Posts tagged ‘Shoujo ‘




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suki: A Like Story

TITLE: Suki: A Like Story
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 3
SCORE: 10 (Masterpiece)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of Card Captor Sakura, Chobits, etc.), romance, slice of life, mystery

When someone thinks about CLAMP, the first thing that tends to come to mind is fantasy. The group is mostly known for writing and drawing manga that doesn’t take place in the regular world as we know it. There’s usually either elements of the supernatural or science fiction — sometimes even both — in their work, and they’re great at portraying fantastic worlds that come straight from their imagination.

Suki: A Like Story, however, is different from their usual work in that it does take place fully in the “real” world — perhaps a far more idealistic world than the one we know, but still a story that feels like it could actually happen. I actually wasn’t expecting to like it that much, despite my love for student/teacher relationships, but to my great surprise, Suki has overtaken Chobits as my favorite CLAMP title and earns itself the first Masterpiece rating to be posted in this blog.

Suki: A Like Story is the story of high school student Hinata Asahi. Hina, as she likes to be called, is one of the top students in her class, but in spite of her book smarts, she’s also very child-like and naive about the world. Although her father is very rich, she chooses to live by herself with only her two teddy bears — gifts from her late mother — for company, as she’s often the target of kidnapping plots and doesn’t want to involve anyone else in her troubles.

One day, a man in his early thirties named Shiro Asou moves into the house next door to Hina’s, exciting her. He turns out to be her new substitute homeroom teacher, taking over for her regular teacher, who goes on maternity leave. To everybody else, he seems cold and unfeeling, but Hina sees beyond his gruff exterior to realize he’s actually a kind man underneath it all. Though her friends Touko and Emi warn her it isn’t a good idea, Hina develops a crush on her teacher as they spend more time together outside of school. However, Shiro is hiding a big secret from Hina, and soon strange things start to happen when they are together. Could he be another kidnapper targeting her for her father’s money?  

Student/teacher romances can be tough to pull off without turning off many readers, and CLAMP doesn’t have the best track record in that regard. I enjoyed the relationship between ronin Shimbo and his cram school teacher from Chobits, as well as the one between middle school student Touya and student teacher/miko Kaho from Card Captor Sakura, but the engagement between ten-year-old Rika and her twenty-something teacher Mr. Terada (also from CCS) is pretty squicky no matter how you look at it. (I don’t care if they don’t necessarily “do” anything; a grown man should not be falling in love with and proposing to his prepubescent student, no matter how mature she seems.) With Hina being so naive and trusting, an older, more experienced man like Shiro could have easily taken advantage of her, but CLAMP wisely keeps things rather innocent between the two. I’m sure some will still find the age difference between them disturbing, but if you can get pass that, the story itself is really quite sweet.

It’s hard not to be charmed by Hina, after all. She’s the type of character that makes a reader want to smile every time she appears on the page. Though childish and innocent to the ways of the world, she isn’t too “cutesy”, which I appreciated. She may talk to her stuffed bears like they’re real people, but it’s not because she actually thinks they’re alive like a child might. She’s just lonely living by herself. And while she may enjoy reading children’s picture books in her spare time, Hina is also incredibly smart. She’s just naive and only sees the best in people. That innocence may get her in trouble on occasion, yet there’s something quite appealing about it as well. She honestly sees nothing wrong with her feelings for her teacher. The translation of the original Japanese title sums up Hina’s love for Shiro best: “I like you, that’s why I like you.” It’s a very pure kind of love.

As for Shiro, he’s very emotionally closed off due to a certain event from his past, so it’s difficult to tell exactly what he feels toward Hina until the very end. I think that’s a good thing with this kind of story. Had the reader been clued into any “impure” thoughts an adult man like him might have had about Hina, it probably would have ruined the innocence of their romance and tipped their relationship more into the “squicky” direction. Instead, he’s very chaste toward her, and there’s nothing really sexual about their relationship at all.

The plot is on the simple side, but it’s paced really well. With some short series, things can feel kind of rushed at times, but Suki unfolds at a natural and steady rate. Like Chobits, where Chii is a fan of a series of picture books that seem to mirror her life, Hina’s relationship with Shiro also becomes the inspiration for a cute book series about bears. I have to admit, I loved that hook in Chobits, and it is done even better in Suki in my opinion. Though the identity of the “bad guy” seemed to come out of left field at first, looking back, there were subtle clues foreshadowing who it was.

