by Shouko Akira; adapted by Mai Ihara
published by Viz; $8.99 US
The title comes from student Haruna comparing school to a mountain of monkeys, fighting over hierarchy and status. She’s new, transferring in because of her father. He was involved in a political corruption scandal, so her elite previous school booted her. The first kid she meets is Macharu, and she thinks he even looks like a baby monkey. (He does, too, in a nice art job that suggests a resemblance without descending into caricature.)
Haruna, meanwhile, is a reserved beauty with long hair and a damaged air. (In the end notes, the author says she’s hard to draw because of her complex face, which is a good way to put it.) She doesn’t trust anyone, and everyone’s busy gossiping about her family. She comforts and protects herself by looking down on them, which feeds the distance between them, until the school play brings her and Macharu closer together. There’s also a class prince, a gorgeous boy who’s interested in her, which makes the other girls jealous. (I enjoy this aspect of shojo stories, that the bitchy girls are so outrageously so, and unafraid to act on their feelings. It would be no fun to be their target, but in a story, it’s entertaining.)
This first book reads as if it’s further along in the series than it is, and the aggressively remote Haruna is unusual for a shojo heroine. She doesn’t want a boyfriend or friends, and she doesn’t have a skill she’s pursuing or can take refuge in. She’s just alone. Being thrown together with Macharu would make her more accepted, but she’s unsure of her feelings. She also tends to speak before she thinks, reacting out of pain or uncertainty, which makes her seem meaner than she is.
I didn’t immediately warm to this series. It didn’t draw me in quickly, yet I feel for Haruna, and I hope to see her become more comfortable with her surroundings. And Macharu is nice and puppylike with radiant happiness. It grew on me slowly, as something different than the usual examples of the genre. It’s more thoughtful and unusually paced. This was the rare manga volume I put down in the middle and came back to. Many of them are like popcorn for me, quick, enjoyable reads. This one is denser, with more going on and more reflection. Once I gave it time and thought, I really enjoyed it. It takes longer to get into it, but it’s rewarding once there.
The story of a new girl unsure how to fit in is something many can relate to. It’s about opposites attracting, but not for broad comedy. Instead, they fill in each other’s gaps. And I’ve got to love that a third of the book revolves around group cooking. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)