Posts tagged ‘Josei ‘




Manga Moveable Feast: Paradise Kiss

This review was written for the Manga Moveable Feast  and thus is a bit different than the usual reviews I post on this blog in that major spoilers will be discussed. (There is also a spoiler for NANA.) I’ll probably rewrite this at a later date to be less spoiler-y, but if you have not read Paradise Kiss yet and want to remain spoiler-free, you’ll probably want to skip this version. Also, there will be some discussion of rape.

TITLE: Paradise Kiss
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Ai Yazawa
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo/Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 5
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Ai Yazawa (mangaka of NANA, Kagen no Tsuki, Gokinjo Monogatari), Paradise Kiss anime, NANA anime, Gokinjo Monogatari anime, romance, drama, comedy

I actually was introduced to Paradise Kiss first through the anime. I had always been a little intrigued by the manga whenever I saw it at the bookstore, but the cover art (the first editions — I like the second edition covers) always kind of turned me off. However, immediately after I finished Netflixing the anime, I was putting in an order at Right Stuf for the manga I had previously ignored.

Turns out you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Eighteen-year-old high school senior Yukari Hayasaka is bored with her life. All she ever does is study in order to please her education-obsessed mother, who expects her to get into a good college. Yukari, however, isn’t even sure she wants to go to college, having no real personal dreams or goals besides those foisted on her by her parents.

Her life becomes infinitely more interesting when she is scouted by a group of students from the Yazawa School for the Arts to be their model in an upcoming fashion show during their school’s cultural festival. The group, calling themselves by the name of Paradise Kiss, consists of an eclectic group of characters: Miwako, a cute pink-haired girl who looks far younger than her actual age, Arashi, Miwako’s rocker boyfriend who possesses a bit of a jealous streak, Isabella, the elegant transvestite who acts as the “mother” of the group, and George, the openly bisexual leader and head designer of Paradise Kiss. Though intially overwhelmed by the strangeness of the group and thinking they’re a bunch of slackers, Yukari soon finds herself won over by their obvious passion for what they do and intrigued by their handsome and charismatic leader.

What I love about this series is how real and messy it is. Yazawa is not afraid to give her characters real flaws and let them make mistakes, especially when it comes to the relationship between Yukari and George. Right from the start, despite their obvious attraction to each other, it’s clear that they are fundamentally incompatible with each other. George prefers confident, independent women who know their own mind and often treats Yukari coldly when he thinks she’s being weak and silly, while Yukari struggles to even decide what it is she wants after spending her entire life being bound by rules and her mother’s high expectations.

As you might expect from a typical shoujo story, Yukari decides to change herself to better fit George’s ideal, except by doing so, she’s actually allowing George to control her life. Even though she may insist that the decisions she makes are her own, she really bases the majority of her decisions on what she thinks George would want her to do — in effect, becoming the opposite of the kind of lover George wants. There’s a definite irony in that. While Yukari thinks she’s becoming a strong and independent woman, worthy of George’s love, she’s actually just going through a classic case of teenage rebellion, influenced by a manipulative boyfriend.

Not that Yukari doesn’t mature during her experiences, because she does. She finally discovers something she is passionate about — modeling –and through the mistakes she makes, she learns some important lessons about life and especially love — namely that no matter how much two people may care for each other, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily “right” for each other. By the end of the story, she does become a true independent woman, one who makes the best decisions for herself, not for George, and manages to find somebody who she can actually depend on.

George himself is one of the most interesting male leads I’ve come across in manga, far different from the stereotypical romantic interest. Prince Charming, he isn’t. Several characters describe him as “warped”, and that’s a fairly apt description. He plays the role of a self-centered, extravagant, somewhat eccentric genius, taking pleasure in disregarding rules and convention and driving everyone — especially Yukari and Arashi — insane with his sudden whims and desires. Though it’s never explicitly confirmed, it’s strongly implied that in addition to his relationship with Yukari, he’s also sleeping with Seiji, a male hair and make-up artist who sometimes teaches at Yazawa Arts, and he’s far from a loving, caring boyfriend. Yukari herself even wonders at times if George even knows the meaning of the word “love”.

