published by Viz; $8.99 US
All books, Shojo Beat titles priced at $8.99, were provided by the publisher, Viz, for review.
Baby & Me Book 11
by Marimo Ragawa
Since I last read this series, the cast has apparently been expanded to include a ton of kids, all of whom play baseball in this installment. There’s a certain universality to the insecurity of kids playing sports (as best seen in the Les Nessman-focused episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where the team challenges their competitors to a softball game) — will you get picked? will your team win? will you look like an idiot?
For that reason, I could generally follow what was going on, but I wasn’t very invested in the specifics of the individual character conflicts because there were just too many of them to keep track of. (In the author’s note, she has the same complaint, saying the number made the story difficult, as well as her lack of knowledge of the sport.)
I was interested in this series originally because I like seeing the cute antics of youngsters. With more focus on the older children, I don’t even get that. There’s very little Minoru in the baseball sequence. That’s remedied a bit in the next story, a short about spring cleaning that has the same problem of too many established characters for new readers … but I’m not sure many people would jump in at book 11, so that may be a moot point. Even that story is more about seeing unsuspected sides of tough guys; Minoru is just a mechanism to get there.
There’s also a story about the family going to Hawaii, where Dad looks just like the deceased father of two Americans, who come to terms with their loss due to his presence. It’s an odd change of pace for what I thought of as this book’s typical kind of tale. I did find the portrayals of the communication gaps between the kids both creative and amusing.
by Mitsuba Takanashi
Another series where it’s been too big a gap since I last checked in. I no longer have any involvement in this series, since I don’t care about the characters, so their “does he like me?” convolutions don’t matter to me. Instead of being familiar with who’s in love with whom, all that’s left for me is the competition of the volleyball games.
The art’s not good enough for me to really enjoy that — everyone looks similar, and the many facial closeups don’t quite seem to integrate into the backgrounds. They also make the storytelling flow choppy. There’s nothing wrong with the individual images, but they don’t add up to a cohesive whole. It’s kind of reminiscent of the work of Greg Land, only not as heavily photo-referenced.
Honey and Clover Book 4
by Chica Umino
I enjoy this series more when I keep two things in mind:
1. Read the chapters/stories one at a time, with pauses in-between. That allows for the differing moods of the various entries to seem less like abrupt changes and more like the author wants to explore different aspects of nostalgia for young adulthood.
2. You get out of this series what you put into it. Those who are predisposed to enjoy it will find more in it. That may be applicable to any series, but I can find no better way to explain why those whose opinions I respect think more highly of this title than I do.
(Oh, I almost forgot the special caveat: If you’re creeped out by college kids fighting for the love of what looks like an angelic six-year-old, this is not the series for you. I know the story says she’s as old as they are, but what’s the point in reading comics if you’re not going to look at the pictures?)
Some of the stories aren’t about what happens — which even the characters say, sometimes, is unbelievable — but about evoking a mood of the cherished past. The specific events don’t matter; the nostalgia for the safe time of memory is the point. No matter good or bad, memories are safer because they’ve already happened and you know how they turned out. Although at times, the writer seems to tease us that she knows and we don’t what will happen.
I was pleased to see elements in this book that I hadn’t already seen in one of the adaptations, as Hagumi and Yamada try on yukata (cotton kimono-like garments) for a fireworks festival. That plays up Hagu’s weirdly elfin qualities in a way that I didn’t find so off-putting. The problem of finding the right outfit that looks as it should on you is something many women can relate to — as is her problem, that what she wants to look like isn’t possible for her, since she isn’t tall and shapely. The story demonstrates how clothes sometimes do make the person, or at least how others think of you.
That leads into more of a focus on Yamada and her romantic interests and choices, which I appreciate, since she’s my favorite character. Her practicality grounds the story for me.