Archive for August 2010

Songs to Make You Smile

TITLE: Songs to Make You Smile
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
RATING: Teen (13+)
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Fruits Basket, Tsubasa: Those With Wings, and Phantom Dream), romance, humor, drama

Songs to Make You Smile is a short story anthology from Natsuki Takaya, mangaka of the megahit Fruits Basket. It contains four standalone one-shots, plus a bonus story featuring the characters from another one of her series, Tsubasa: Those With Wings.

For me, the Tsubasa story was the real highlight of the collection. Called “Princess Dark Black”, it’s an alternate universe retelling of the fairy tale “Snow White”. Fans of the “Sorta-Cinderella” play that Tohru’s classmates put on in Fruits Basket will probably like this story as well, although it’s even funnier if you’re familiar with the characters from Tsubasa: Those With Wings. Shoka was always one of my favorite characters from that series, so I enjoyed her getting the lead role in this story as a Snow White with a terrible personality. (Kotobuki, the heroine of T:TWW, gets relegated to the minor role of the Dwarf — yes, there’s only one.) Since part of the fun is seeing where the Tsubasa characters will pop up, I won’t reveal the rest of the cast, but I will say that I think readers will be able to enjoy the story even if they aren’t familiar with the main series. It’s just as easy to read as a seriously-demented version of the classic fairy tale.

Unfortunately, the rest of the stories range from “eh” to “good, but not great”, and none are really all that memorable. The weakest of the bunch is the title story, “Songs to Make You Smile”, about a teenage boy named Atsushi Takahashi who sings in his friends’ band. Most of his classmates are scared of him because he allegedly always looks mad. (I say “allegedly”, because he doesn’t look scary or angry to me at all — not like, say, Kasanoda from Ouran High School Host Club, who has a similar problem. If I had to describe him, I’d say he comes off more creepy-looking, in the vein of the Hanajima siblings from Fruits Basket.) He’s actually quite nice, though, and has a crush on one of his bandmates’ cousins, a girl who is always looking down at the ground and never smiles thanks to the bullying she received in middle school for allegedly being too cute. (Again, the “allegedly” because she doesn’t seem that special to me, looks-wise.) Atsushi’s dream is to make her smile again, and you can probably guess how he does so based on the title. It’s a sweet enough story, I guess, but I think the character designs really underminded the effect.

My favorite of the one-shots is probably “Ding Dong”, which, based on the differences in Takaya’s character designs, I believe is probably the earliest of the stories in this collection. In the Christmas story, a teenage girl named Chisato has recently lost her father, leaving her in the care of her new stepmother Shizuko, who he had just married a few months before his death. Chisato’s mother died when she was very young, and her father threw himself into his work, never spending much time with his daughter. He never even gave her presents for her birthday or Christmas, leading Chisato to believe that he didn’t care about her at all. With some help from Shizuko, however, Chisato learns the truth about her father’s feelings for her and begins to understand him a little better. Though the character designs are a little…off and, well, kind of goofy-looking, the story itself is quite heart-warming. 

I also rather liked the Valentine’s Day story “Double Flower”, about a young man who works at a craft shop and is in love with his boss. Next to “Princess Dark Black”, it’s the funniest of the stories, largely in part to Suguru’s step-niece Aya, who is an expy of Adelaide from Tsubasa. The final story is called “Voice of Mine”, and is about a couple of musicians who admire each other’s music. There’s nothing much I can think of to say about it. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing special, either.

The stories were produced during different points in Takaya’s career, so the art quality varies. Like I said earlier, I believe “Ding Dong”, with its more awkward faces, is the earliest of the stories, with either “Songs to Make You Smile” or “Princess Dark Black” as the latest offering. It’s interesting to see how her style developed over the years.

Songs to Make You Smile is an okay anthology of short stories, I suppose, but I don’t think it would appeal much to non-Natsuki Takaya fans. Even those who are fans of hers, like I am, won’t be missing much if they decide to pass this up. Her series are much stronger than her one-shots. Still, if you’re a fan of Tsubasa: Those With Wings, I’d recommend it just for the “Princess Dark Black” story, which is a lot of fun.


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