Amazingly, however, George does come off as sympathetic character once we learn more of his background and realise the reason why he treats Yukari the way he does. As the illegitimate child of a rich business man, he doesn’t want Yukari to become like his mother, a former model who gave up her career to give birth to George. His mother is completely dependent on George’s father for her livelihood and never lets a chance pass by to complain about how George and her lover ruined her life, although she’s never done anything to try to change things. By sometimes being cruel to Yukari, he believes he’s actually, in a way, being kind to her, encouraging her to take responsibility for her own actions and stand on her own two feet instead of relying solely on him. That’s all well and good, of course, but what he doesn’t understand is that sometimes it is okay to lean on those you love, and that he’s not completely blameless for Yukari’s actions, no matter how much he may deny he isn’t.

There’s also a second romantic plot in the series revolving around a love triangle between Miwako, Arashi, and their childhood friend Hiroyuki, who coincidentally is a classmate of Yukari’s and is the object of Yukari’s crush at the beginning of the story. Paradise Kiss is technically a sequel to an earlier, currently unlicensed Yazawa work called Gokinjo Monogatari (Neighborhood Story), though no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy PK, since it takes place about twenty years later. Miwako is the little sister of Mikako, the heroine of Gokinjo Monogatari, and Arashi and Hiroyuki are the sons of some of the other GM characters. The three of them grew up together in the same apartment building, but had a falling out when both the boys fell in love with Miwako, leading Arashi to order Miwako to cut off all contact with Hiroyuki. Thanks to Yukari’s well-intentioned meddling, however, Miwako and Hiroyuki end up meeting again, causing problems in Miwako’s relationship with Arashi as he begins to fear losing her to Hiroyuki, who he considers a much better guy than he is. 

I wasn’t as fond of their story as I was Yukari and George’s. Fact is, Hiroyuki is a far better guy than Arashi, who we later learn raped Miwako the first time they had sex. It’s played off as something Arashi didn’t mean to do, and he’s sincerely regretful for what he did, but instead of Miwako breaking things off with him as you would hope a rape victim to do in that situation, she decides to accept that violent part of him because she loves him so much. Now, Arashi isn’t some kind of monster. Other than the rape and his (mostly understandable, if unreasonable) jealousy toward Hiroyuki, he’s a decent enough guy — Arashi is probably the sanest and most normal member of Paradise Kiss, despite his punk rocker looks — and seems to treat Miwako well. I’m not saying it was necessarily wrong for Miwako to forgive him for what happened. People sometimes deserve second chances, and as far as the reader is aware, Arashi never does anything like that again. In fact, at the end of the story, they’re happily married with a daughter. I just would have liked to see Arashi in therapy to deal with his issues. Violent tendencies aren’t something that a lover should have to “accept”, and Arashi could have easily become abusive toward Miwako. No, having a talk with Hiroyuki (who actually plans to study psychology in college) about what happened is not the same thing as dealing with his issues of insecurity, although it is a start. Even if Hiroyuki had just suggested Arashi get some (professional) help, I would have been happy. It’s just too easy of a solution compared to complexity of Yukari and George’s problems and how things are resolved, so I was a bit disappointed with that.

(If there’s one major criticism I have with Ai Yazawa — besides the fact that her characters are way. too. freaking. thin. — it’s how she portrays date-rape. Generally, I like Arashi, and I love Takumi from NANA, but I do not like the fact that they both raped their love interests and didn’t really suffer any major consequences for their actions — i.e. their girlfriends stay with them and forgive them right away. (And, at least in Arashi and Miwako’s case, they’re seen as a “good” couple who get a happy ending. I won’t get into Takumi and Hachi’s relationship, since this isn’t a NANA review.) There’s messed up (George)…and then there’s really messed up. Still, it’s saying something for Yazawa’s talent that she can write these two characters doing such a horrible thing, and yet I still like them.)

Enough with all this talk of romance, drama, and sex, though. Let’s talk about the clothes. Oh, the clothes!

