published by Viz; $8.99 US
I’m quite impressed by the number and diversity of different Shojo Beat titles Viz made available this month. In addition to the four titles I discuss below (all provided by Viz for the purposes of review; retail price is $8.99 US each), they also put out the following:
- Honey & Clover Book 7 — art school students search for purpose and happiness
- Mixed Vegetables Book 5 — a girl expected to be a pastry chef wants to make sushi instead
- Monkey High Book 7 — reserved girl and short, goofy boy make an odd couple; although this sounds like Love*Com (see below), the mood here is much more thoughtful, while L*C is comedic
- Nana Book 18 — the most mature and involving of the lot, the story of a rock chick and her best friend looking for love and satisfaction
- S.A. Book 12 — competitive students at an elite school
- St. Dragon Girl Book 4 — mystic romance with dragon spirit powers
- We Were There Book 6 — melancholy romance haunted by the memory of a dead love
That’s quite a range of “manga for girls”, with little in common among them beyond the desire to find love and purpose in life. Many of the lead characters are seeking to be successful at what they most enjoy doing, whether it’s fighting or singing or cooking or creating, while others simply want to be sure of their love and being loved. I think that’s why I still enjoy reading these series — even though I’m much older than these girls or the target audience, I can relate to the conflict between where you are and where you dream of being.
Rasetsu Book 2
by Chika Shiomi
The title character is an exorcist promised to a demon if she hasn’t found true love before she’s 20. That’s a very visual, dramatic way to symbolize the kind of ticking clock many girls feel when it comes to coupling up. Her co-worker, psychic Yako, could help her break the curse, except they tease and spar instead of admitting their true feelings for each other.
He’s cute and vaguely scholarly, with glasses, while she’s passionate and dramatic, with long straight black hair. And their interplay with each other and with co-workers is quite amusing, especially since one of them, Kuryu, seems to flirt with both of them. His power is that people do what he tells them, which would make him dangerous if he wasn’t so playful.
This office romance gains a new twist through the supernatural aspects of the job, but it’s the conversations and trust among the characters that make this series so appealing. (I got a Moonlighting/Castle vibe from it.) Although this is my first sample of the series, I feel like I know the cast already and want them to be happy, although it’s fun watching them screw things up along the way, too. This volume also includes a flashback to a younger Rasetsu, shy of people and somewhat feral. The series is a sequel to Yurara, which featured Yako’s earlier days.
Love*Com Book 14
by Aya Nakahara
The latest conflict between Risa and Otani is continued from the previous volume: a gorgeous woman has befriended Otani, making Risa jealous. Typical of this series is the use of stereotypical devices — this isn’t the first temporary flirtation to come between the two — but they’re treated with a rapid-fire, light-handed approach, emphasizing the comedy that stems from the wacky core personalities and ramping up the emotional impact.
Outrageous events include a group of girls kidnapping Otani, painting his face like a cat, and then blackmailing him into breaking up with Risa, so she will date the guy they all love. In no way does this resemble anything like normal human behavior, but it’s silly fun.
Various misunderstandings pile on each other so that everyone, eventually, is wrong. Underlying it all is an accurate portrait of the insecurity of teen romance. The panels are as busy, artistically, as the minds of the characters, racing around “does he still like me? what should I do now?” It’s likely too late to jump on now, since the interplay of the characters makes more sense the more you know of their history, but for those who’ve been following the series, it’s another solid entry.
Sand Chronicles Book 6
by Hinako Ashihara
As the series progresses, Ann is trying to move on from her first love — she’s got a new boyfriend, one who’s more like her and has a bright future. But the history of her memories may not be so easy to shake. And ultimately, she has to find strength in herself, not through anyone else, before she can love without reservations.
It’s summer, the last one before high school ends, so several students rent a beach cottage with the pretense of “studying together” to get into college. Their friends’ chatter about them makes the new couple uncomfortable, adding expectations and not allowing them to proceed at their own rate of development in their relationship.
The art is lovely shojo style, all faces and emotions with exaggeration when needed to make a point or go for a laugh. It carries mood well. The series is about memory, how we look back on things and how who we were affect who we are. At one point, Ann bemoans that she won’t get a “clean break” from part of her past. She wants that time to let it become a happy memory, instead of a painful one, but there are too many connections with people who knew her then for her to be able to simply change from one to the other. That’s something only living and the passage of time can accomplish. Plus, she’s not even sure she’s ready to let go.
The portrayal of tension between the head (what she thinks she should do) and the heart (symbolized by her hourglass) is what drives this series to its depths of emotion. I find it touching and affecting. The path to believing in oneself, to finding yourself worthy of being loved without fear or question, is a difficult one but one well worth reading about.
High School Debut Book 11
by Kazune Kawahara
The Creepy Girl from the previous book is playing on Yoh’s kindness in an attempt to wedge herself between him and Haruna. I was a bit surprised to see her portrayed as so manipulative and mean, but when I checked back in the previous chapters, I realized she’d been that way all along. I’d just been seeing her through Yoh’s eyes and assuming no one could be that nasty on purpose.
It doesn’t help that Haruna isn’t comfortable with her emotions. When she feels uncertain or jealous, she doesn’t know how to process that, so someone else telling her she’s horrible for feeling that way has undue sway over her. That causes a descending spiral of interactions, where her self-dislike causes more misunderstandings.
Although that story takes most of the book to finish, the last chapter brings back the clueless Haruna I know and love. It’s Yoh’s birthday, and she proposes an overnight trip for them. Everyone but her knows what staying overnight means for a couple, but she’s unaware that her talking about it so openly suggests that she’s saying she wants to have sex with him. When she does figure it out, her reactions are hilarious! The next book will show the actual trip, which I’m looking forward to.