by Izumi Tsubaki
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Mafuyu has been transferred to a private school in the country, where she aims to make a fresh start. She’d previously been something of a delinquent, leading a gang and getting in fights. Now, she has another chance after getting expelled from her previous school (and threatened by her mother to shape up).
Not only is she trying to redeem her scholastic career and learn to be more feminine, but she’s living on her own, since she joined too late to get dormitory space. On the positive side, her previous experiences have given her a good amount of confidence, which makes her a heroine to admire and a pleasant change from some of the less active shojo heroines.
Unfortunately, those aspects that make her distinctive aren’t give a lot of space as the story progresses. Her motivation becomes a simple, flat “don’t fight”, and her self-development plays a far second fiddle to interacting with two rather strange guys.
She rescues a guy during a late-night fight, only to find out that he’s her homeroom teacher, and she’s in puppy love. He promptly blackmails her out of groceries. (I was reminded of Papillon and its bad-boy guidance counselor’s unusual teaching methods.) We find out in one of the author’s notes that Izumi Tsubaki has a teaching degree, which influenced her creation of a “totally honest teacher”. Takaomi certainly doesn’t behave the way we expect role models to act in the U.S. In fact, he seems to have a mischievous sense of humor that winds up with him wanting to get Mafuyu in trouble. There’s something going on hinted at but not revealed here. Instead of driving me to want to read the second book, it frustrated me.
The other boy is another student, a tough guy who senses Mafuyu’s power but is confused by her refusal to use it, leading to different kinds of misunderstandings. I was a bit disappointed to see the inclusion of the “character turns out to be someone she knew from childhood” convention, which seemed unnecessary and cliched.
My favorite part of the book was the touches of humor, which were welcome. For example, during a flashback to Mafuyu’s evil days, an interviewer promises “a word from the defeated”, and a microphone is shoved in the face of a random body sprawled on the ground. Having a broadcast host suddenly wander into her memories is the kind of random goofiness that keeps the story moving.
There’s a lot here about mistaken impressions and trying to reinvent yourself that gives the humor a punch. It’s a shame that we don’t meet many other kids in her class, since I would rather have seen her interact with them in her new context than agonize over teacher. She’s got the “ordinary life is better than fighting” message and fervor of the newly converted, similar to how an ex-smoker wants everyone to quit. (The publisher provided a review copy.)