Yazawa actually studied to become a fashion designer before she started her career as a mangaka, and it shows. She probably had a lot of fun drawing this series due to all the fabulous and over-the-top outfits the characters wear. Each character has a distinct style that suits their personalities. Miwako, who looks (and sometimes acts) like a little girl, favors cutesy, frilly outfits, often made by her sister’s fashion company, Happy Berry. Arashi, the punk rocker, has tons of piercings and dresses in rock star style. Isabella, despite being physically a man, pulls off wild eye make-up and beautiful, elegant dresses that often appear to be Victorian-inspired with aplomb. As for George, his apparel is as flamboyant as he is. Only he could pull off wearing a feather boa and sunglasses and have the effect come off as sexy instead of silly.

It’s Yukari who gets the best wardrobe, though, as George allows her to wear her choice of his designs. Though the clothes he designs are far from conventional and not something you would see many people wearing on the streets, there’s no denying he has a great talent, and Yukari is the perfect model to wear them, as if they were made just for her. I also really liked the symbolism behind the clothes. To George, every design he makes holds an important memory to him, so for him to allow Yukari to wear them shows just how much he really loved her, despite the way he treated her at times. The scene near the end, where Yukari realizes that he’s left all his designs to her even though they’ve broken up, makes me cry every time. It’s his way of saying “I love you,” and so uniquely George.

There’s a lot more I could say about Paradise Kiss. In fact, I could probably write a two thousand word essay on George’s character alone — I didn’t even discuss how appealingly human he becomes in the last few chapters as he struggles between pursuing his dreams as a fashion designer or taking the safer route of becoming a hair and make-up artist so he can support his mother — but I think this is already long enough. In conclusion, Paradise Kiss is an amazing series, and I would highly recommend reading it.

3 comments July 30, 2010

Be With You

Happy Easter! I’ve finally finished moving my old reviews over, so now I can start posting my newer reviews. Since today is the day to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it seems rather apppopriate to review Be With You, a one-shot manga about a woman seemingly coming back to life.

TITLE: Be With You
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Takuji Ichikawa, Yoko Iino, and Sai Kawashima
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Be With You novel, Be With You movie, Over The Rainbow, All My Darling Daughters, romance, mystery, supernatural

Be With You has been on my wish list for years, but though the summary intrigued me, I always passed it up due to the terrible cover art. Seriously, it’s ugly — no mincing words about it. However, when I learned that actress Jennifer Garner was set to star in an American remake of the Japanese movie based on the original novel by Takuji Ichikawa (which also inspired this manga), I finally decided to check it out. (By the way, for those wondering about the Garner movie, according to Wikipedia, it was supposed to be released last year, but I haven’t heard anything else about it. I assume it was delayed due to her last pregnancy, but your guess is as good as mine.)

The story is about a young librarian named Takumi Aio and his seven-year-old son Yuji. The year before, Takumi’s beloved wife Mio tragically died on their son’s birthday. Yuji, however, is under the impression that his mother will return to them when the rainy season begins, thanks to a picture book Mio drew for him that said she would. Grieving Takumi doesn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.

On Yuji’s seventh birthday, the rainy season begins, and as the book predicted, a woman who looks exactly like Mio comes into their lives. She has no idea who she is, though, and is suffering from amnesia. Without telling her that she died the year before, Takuji and Yuji take “Mio” in and try to help her recover her lost memories of them by telling her stories of her former life.

Strangely enough, this is the second manga title I’ve read this month involving an amnesiac character, but I’m happy to report that this story is far more interesting than Over the Rainbow, the other woman-with-amnesia story I read. It helps that this is a complete narrative, unlike OtR, which consisted of basically five loosely related short stories centering around a trio of main characters. I’ve never read the novel or seen the movie, so I can’t comment on the fidelity of the adaptation, but it doesn’t seem like anything needed to understand the story was left out. It works on its own without prior knowledge of the other canons.

