Posts tagged ‘Yuu Watase ‘


TITLE: Imadoki!
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
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

Alice 19th

TITLE: Alice 19th
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuu Watase (mangaka of Ceres: Celestial Legend, Fushigi Yugi, Imadoki, etc.), Card Captor Sakura, romance, drama, comedy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve all heard the saying, but in reality, words do have the power to hurt people on an emotional level, and the scars they leave behind on a person’s psyche can last much longer than a physical bruise or scratch.

In Alice 19th, battles are not fought with swords and guns. They are fought with words.

The heroine, Alice Seno, is an introverted teenager who lives in the shadow of her prettier and more popular older sister, Mayura. She has a crush on handsome upperclassman Kyo Wakamiya, but she doesn’t have the courage to tell him how she feels about him. Unfortunately, Mayura is also in love with Kyo and beats Alice to the punch by asking him out. Alice, not wanting to upset her sister, decides to keep her feelings for Kyo a secret and support their relationship.

One day, Alice comes across a mysterious rabbit named Nyozeka, who has the ability to transform into a cute little human girl. She gives Alice a special bracelet and informs her that she is a Lotus Master — a person with the ability to use Lotis Words. Lotis Words are a set of twenty-four runes that can be used to exorcise mara (bad feelings) from people’s hearts. In reference to the title, the first word Alice masters is the 19th word “rangu” (courage), when she saves Nyozeka from being hit by a car.

As a Lotis Master, the words Alice says have more power than those of regular people. She discovers this the hard way when during an argument with Mayura, she tells her sister to disappear. Mayura literally disappears, having been pulled into the darkness of the Inner Heart. Now Alice, along with Kyo, who is also discovered to be a Lotis Master, must learn to use the rest of the Lotis Words — as well as the legendary “lost word” — in order to save Mayura from being consumed by the hatred in her heart.

I’m a hardcore Yuu Watase fan, but in some ways, Alice 19th is the most disappointing of her works. Not because it is bad — it’s very good, in fact — but because it could have been a lot better. The problem is, the story is much bigger than the seven volumes she was given to tell it in. I would have liked this series to have been at least ten volumes, and preferably even longer. Alice and Kyo only really “master” maybe around five or six Lotis Words each; the rest they just memorize like studying for a vocabulary test, which comes off as such a cop-out when other Lotis Masters can study for years without learning all the words. Yes, perhaps reading about Alice, Kyo, and Frey (another Lotis Master from Norway who acts as their mentor and is in love with Alice) exorcizing the mara from people’s Inner Hearts might have become repetitive after a while, but I would have liked to have seen them learn to master the words, rather than just being told. That’s not good story-telling. A few of the Lotis Words aren’t even used in the series itself by anyone, instead only mentioned in bonus pages describing all the words!

Another major problem is that the rules of this series’ universe are terribly inconsistant. I don’t know if it’s a matter of translation, or if the original story is just as sloppy, but it seems like Watase changes the rules whenever it suits the plot, rather than having the plot work within a set list of guidelines. The biggest example is when the trio go inside Alice’s father’s Inner Heart. For some reason that I still don’t really get, only Alice’s Lotis Words will work there, when previously none of them have had trouble using Lotis Words in other people’s Inner Hearts. It’s really just an excuse to have Alice be the one to save her father by herself.

The story itself, however, is still good despite some short-comings in how it is told. I love the theme running through the story about the importance of communication and being true to your feelings, and the idea of fighting with words instead of weapons is a great way of conveying that theme. The great cast of characters also helps hold the plot together. Though Alice 19th comes off as being a plot-based story, I think it’s more enjoyable if you look at it as a character study. I don’t think I would have liked it as much if not for the characters, who make up for the weaknesses in the plot.