The one minor flaw I have with the series is the artwork. It’s not bad by any means — it’s CLAMP, after all! — but it’s another series drawn mainly by Mick Nekoi, and I’m a bigger fan of Mokona’s prettier artwork. If not for the fact that Hina wears dresses and skirts, at first glance most people would assume she was a boy! Though the two other main female characters (Emi and Touko) are more feminine looking, they still look a tad too masculine to me, and Nekoi’s male characters tend to only come in two varieties — tall and dark, with short hair or short and blond, with longer hair. (Oh, and glasses. I suspect she has a bit of a glasses fetish.) Still, my mild dislike of the artwork is only a minor thing and didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the series.

This series may not be for everyone. Though the romance between Hina and Shiro is portrayed as very pure and innocent, some people may still think it is creepy. If you can look past the age difference, though, Suki: A Like Story is one of the sweetest romances I’ve had the pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

Add a comment December 15, 2010

A Million Tears

TITLE: A Million Tears
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Yuana Kozumi
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuana Kazumi (mangaka of Flower of the Deep Sleep and Haru Hana), drama, supernatural, romance

Back in this review for Haru Hana, I put forth the hypothesis that mangaka Yuana Kazumi was better at portraying drama than she was comedy, so I tracked down some copies of her earlier, out-of-print series, A Million Tears, to put my theory to the test. The verdict? Yes, she does much better with dramatic material, although this series isn’t without its flaws.

Hiromu is just an average, ordinary sixteen-year-old high school student. He enjoys playing on his school’s champion basketball team, and he has a cute, if slightly quirky, girlfriend named Natsumi. One day, though, one of his friends suddenly goes missing, and to make matters worse, not only does no one care about the guy’s disappearance, they don’t even remember him! It’s as if the friend never existed at all, and soon other kids at Hiromu’s school begin disappearing as well, literally without a trace.

The disappearances turn out to be the work of a guy named Vermillion, a Destiny Thief who lives off the existances of humans. Once he “eats” someone, they vanish completely, even from people’s memories. The victims cease to exist. Hiromu, however, remembers the vanished people because he’s a Destiny Thief as well, whose real name is Glorious. He lost his memories of being a Destiny Thief after stealing the existance of the real Hiromu and assuming his life, but he begins to recover those memories after Vermillion re-introduces him to Valeriana, Glorious’ near-vegetative wife.

There’s a lot about the theme of this series I like. Using the hook of Destiny Thieves to explore the nature of existance and what it means to truly be alive is a clever idea, and the series manages to be quite deep despite its brevity.

The problem is, as noted at the end of Volume 1, A Million Tears was originally meant to be a single volume, meaning that Kazumi had to quickly think of ways to expand her basic plot. It seems she decided to do that by adding a series of flashbacks, detailing Glorious’ life from when he first became a Destiny Thief to how he became Hiromu. It’s not that these chapters are superfluous; they do serve a purpose. The first flashback shows how Hirokazu — the future Glorious — fell in love with Valeriana and decided to become a Destiny Thief in order to save her life, the second is about Glorious meeting the original Hiromu, and the third, taking place in between the first two memories, explains how Valeriana ended up in her near-vegetative state. The memories flesh out the characters’ history and build up the theme of the story.

The problem I have with these middle chapters is that they don’t really flow naturally into the plot. They just happen with no real warning or build-up, causing the reader confusion at first as they try to decipher exactly when things are happening. The flashbacks are just…there, and while they are interesting and answer a lot of questions, I just wish they felt more integrated into the narrative itself instead of feeling like tacked-on filler.

Another problem is that some of the characters’ personalities aren’t particularly well-defined. For example, Hiromu’s girlfriend Natsumi is supposed to be a little on the strange side, but she seems pretty normal to me. Sure, her classmates think she’s crazy when Hiromu disappears and she keeps insisting that he existed, but she was always supposed to be a little weird. Yet the only time I really saw that trait expressed before Hiromu’s reawakening as Glorious is when he tries to confide in her about his fears that he’s going crazy and she starts up a speech about how maybe everybody else is crazy instead. (It’s also revealed that she’s in the Sumo Club, which I guess is a bit unusual for a cute teenage girl.) Then there’s Vermillion, who remains a bit of a cipher throughout the whole series. He’s quite attached to Glorious, but it’s never made clear exactly what the nature of his feelings are. Is he in love Glorious? Lonely and just wants a friend? Does he just enjoy toying with people? Apparently, unlike Glorious and Valeriana, who were originally human, he was always a Destiny Thief, but where exactly did he come from?

The characterization of Hiromu/Glorious/Hirokazu, though, is rather well done. Each aspect is different, yet not radically so. You have Hirokazu, the bitter little rich boy who resents his engagement to a woman who he doesn’t love, yet shows kindness to the beautiful foreigner who arrives into town on a missionary mission when everyone else shuns her; Hiromu, the kind high school basketball player in love with his girlfriend; and Glorious — revengeful against humans for what happened in the past, devoted to Valeriana, and willing to do anything so that they can be together forever, yet hesistant to erase Natsumi even after she learns the truth about who he is. There’s a nice conflict between his Hirokazu personality and his Hiromu personality when he’s restored as Glorious that I enjoyed.