It does feel a tad bit rushed, though, in places. Takumi, for example, accepts that the woman is Mio far faster than I would expect him to. Barely a thought is given to the fact that she might, in fact, not be Mio. I would expect a father to be a little more hesitant in allowing some confused amnesiac woman to stay with them, no matter how much she looks like his dead wife, but he and Yuji almost immediately decide to treat the woman as if she is Mio without really questioning how it could be possible.

That really the weakness in the story. I can understand Yuji not caring about the “how” — he’s just a kid, happy to have his mother back — but the dead coming back to life is not presented as a common occurance in this world. Most adults would be a little bit more freaked out about something like that happening. Even when Takumi tells his doctor about Mio’s reappearance, the doctor doesn’t seem the least bit surprised. (There’s a reason for that, but it still doesn’t seem like a realistic reaction from a scientist.) It’s just strikes me as strange.

(This could be a piece of adaptation decay. At the back of the volume is an exerpt from the novel of the scene where Takumi and Yuji first find the woman in the woods. Things happen slightly differently than they do in the manga version, with Takumi actually considering the possibility that she might be a ghost, a doppelganger, a clone, or a twin sister of Mio’s he never knew about, and there’s actually a reason given why he can so easily accept that she is Mio and not somebody else who simply looks like Mio.)

Other than that, though, the story is really sweet as Takumi tells Mio stories about how they fell in the love, and in the process, falls in love with her all over again. Though he easily accepts that she is Mio, things are realistically awkward between them — and between her and Yuji — at first since she doesn’t remember even the simplest things, like what he likes to eat for lunch or that Yuji is allergic to strawberries. It’s charming to see them gradually become closer as Mio starts acting more like the Mio they knew before, and sad when Mio realizes that she can’t stay with them forever.

I won’t spoil the answer to the mystery of Mio’s reappearance, which is revealed at the end of the story, but I will say the explanation kind of felt like it came out of nowhere and was a bit of a letdown. There aren’t really any hints or clues given to the reader that would help them solve the case on their own before the answer is revealed to them. In that regard, as a mystery, it fails, but I did enjoy it as a romance.

One thing that really impressed me in this one-shot is just how well-developed the characters are, despite the short length of the story. Nobody feels like a stereotype. Takumi is an introvert, but he isn’t particularly shy or withdrawn. Yuji has his moments of acting like a cute, sometimes troublesome child, but other times, he seems more like the father than Takumi does. (He even calls Takumi “Takkun” instead of “Dad”, for reasons that are never explained.) Mio’s amnesia is much better portrayed than Key’s was in Over the Rainbow, and her mother’s grief and anger when she thinks Takumi has moved on with another woman — Mio decides not to see her to avoid upsetting her — come across as realistic and sympathetic.

And the artwork? It’s definitely better than I was expecting, based on that horrible piece of cover art. It’s nicely drawn, but I’m not a fan of how Kawashima draws characters’ eyes. I don’t know quite how to describe them… I guess I would say they look almost fuzzy — definitely not a word most people would want associated with eyes. I got used to it by the end of the story, but I still don’t care for the style. It’s also rather strange that Mio has black hair on the cover, but in the actual story, she’s drawn with light hair. I suspect that Kawashima was too lazy to ink characters with long hair. Only Takumi (who actually has brown hair on the cover) and a few other male characters are given dark hair. The women are all drawn with light hair, save for a couple who have their hair color shaded in by screentone.

I debated for a while whether I should give this story a 6 or a 7. I really liked the romantic aspects of the story, but the mystery side fell rather flat and disappointed me, so I settled for a 6. Fans of romance who don’t care for mysteries could probably bump it up to a 7. I wouldn’t consider this a must-read, or even something I would recommend to the average manga fan, but it’s a nice enough one-shot, and I’ll probably check out that Jennifer Garner movie if it ever gets released.

Add a comment April 4, 2010

Over the Rainbow

Originally posted on Mar. 5, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: Over the Rainbow
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Keiko Honda
PUBLISHER: Central Park Media
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 4 (Bad)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Keiko Honda, All My Darling Daughters, romance

It’s always a risk to blind buy a volume of manga when you’re unfamiliar with the mangaka’s other works and haven’t read many reviews about the title. It worked out for me a few weeks ago when I picked up Angel’s Coffin during a “going-out-of-business” sale at my local Waldenbooks, but Over the Rainbow was definitely not worth the bargain bin price of four dollars I paid for it at Right Stuf.