Loner Alice is very different from the usual Watase heroine, lacking the extroverted personality of say, Aya from Ceres or Tanpopo from Imadoki. I tend to like all of Watase’s female leads — yes, even the much-hated Miaka from Fushigi Yugi — but Alice is the only one I personally identify with. Like Alice, I tend to keep my feelings and opinions to myself, not wanting to cause trouble or take the risk of being hurt. I also can empathize with having a prettier and more popular sister (though in my case, I’m actually the older sister) and not having any close friends. In a lot of ways, reading Alice’s story is like reading my own diary, so it was very easy for me to understand her feelings and root for her to succeed.

I also really liked Kyo, who gets some fantastic character development throughout the series. Coming across at first as simply a nice guy with a penchant for using multi-syllabic words in conversation, as the reader learns more of his sad backstory, it is clear that he has a dark side to him that he tries very hard to hide from others and overcome. His feelings for Mayura and Alice are also refreshing in that, because of the things that happen in his backstory, he doesn’t really understand what he feels for them at first. It’s more realistic than falling for either one of them at first sight, and his confusion comes across as very believable.

Then there’s Frey, who is tons of fun. He’s the comic relief in the story, a shameless flirt who decides Alice will be the girl he marries the very first time they meet. Though he’s never a serious contender for Alice’s love, Frey and Kyo develop this great friendship/rivalry that leads to some of the series’ biggest laughs (and, I’m sure, fuels the slash-y dreams of yaoi fangirls). Like everyone else in the series, though, he too has a tragic past that he has to overcome. His story is probably the saddest in the series, in fact; I just wish it had been more foreshadowed in the beginning. As written, it kind of seems to come out of nowhere.

Disappointedly, the other three Lotis Masters who join the trio later on are not as fleshed out — another reason why I feel the manga needed to be longer. Chris, arriving about mid-way in the series, gets an adequate amount of development, I suppose, but most of the information about Mei Lin and Billy comes solely from their profiles. It’s quite frustrating because the two of them had the potential to be such awesome characters. Mei Lin is a cute up-an-coming starlet from China, while Billy is an African-American postal worker (of all professions) who grew up living in the projects. Though even a few of the minor villains are given short backstories to explain their motivations, the two of them are practically ignored and might as well not even exist. I honestly don’t see the point of introducing them if Watase wasn’t going to do anything with them. (There is a bonus short story at the end of the last volume about one of Mei Lin’s ancestors meeting Nyozeka and learning one of the Lotis Words, but I’d say that hardly counts as Mei Lin’s backstory.) 

As this is Yuu Watase we’re talking about, the artwork is gorgeous, of course. Though some may criticize the lack of individuality in her characters’ looks from series to series, I think the majority of the characters in Alice 19th actually have a distinct look to them compared to her other characters (except for Kyo, who looks a lot like most of her male leads. Still hot, though). I also liked the designs of the various mara they have to face and thought the battles were well drawn.

On the whole, Alice 19th is a decent series, but it could have been even better had some things been expanded on. There was so much potential… When asked what manga series I would like to see turned into an anime, Alice 19th is always at the top of my list. The manga laid the groundwork for what could be an awesome 52-episode (or even longer!) anime series, in which Alice and Kyo properly master all the Lotis Words and Mei Lin and Billy get an expanded role. It could be like the anime for Card Captor Sakura, which took an already wonderful manga and made it even better! (Heck, Alice even looks like an older Sakura.) Too bad that will probably never happen, but a girl can dream, right?

Add a comment June 30, 2010

Absolute Boyfriend

Originally posted February 24, 2010 at Livejournal.

TITLE: Absolute Boyfriend
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuu Watase (mangaka of Fushigi Yugi, Ceres: Celestial Legend, Imadoki, Alice 19th), Chobits, romance, comedy, drama, science fiction

Hands down, my all-time favorite mangaka is Yuu Watase. Her artwork is beautiful, her male leads gorgeous, and the storylines are always enjoyable, full of comedy, drama, and sexy romance. A lot of people consider Absolute Boyfriend her weakest work, and I can understand their critiques of it, but when it comes to overall entertainment value, this series is my second favorite of her series. (The first being Ceres: Celestial Legend). It’s like a guilty pleasure, yet I feel no guilt at all for loving it.

