favorite CLAMP titles.)

Then there’s the story itself. It’s already been established that Miyuki-chan doesn’t have much of a plot. The volume contains seven short stories that follow the same basic formula of Miyuki falling into some weird new world and getting hit on by its female inhabitants. The first two are based on the classic children’s stories, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Had the entire volume been devoted to a sexy parody of those two stories, it might have been interesting, but with so few pages, all that the stories amount to is Miyuki meeting a character, who maybe gets one or two speech bubbles to say something, before moving right on to the next one. The quirky characters from the original stories barely get any kind of personality at all, and Miyuki herself doesn’t do anything but express the desire to get away from them.

The other five stories fare a little better, as they tended to have fewer characters and a tad more plot. In fact, there was one I actually rather liked called “Miyuki-chan in Mah-Jongg Land”, in which three beautiful women come out from the pages of a mah-jongg manga Miyuki had been reading and force her to join them in a game of strip mah-jongg. Despite the fact that she’s doesn’t have much experience playing the game, Miyuki has beginner’s luck and manages to get the other girls to strip for her rather than the other way around. That was a nice change of pace. Also, fans of the aforementioned X might get a kick out of “Miyuki-chan in X Land”, where Miyuki gets sucked into the X movie and gets to meet the female characters Karen, Satsuki, Kanoe and Hinoto.

As for characterization…not even worth mentioning.

Miyuki-chan in Wonderland is not a title I would recommend buying, even if you are CLAMP fanatic. The only thing it has going for it is the pretty character designs, and you can just as easily enjoy the included color artwork in CLAMP’s Southside Artbook without having to suffer through this pure excuse for fanservice. Personally, I would just get the artbook instead unless you’re like me and want the complete CLAMP library. Don’t bother wasting your money otherwise.

Add a comment February 15, 2011
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Imakdoki!

TITLE: Imadoki!
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Yuu Watase
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 5
SCORE: 8 (Very Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuu Watase (mangaka of Ceres: Celestial Legend, Fushigi Yugi, Alice 19th, etc.), Ouran High School Host Club, romance, drama, comedy

It’s practually an unwritten law that every shoujo mangaka has to write at least one high school romance during their career, and Imadoki! is Yuu Watase’s take on the sub-genre.

Tanpopo Yamazaki is a cheerful, friendly girl with lots of friends from her hometown in Hokkaido. When it comes to choosing a high school, however, she decides to apply to schools in Tokyo, wanting the chance to make even more friends someplace new and exciting. She ends up being accepted on scholarship to Meio High, a high-class school for children of the rich and powerful.

The day before the start of the school year, Tanpopo sneaks on campus to check out the school. There, she meets a cute boy planting a dandelion, which happens to be the flower she is named after. Tanpopo believes she’s made a new friend, but it turns out the boy is Koki Kyugo, heir to the prominent Kyugo family, who founded the school. At school, Koki is like a totally different person from the flower-loving boy she met previously, and he declares that friendship is only based on what people can do for each other, a view that the rest of his snobby classmates share.

Rather than making lots of new friends like she hoped, Tanpopo becomes the target of scorn and bullying for her “commoner” roots and too friendly nature. She doesn’t let it bother her, though, determined to make friends no matter what. In an effort to get closer to Koki, she decides to start a Planting Club, and she soon charms over a varied group of characters, including Koki, with her cheerfulness and sincerity. However, when her feelings for Koki grow beyond friendship, Tanpopo faces a new adversary in the form of Koki’s clingy (arranged) fiancee, Erika.

The more I read this series, the more I like it. The first time I read it, I thought it was a run-of-the-mill high school romance and kind of missed the fantasy that Watase usually puts in her works. Even now, I have to admit there’s nothing special about the plot, which is prone to the typical teenage melodrama you would expect to find in a series like this, but the cast of fun characters and Watase’s always-beautiful artwork make it worth reading.

The main theme of the series is growing up and becoming your own person, and I loved how it was symbolized in the different flower seeds the Planting Club planted. All the characters “blossom” in their own way and time, becoming unique individuals with their own dreams and desires. 

Tanpopo is probably one of Watase’s strongest heroines. Sure, at times you wish she would tell off her bullies instead of just enduring it with a smile, but she really doesn’t let them bother her. She also has no problem whatsoever standing up for her friends when they’re the ones in trouble and accepts people for who they are. One thing I especially liked about Tanpopo is that she makes decisions for herself. Even when she falls in love with Koki, she doesn’t forget about her friends and family, who are just as important to her. It’s rather a refreshing change from characters like Miaka (from Fushigi Yugi) and Aya (from Ceres: Celestial Legend) who tended to put their romantic relationships above everything else.

Koki is another interesting character who undergoes quite a bit of character development in such a short series. Starting off as a lonely, bitter young man forced to take over the title of Kugyo heir when his older brother runs off, he begins to open up under Tanpopo’s influence and realizes that he can choose his own life, rather than letting his family decide everything for him.

But for me, my favorite characters were probably the other three members of the Planting Club — Arisa, a ganguro gal who is forced to grow up fast after a life-changing event, Tsukiko, probably Tampopo’s closest friend at the school and another (minor) rival for Koki’s heart…er, pocketbook, and Aoi, a psycho computer hacker who loves causing mayhem. They’re mostly comic relief, but even they get a nice bit of development along the way, especially status-crazed Tsukiko, who starts the series off pretending to be Tanpopo’s friend in order to get closer to Koki (solely because of his money), but along the way becomes Tanpopo’s true friend and one of her biggest supporters againt Erika. Erika herself is a rather pathetic character, manipulative and insecure, but that’s the point. Yet even she deserves some sympathy.

As I mentioned before, the plot is a fairly typical high school romance, but I still enjoyed it thanks to the characters. There was a strong reliance on coincidence, though, that kind of made me roll my eyes at times. I mean, what are the chances that Tanpopo would happen to run into Koki’s missing older brother in the middle of nowhere when Koki had been looking for him for at least a couple of years, or that two people close to Koki and Tanpopo would have health crises at the exact same time? They were necessary to move the story along, I suppose, but I think they could have been done better.

As for artwork, it’s Yuu Watase, so of course it’s gorgeous. I shouldn’t even have to mention that. Granted, Koki is practically a clone of Watase’s other leading men, and Tanpopo is similar in looks to Aya and Riiko (Absolute Boyfriend), but originality in character design never was her forte. (Although Arisa has a pretty unique look to her, thanks to her ganguro style of tan skin and heavy eye make-up.) One thing I appreciated was that even with the “flower” theme of the series, Watase resisted the temptation to make her art overly “flower-y”. That would have been overkill.

At five volumes, this is a great series to use as an introduction to Watase’s body of work. It’s also the tamest in terms of sexual content, if Watase’s reputation for racy images is a concern, with no sex scenes or full nudity. If you’re interested in checking out one of her series but don’t want to make a huge investment, Imadoki! is a good bet.

7 comments January 15, 2011
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