Over the Rainbow is the story of two up-and-coming lawyers in their late twenties named Arou Bouya and Keita Daigo. One day, while spending the day at an amusement part with divorced Keita’s young son Toru, they encounter a beautiful young woman on the roller coaster. The woman, for some inexplicable reason, has completely lost her memory. The only clue to her idenity is a ring she wears, which bears the engraving, “To Key, with love,” so she is given the name Key. A few months later, when Arou and Keita decide to start their own law practice, they hire Key to be their receptionist. Together, they handle some unusual legal cases while a romance develops between Arou and the amnesiac.

One of the biggest problems with this series is that, as a one-shot, it is only five chapters long. When the storyline stretches over roughly about two years, there’s just not enough pages to let a story like this develop in so few chapters. Things just…happen in Over the Rainbow. There’s little-to-no build up to anything, not even the romance between Arou and Key. It’s clear that Arou has a bit of a crush on Key from the moment they meet at the amusement park, but they interact so rarely and have so little sexual tension between them that it comes as somewhat of a surprise when Arou suddenly decides he’s in love with Key in the fourth chapter. And the mystery of Key’s past? We get some hints as to who she was before she lost her memory, but nothing really concrete. That whole plotline just kind of goes nowhere, really. We never learn why she got amnesia in the first place, and it’s hard to tell if the things we do learn about her are the truth.

It certainly doesn’t help matters that Arou and Key are simply boring characters. They’re generic nice guy and generic nice girl, nothing interesting or noteworthy about them at all. The character I found myself most fascinated by was actually Keita, but, to my disappointment, he only got one chapter devoted to his story. It’s a shame, because I would have much rather read four more chapters about his life as a single father who is still in love with his race car driver ex-wife than Arou and Key’s dull romance. That might have actually been interesting. Even the clients and minor characters have more personality than Arou and Key.

One thing I do like about this one-shot is that it touches on some real-life issues that you don’t normally see dealt with in manga (at least from an adult’s point of view): divorce, miscarriage, single parenthood, working mothers, sexual harrassment, therapy, death of a child, attention-deficit disorder, deafness, and elderly dementia among them. Granted, nothing is explored in depth, but I appreciated that the subjects were at least touched upon.

I have to say, I find it strange that CPM decided to rate this series 13+. Not only is it unlikely that the average thirteen year old is going to be interested in a story like this that was written for an older market, but there are several sex scenes and sexual situations that I feel are a bit too risque even if they don’t show any breasts or butts. (One in particular during the last chapter raised my eyebrows.) It’s a questionable choice, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary. They also didn’t do a very good job with the translation. There were several times I was confused about what was going on because dialogue was put in the wrong speech bubble, and it got on my nerves how they capitalized every new line when a sentence was broken up by ellipses.

The artwork is probably this story’s one saving grace. It’s not anything incredible, mind you, and it’s definitely a title from the nineties, but I did like Honda’s artwork. Most of the characters have a unique look to them, making it easy to tell everyone apart, and the three leads are fairly attractive.

Even with the nice artwork and the decent chapter about Keita, though, I can’t in good conscience recommend this title unless you’re looking for something to cure your insomnia. As of this writing, Right Stuf still had about thirty books left in stock in the Bargain Bin, but if you want my opinion, I say save your four dollars and put it toward something more worth your money — like Angel’s Coffin or All My Darling Daughters, two infinitely better one-shot manga volumes. You’ll thank me later. Trust me.

Add a comment April 2, 2010

The One I Love

Originally posted on Feb. 13, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: The One I Love
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of numerous titles, including Card Captor Sakura, Wish, Chobits, etc.), romance, slice of life

With Valentine’s Day just a day, it seems the perfect time to review The One I Love, a romantic anthology from superstar mangaka group CLAMP, telling stories of love focusing on a variety of different women, from high school girls to career women and those who are about to get married. (There’s even a Valentine’s Day themed story, making it perfect reading for the holiday.)