Lonely sixteen-year-old Riiko Izawa wants a boyfriend, but she has the worst luck when it comes to asking boys out. One day, after being turned down by her latest crush, Riiko recovers the cell phone of a strangely dressed man named Gaku Namikiri. He’s a salesman for a mail-order company called Kronos Heaven, and as a thank you for returning his phone, he offers to give her a discount on anything in their catalog. However, the only thing Riiko wants is something money can’t buy: a boyfriend.

As it turns out, to her surprise, you can. Kronos Heaven has developed a line of realistic-looking “figures” (robots) called the Nightly Lovers series. On a lark, Riiko orders one of the figures from a secret site online and arrives home the next day to find a hot naked “man” in a crate outside her apartment. She initializes him with a kiss and names him Night.

Though she intends to return Night after the three day trial period, due to a technicality, Riiko is late in doing so and must pay Night’s full price tag — a million dollars! Obviously, no ordinary high school girl has that kind of money, so Gaku makes a deal with her. As long as Riiko can keep Night’s robotic nature a secret and allow Night to gather data on what women want, Night can stay with her. The question is, is perfect Night the one Riiko really wants, or is it handsome human Soshi, her next-door neighbor and childhood friend who confesses he’s in love with her?

Something I really liked about this title in comparison to Watase’s other works is that there is actual suspense in who Riiko will chose in the end. In other Watase titles, it’s obvious who the heroine loves almost from the beginning. She may turn to a secondary love interest temporarily when she can’t be with her first choice, but it’s always clear that he’s second in her heart. Not so with Riiko. She cares deeply for both guys, and it’s very difficult for her to decide who she loves more. Night is the perfect boyfriend — her dream guy — but no matter how human he may seem, he’ll never age or be able to give Riiko children. Life with him will never be normal. Soshi, on the other hand, despite being an imperfect human, has always been there for her and knows Riiko better than practically everyone. It’s a tough decision, giving this story a true love triangle.

Speaking of the guys, I have to point out that both Night and Soshi are H-O-T. Watase always draws gorgeous guys, but I think she’s outdone herself with this title, especially with Night. I used to think Tooya (from Ceres) was the sexiest Watase male lead, but Night has overtaken him to take that title. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Night has an amusing habit of stripping off all his clothes whenever he thinks Riiko wants to have sex. Yum! It’s female fanservice at its best. And for those who have a thing for guys with glasses, Soshi is really handsome as well. I do wish that Riiko had more of a unique look to her, though. She’s cute, but pretty much looks exactly like Aya from Ceres.

The strongest aspect of this series is probably the comedy. There is a bit of drama later in the story, but this is, essentially, a sex comedy, something that readers should keep in mind. Absolute Boyfriend is not meant to be read as a deep, philosophical series. Despite its outward similarities to Chobits (incidentally, another favorite series of mine), which asked tough questions about the relationships between humans and robots, AB is, at heart, simply a high school romance with a touch of a science fiction flavor.

There are weaknesses in the plot, admittedly. I’m thinking specifically of something that happens in Volume 4, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me and provides some unnecessary drama. It’s definitely a low point in the series, reminiscent of a certain plot point Watase originally used in Fushigi Yugi to better effect. That’s followed by a plot twist that is really kind of silly at first glance, but it does lead to some of the most humorous (and cute!) moments in the series and allows us to learn a little more about one of Riiko’s friends, who certainly is a much better character than Riiko’s frenemy from the beginning of the series. (Boy, was she horrible!)

Despite some hiccups in the middle, I think this is a really fun series to read. It’s no Chobits, but it doesn’t set out to be. If you’re a Watase fan and/or looking for a little mindless entertainment with some yummy (naked!) bishounen, search no further than Absolute Boyfriend. He may just be your Mr. Right.

Add a comment April 2, 2010






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