published by Viz; $9.99 US
Seiho Boys’ High School! Book 7
by Kaneyoshi Izumi
The next-to-last volume is a rotten place to begin reading a shojo series, but this one is episodic enough that it’s possible, and for some reason, all these goofy teenagers didn’t click with me until now. I could never get through a volume before.
In this book, the first story is about Fuji’s friend Kiyo, a drip of a girl who’s ridiculously boy-crazy. Her idiocy set my teeth on edge, but it was funny to see how far she’d go. Fuji finally goes to to the far-away boarding school of the title in order to escape her, even as a friend. Then Kiyo finds out about another cute boy at Seiho, and she gets back in touch with Fuji to introduce them. I bet, at this point, you’re already guessing how the story ends, and you’d likely be right, because surprise is not the purpose of this series — exaggerated humor is, conveyed through sketchy art.
The next chapter plays on sympathy, as an older boy who leads lots of class activities gets sick and learns that he needs to put himself first sometimes. The funniest part of the book consists of three panels at the front of this section, where one girl is explaining to another how dreaming of being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be by showing Cinderella, Snow White, and the Little Mermaid griping. We find out how those girls relate to the story in a later chapter — turns out one of them is the boy’s girlfriend.
The followup chapter is almost as silly as the princess conversation, with a new student teacher jealous of the students because they all have girlfriends but he doesn’t. When we see some of what he thinks is reasonable behavior, it’s obvious why. This stuff isn’t memorable, but it’s a enjoyable time-waster in the moment, especially if you know teens in love.
The Story of Saiunkoku Book 4
story by Sai Yukino, art by Kairi Yura
It seems that every few pages in this series, there’s a new revelation or twist or even just a scene of amusing banter. It’s a wonderful escapist read, with its setting in historical fantasy and its relatable modern characters.
Shurei, the young lady lead, is such a breath of fresh air. She’s got the characteristics typical of a shojo heroine — determination, understanding the value of hard work, nice, beloved by everyone she knows, continuous good humor even with a tragic past — but she’s not a doormat or a blank. I can see, for once, what the other characters see in her, and I wish I could know someone like her in person.
She reveals more of her feelings about the loss of her mother during a grave visit here, but it’s a learning moment, moved over as quickly as the rest of the book. There’s so much to tell and show that things move quite quickly. The art enables this; it hits every important expression and gesture while filling in the historical background and costumes and supports the story well. Major revelations this time out include the introduction of two child bandits for comic relief and the revelation that one court official wears a mask because he’s so beautiful no one can do anything but stare at him if he goes around bare-faced.
The emperor and his retainers provide additional handsome men to view as well as comedy. In one scene, the assistants can’t figure out why their leader is so happy, so one asks him flat-out, “you didn’t dig up something strange and eat it, did you?” It’s so out of left field that it humanizes what might otherwise be shown as royally stuffy. Everyone’s got a sense of humor in this series, but it doesn’t substitute for deep feeling, either, as the emperor and Shurei’s love story progresses slowly.
Butterflies, Flowers Book 8
by Yuki Yoshihara
Now that this darn series is finally over, I can stop feeling conflicted over every volume. I don’t know why I kept reading it, since its supposed humor wasn’t funny to me, and the rape situations were outright unpleasant to think about. I still think this series is a bit too Japanese to be a success over here, except among mangaphiles who thrill instead of shudder at the sight of each new cliched situation.
The overused plot twist this time out is the arranged marriage. Choko’s parents want her to settle down with someone “appropriate”. Given how accomplished, rich, and polite her boyfriend Masayuki is, this decision feels even more contrived than it would be otherwise. Then Masayuki goes along with it, once again demonstrating that his version of love is one where he manipulates Choko (and others) to get what he wants, especially if it requires being sexually crude. She’s sensibly afraid of the guy who supposedly loves her, and I don’t find abuse a great subject for humor.
The more I read of this series, the more I find it irresponsible to stick the Shojo Beat label on it, since that might attract younger readers (even with the small Mature rating stamp on the back), and I hesitate to feed them this tripe about suffering for love. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the execrable Hot Gimmick is the biggest ad in the back of the book — they have the same masochistic approach to teaching girls what love means.
Of course, the book ends with marriage and without truly settling its underlying conflict, the one where Choko wants to be treated as an equal, not an aristocrat with a servant. (I don’t recall them ever establishing why this was so important to her, but we’re told it is.) As we’ve seen, though, what she wants isn’t important to anyone, least of all the author.
All books are published by Viz at $9.99 US. The publisher provided review copies.