I also liked the artwork, especially the beautiful watercolor covers. It’s not as polished as Haru Hana, and both female leads have dreadful hairstyles, but there’s still something quite appealing about it. Vermillion, in particular, has some really nice facial expressions that I loved.

A Million Tears is most definitely a flawed work, but as one of Kazumi’s earlier works, that’s to be expected. Still, if you enjoyed the more dramatic parts of Haru Hana, I think it’s worth a look.

Add a comment November 10, 2010

Shirahime-Syo

TITLE: Shirahime-Syo
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of xxxHolic, Magic Knights Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura, The One I Love, The Legend of Chun Hyang, etc.), supernatural, romance, tragedy

Shirahime-Syo translated into English means “Snow Goddess Tales”, but curiously, the title Snow Goddess (actually a yuki-onna, a spirit from Japanese folklore) only appears in one of the four stories presented in this beautiful short story collection from CLAMP. She is only referenced in the other three winter-based stories by characters who tell of a legend, claiming that the falling snow is the tears of the Snow Princess. Still, the stories are all linked together by their tragic endings, which the Snow Princess comments on in the framing story when she reveals that the snow is not caused by her tears, but by the despair of humans.

The first of the main short stories is called “On Wolf Mountain” and is probably my favorite. In it, a young woman named Fubuki plans revenge for her father’s death at the hands of the savage animal who killed him. He is described as “a wolf the color of night” with “eyes the color of blood”. Her mother is against Fubuki leaving, fearing she will suffer the same end as her father, but Fubuki is adamant about killing the wolf and sets off on her own. While searching for the wolf in the mountains, she comes across a pack of wild dogs, who attack her. Fubuki is certain she is going to die, but she is saved at the last minute by the black wolf she has been looking for.

I liked Fubuki the best out of all the female characters in the story, and though I’m not really a dog lover, I enjoyed the relationship that brewed between her and the wolf, who she named Inuki, as they depended on each other to get through the harsh winter. Those who are attached to their pets, especially dogs, are certain to find the ending particularly heart-breaking.

The second story, called “The Ice Flower” is the shortest and most tragic of the tales. Based on similar stories from around the world, it is about a pair of young lovers who are to be separated when the man decides to set out on a journey. The girl Kaya promises to wait by the lake where they say their goodbyes for as long as it takes for his promised return. Thirty years later, the man finally comes back to the village. Though he knows it is unlikely that Kaya would have really waited for him after so many years, he has to know for certain. He is unprepared for the sight that awaits him at the lake, however. Readers may roll their eyes at the depths Kaya goes to to keep her promise to her lover, but it is romantic in a very tragic way.  

“Hiyoku no Tori”, the last tale, is also about separated lovers. A young man decides to become a soldier in order to impress the disapproving father of Yukino, the woman he loves. However, after a battle, he is separated from his troops and becomes lost in a snow-covered area far from civilization. While wandering around, trying to find his way home, he sees a pair of beautiful herons. The sight of them reminds him of how he can’t be with Yukino, and in a jealous rage, he kills one of the birds with his bow and arrow. A few days later, he comes across the heron’s headless carcass again, telling him that all he’s been doing is walking in circles. The man is certain he is going to die without seeing his beloved Yukino again, but then a beautiful woman carrying a skull in her arms appears before him and points him in the direction of his hometown. It’s a somewhat similar story to “On Wolf Mountain”, but I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story, so I won’t say anything more about it.

I enjoyed all the stories, but I think the real beauty of the collection is the artwork. It’s still unmistakably CLAMP, but the style is closer to traditional Japanese artwork, appropriate for a collection of stories based on folklore. I don’t think many would disagree with me when I say that Shirahime-Syo features some of CLAMP’s best art. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find who was the lead artist for this anthology, but I assume it is probably Mokona, who is the team’s main artist.

For fans of CLAMP’s beautiful artwork, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Shirahime-Syo if you can find one. (I picked mine up secondhand, since I believe it is now out of print.) For everyone else… I don’t know. The short stories are solid and the artwork fantastic, but the volume is on the thin side and not as entertaining as some of their other series. Reading Shirahime-Syo feels akin to being assigned a piece of classic literature in English class: the story may be well-written and the plot somewhat interesting, but ultimately you’d rather be reading Harry Potter. (Granted, I actually really loved most of the books I read in school, but I was the minority in my AP English classes.) Still, if you like more literary-minded manga inspired by folklore, this anthology might be worth a glance.

Add a comment October 7, 2010

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