The One I Love is a bit different from your typical manga volume. Not only does it contain twelve one-shot short stories — well, actually, they’re more like vignettes than actual stories, coming in at only seven pages each — but after each story, the group’s leader Nanase Ohkawa has written a short essay detailing the inspiration behind each vignette and how they fit into CLAMP’s idea of love. Some of the stories are somewhat autobiographical in nature, based on things that happened in her or one of the other member’s lives, while others were inspired by stories told to Ohkawa by friends and family members. The fact that these vignettes were based on true stories gives a particular ring of truth about them, and even if you can’t personally identify with all the stories, there’s bound to be at least one or two that have you nodding your head, saying, “Yeah, I know exactly how she feels. I’ve felt that way, too.” (Yes, guys included, even though the main character in each story is female and the stories are told from her point-of-view. As some of the vignettes show, men can have the same insecurities, concerns, and worries about their relationships as women do. We’re not so different after all!)

My personal favorite is the vignette about a woman telling her boyfriend how she doesn’t understand the word “cute”. She complains about its vagueness and feels that it’s just something people say as a social nicety, yet whenever her boyfriend tells her that she’s cute, she gets all flustered and happy. For lack of a better word, the vignette is really…cute! (Okay, I can think of a few other words to describe it — adorable, heart-warming, and sweet come to mind — but I couldn’t resist!) I may not feel as strongly about the word “cute” as she does, but I do feel a little happier when somebody I love tells me I’m cute (especially since I don’t think of myself as a particularly “cute” person).    

I also identified with the one about a girl in a long distance relationship and the one about sharing interests with the one you love. My first (and only) romantic relationship was long distance, and while the circumstances were different than those in the vignette, I still sympathized with some of her feelings. As for sharing interests, it was video games in my case. He was a huge video game fanatic, so I became interested in them, too. (Well, maybe re-interested — wait, is that even a word? — is the more appropriate term, since I had always rather liked them. Just didn’t play them much.) The essay following that vignette actually addresses a common misconception some people have when a significant other decides to show interest in their partner’s hobbies. It’s not about becoming someone different, somebody they might like more, as some might see it, and losing your identity; it’s more about sharing and being together with the one you love. Out of all the essays, that was probably my favorite. 

Artwise, it’s CLAMP, so of course it’s gorgeous. Mick Nekoi is credited as the artist for this work, and it’s very similar in style to Wish, which she also drew. While the women are all beautiful and unique, I must admit that some of the men can kind of look a bit identical at times, a fact Nekoi admits to in the amusing omake comic at the end of the volume. But that’s really only a minor complaint. What’s really wonderful is that the first vignette (along with the title page featuring a drawing of all twelve women) is rendered completely in color. The effect is beautiful, and I wish the rest of the vignettes had been done the same. That would have been amazing, but, oh, well.

I think those who are already CLAMP fans (like I am) will really enjoy this anthology, but I don’t think it’ll hold as much appeal to non-fans. However, if you’re in the mood for some warm and fuzzy romance that doesn’t require a huge commitment, this title may be just what you’re looking for. You may even learn something about love.

Add a comment March 30, 2010

All My Darling Daughters

Originally posted on Jan. 27, 2010 at LiveJournal. There will be some discussion on female-on-male rape in the following review, so reader discretion is advised.

TITLE: All My Darling Daughters
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Fumi Yoshinaga
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Fumi Yoshinaga (mangaka of Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Antique Bakery, etc.), slice of life, romance

It’s great to see more josei titles — targeted toward older women — being licensed here in the U.S. There aren’t many available, so when I heard All My Darling Daughters was being released, I immediately put it on my “must buy” list.

