published by Viz
Sand Chronicles Book 8
by Hinako Ashihara; adapted by John Werry
With the conclusion of High School Debut, Sand Chronicles is now tied with Nana for my favorite shojo series. This volume concludes the main story, but there are two more books coming with additional bonus stories.
To bring things full circle, in this book, the adult Ann is setting out to revisit the sand museum in Nima that provided her the hourglass token that drove so much of her young life. Once again, her journey — the places she sees and people she meets — sparks memories in her about how she thought her life would turn out with Daigo. I love the art montages Ashihara uses to symbolize how remembering sends a flow of images over you.
Quiet nostalgia pervades this book, and as an adult reader, I really appreciate it as suited to my time in life, on a quiet afternoon. Yet there’s plenty of action and movement and expression, particularly in this chapter, as Ann meets a young boy, one of Daigo’s students. He’s cute and pouty and curious, all the characteristics of kids in one helpful little plot package. The final take is immensely powerful in the way it wraps all of Ann’s emotions into one beautiful wish of love.
Another child, Ann’s step-sister, features in the second half, the epilogue. Using youngsters as observers and sounding boards is a great way to emphasize the message that “life goes on.” Ann finally makes her peace with her mother’s suicide at her gravesite, a necessary step before she can finally, fully move on to her own life choices. Her story to us may be over (for now), but in another sense, it’s just beginning.
We are the sum of our memories, and I’m glad this series is part of mine.
Otomen Book 6
by Aya Kanno; adapted by JN Productions
Otomen is the anti-Star Trek. There, the rule was that only the even-numbered movies were good. With this series, I seem to enjoy the odd-numbered books more than the even. Which means that, yes, I was disappointed in this volume — but I have great hopes for the next one!
As the author mentions in an early note to the readers, “the plot is all over the place, isn’t it?” Asuka is feeling uncomfortable with the demands placed on him as a Beauty Samurai, and there’s a mysterious photographer tracking him. This chapter feels like it’s going to become much more than it does, and there’s a bunch of jerking the reader around in setting up expectations that aren’t fulfilled.
The next chapter has girlish-looking Yamato, who is fixated on Asuka’s “manliness”, begging him to help him date the girl he’s crushing on. I’m not a fan of Yamato as a character, since he seems too much made for author convenience, so whether or not he gets a girl doesn’t matter much to me. And his gimmick, that he believes the most exaggerated stereotypes of what a man should be or what a girl’s looking for or how a date should go, is just dumb. We’re encouraged to laugh at him instead of with him, which I don’t care for. Yamato and Asuka wind up on a practice date, which should thrill those readers looking for starting points for yaoi-flavored fan fiction.
The author says, in another note, that she didn’t notice that she was making Yamato and his girlfriend look exactly alike. That’s pretty hard to believe, since it seems a rather large oversight. The girl gets her own focus in the following chapter, where she has to overcome her exaggerated hatred of flowers. See, at this point, I just wanted to get back to cute comedy about the core characters and their amusing attempts to overcome gender stereotypes. The plot points in this volume are just too far away from what I’m looking for in the series, as though the writer isn’t sure what to do next with her characters. I wanted a lot more Ryo, the tomboy Asuka loves, and she was barely in this book.
Honey and Clover Book 10
by Chica Umino; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
due out June 1
This volume ends the series. Since I stopped reading around book 4, I’m perhaps not the best person to evaluate how satisfying a conclusion it is.
Also, I still dislike Hagumi, the elfin artist whom most of the guys are in love with, which creeps me out, since she (purposefully) looks like a child. Half the book finishes the main story, and apparently the only thread left to resolve is whom Hagumi will pick to spend her life with. She’s also suffering from a hand injury that may prevent her from painting, creating the art she lives for.
It’s very dramatic and emotional, all the more so if you care about any of these characters. For me, it’s very remote, as though I’m watching a soap opera for the first time, and if I’m understanding her choice and the reasons for it correctly, it’s even creepier (since it reads like she’s seeking a father instead of a mate). The story is punctuated by the nostalgic metaphors that attract its fans, such as the environmental description in one flashback:
I love rain.
I love how it softens the outlines of things.
The world looks dim and misty, and I feel like I’ll melt right into it.
All of the main characters appear, though, and the ending carries the style and tone of the series up until the end. The remaining half of the book is made up of six short pieces: two illustrated goodbyes from the author, two Honey and Clover bonus stories, an independent love story about a young handbag designer, and a silly piece around one of Doraemon’s gadgets. By featuring other, lesser works at the end, this book works to wean readers away from the series gradually, as it ends quietly.
(All books are published by Viz at $9.99 US. The publisher provided review copies of the above.)