published by Viz; $9.99 US
All of the following Shojo Beat books were provided by Viz. All came out in June or July at a cover price of $9.99 US.
Mixed Vegetables Book 8
by Ayumi Komura
The cooking romance manga concludes in this volume. What the young couple at its center has in common are their mismatched goals: Hanayu’s family runs a pastry shop, but she wants to be a sushi chef, while Hayato dreams of making desserts although his family business is sushi.
Hanayu is now working at Hayato’s family restaurant, following her dream, but Hayato is giving up his in order to stay with her and satisfy his promises to his family, including a dead grandfather. It’s more poignant because Hanayu’s dad wants to open a pastry shop in France and have Hayato work for him, so he has a chance at his dream if he’s willing to make the choice. It’s very highly dramatic, but it’s most involving to those who already know the cast, since there are a lot of additional characters and no one’s introduced here. (Nor would I expect them to be, given how late it is in the series.)
The art is standard, lots of closeups of simple flat faces. And I admit, I kept getting confused by the similar names. (The author’s notes explain which foods the characters are named after.) This series never clicked for me because I wanted more emphasis on the food, less on the interchangeable shojo love drama. And it does become a bit wearying, having them repeat the problem they’re facing every chapter.
There’s also something weird about how negatively Hanayu is shown. She’s upfront about being selfish and wanting to follow her dream and wanting her love Hayato to be with her. But others keep calling her a child for knowing what she wants and working to get it, and she plays into it, calling herself a “terrible person”. I know love can be defined as the other person’s desires being more important than your own, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame a teen girl for not being that unselfish at this age.
Hanayu does work to make happen what she thinks is the best solution, and I guess that redeems her. Plus, there’s the traditional approach of portraying the woman’s role in romance to suffer and sacrifice, which I’m concerned about (although I don’t want to jump to conclusions, not having read the rest of this series). I didn’t find the ending very satisfying, since I perceived a lack of resolution, but long-time MV readers might feel differently.
Rasetsu Book 5
by Chika Shiomi
I wish the trend these days wasn’t so strongly in favor of keeping Japanese titles. I have a hard time remembering them, and I almost passed this by, because I didn’t realize it was a new chapter of the mystical office romance manga I’d previously enjoyed.
Rasetsu has a year to find true love, or she’ll be possessed by a demon. While she worries about her romantic future, she and her attractive male co-workers find and exorcise ghosts.
There’s lots for girls to like about this series. For one thing, Rasetsu has to eat a lot of sweets to keep up her energy and her power. Because she’s got that reason, no one gives her crap about eating too much. Plus, she doesn’t gain weight. That’s a fantasy, all right!
More importantly, there are several handsome possibilities for the needed love. They’re drawn with feeling and a bit more detail than some manga. Some pursue her, others she dreams about — it’s a bonanza! The workplace setting allows for comedy to break up the drama, resulting in nice pacing and entertaining encounters. Helping the spirits also provides lessons about love and memory and what’s important in life.
I would really like to see an hour-long TV show based on this. The co-worker interaction would be lovely to see on-screen, while the different cases could provide episode plots. It’s got an excellent mix of drama, comedy, and romance that makes it a pleasure to read. The symbolic treatment of the idea of that “I have to have a boyfriend by the time I’m age X” is a clever way to visualize the way girls feel like they need a guy for adult life to be able to begin.
We Were There Book 11
by Yuki Obata
Yano is neglecting school to take care of his mother, who has cancer. He’s unsure how to relate to classmate Akiko, a girl who’s helping him out, when his girlfriend has been left back home.
This is a very different shojo from many others in the line. Its art is more delicate, in keeping with the deep, potent feelings it portrays. (That also extends to the lettering, in a nice touch.) The author is more interested in how people feel about and react to events than the incidents themselves. For instance, in an early scene with two dogs, Akiko worries that she’s accidentally flashed him, and he agonizes over being celibate due to his circumstances. In a pleasant change from other manga, we don’t actually see the body part under discussion, because that’s not the point.
Every emotion on display here — and there are plenty — is thoroughly wallowed in and explored. The characters debate what it means to be in a relationship or argue over who’s going to control a child’s life. The adults are even more dramatic and self-indulgent than the teens. As I’ve said before, this series doesn’t work for me because it’s so overwrought, but I know others enjoy it for just that reason.
I do appreciate that the author isn’t afraid to portray death and its results as a major, life-changing moment for those left behind. The second half of this book jumps ahead several years after a departure, showing us selected characters moving on but shaped forever by the losses they’ve lived through. It’s a summer read for the unhappy teen, looking for meaning to come to them and enjoying the bittersweet pain of losing those you love.