All My Darling Daughters is a collection of five interconnected short stories involving the life of 30-year-old Yukiko Kisaragi and her friends and family. The first story deals with the fallout after Yukiko’s widowed mother Mari suddenly gets remarried to a much younger actor/former host after surviving a bout with cancer. Understandably, Yukiko is very dubious about this decision, worried that this guy is just taking advantage of her mother. Though Ken turns out to be a good guy who really loves Mari, Yukiko begins feeling like a third wheel and decides to move in with the average-looking co-worker she’s been dating. I’m not usually one to be completely awed by a single page of artwork, but I have to say the last page of this story is quite stunning in its simplicity. There are no words, just a picture of Yukiko crying as she’s packing her things and her mother coming up behind her, not embracing her, but comforting her just the same. You can really feel the strong connection between the two in the final scene.

I have…issues with the second story, about a friend of Ken’s named Kiyo. This story is the reason why I gave this otherwise excellent collection of short stories a rating of 7 instead of 8. The problem? Well, Kiyo is a lecturer at a local university, and one day he is raped by one of his creepy female students, who gives him a blowjob after he repeatedly tells her no. This would be fine, and even kind of interesting, if Kiyo actually acknowledged it as rape, but he doesn’t. (Other than using the excuse “She forced me!” when Yukiko expresses disapproval over what happened.) He rather enjoys the experience, and the two of them fall into a strange sort of sexual relationship in which the girl continues to give him blowjobs after hours while refusing any pleasure for herself. In fact, when Kiyo starts to develop feelings for the girl and suggests they go on an actual date, she decides to break off their little arrangement altogether, saying he’s “too good” for her.

This could have been a good story. Stories focusing on student/teacher relationships are, admittedly, a kink of mine, the “rapist” is fascinating in a tragic sort of way, and there’s some nice humor involved, but the fact that the girl raped him and nobody seems to acknowledge it just doesn’t sit well with me. I would have probably enjoyed the story more had Kiyo just consented in the first place. I get why he didn’t — the mangaka wanted the reader to see him as a nice guy — but it kind of makes him seem like the virginal heroine in a historical romance novel who is “ravished” by the hero. You can call it a different word, but it’s still pretty much the same thing. (Especially in this case, since, unlike those romance heroines who might secretly want to sleep with hero but feel they can’t because of society’s rules, Kiyo really did not want the girl to give him a blowjob. He was not attracted to her at all at first and knew it was against school policy.)  Actually, I don’t think I would have thought of him too badly if he had consented right at the beginning (provided it was done in the right way), because Kiyo really is a nice guy — especially in comparison to the girl’s former boyfriends — and the girl is old enough to decide what kind of sexual activity she wants to partake in (even if it’s clear that she has some serious self-esteem issues and could use a lesson in the meaning of self-worth). If it had been written just a little differently, it could have been an interesting story about how a strictly sexual relationship can turn into something more for one of the partners, leading to complications in said relationship when the other doesn’t want things to change, but instead, it comes off more like a case of a victim falling in love with his rapist, and I’m not interested in that.

Fortunately, the third story is excellent and by far my favorite in the book. The only two-parter in the collection, it centers on Yukiko’s friend Sayako, who decides to have an arranged marriage even though she’s beautiful, successful, and kind, and therefore shouldn’t have any trouble finding a husband. Her aunt sets her up with several possible suitors, but none of them catch her interest until she’s introduced to a man named Tatsuhiko. At first glance, he doesn’t seem like much of a catch, as he was in a car accident during college that left him crippled, but he is very kind, and the two of them hit it off well. However, when it comes time to decide if she will marry him, Sayoko chooses to break it off. I don’t want to spoil the reason why, but I will say it’s a wonderful story with quite an unexpected, but fitting, ending.

The last two stories are also quite good, but I feel the first and the third story are really the true highlights of the collection. Are they good enough for me to recommend spending thirteen dollars on the book? Well, it depends. The artwork is lovely — realistic without the huge eyes and cookie-cutter faces you often see in shoujo titles — and the presentation of the book is really wonderful. (It’s from the Viz Signature line, so it gets a few bells and whistles that you don’t usually get in the cheaper lines like Shoujo Beat and Shonen Jump.) If you enjoy slice-of-life and more realistic stories that are character-driven like I do and are interested in josei, then it will probably be worth your money; if you prefer more plotty fare, then this title probably isn’t for you.

Add a comment March 27, 2010

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