Win Say I Love You Before You Can Buy It

A mailing mixup means a new contest! I enjoyed reading Say I Love You, a new shojo manga series about a high school romance between a loner and a popular boy, so since I wound up with an extra copy, I’d like to give someone else a chance to enjoy it as well. The book will be available to buy at the end of the month, but before then, you can enter to win a copy of book 1.

To enter the contest, please leave a comment below telling me your favorite shojo manga and why. A winner will be picked randomly from all entries on Friday, April 18.

(U.S. addresses only, please. Winners will be emailed to confirm address. If email is not answered within 24 hours or a valid email address is not provided, a replacement winner will be selected. Your email won’t be used for any other purpose.)

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Petty Theft

Out next month from Drawn & Quarterly is Petty Theft by Pascal Girard. I haven’t read his previous works they’ve translated and released here, although Reunion sounded interesting, if uncomfortable. That’s the comedy category this book falls into, that of recognition of human frailty. Here are some preview pages.

Pascal’s on his own after a long-term relationship ended. He’s running as part of his new life healthy resolutions, but when he trips over a rock and injures himself, he’s told to stop exercising for a while. Without the endorphins, he’s afraid he’ll descend into depression, so he begins hanging out at the local bookstore, where he spots a young woman stealing one of his books.

Even if I didn’t know Girard was European, I think I would have guessed. The art is thin-line, with six borderless panels per page, and the content is slice-of-life and urban, a comic equivalent of Woody Allen movies. Perhaps it’s a bit too self-indulgent, assuming that we’re all interested in the details of Girard’s life, but the incidents are funny if cringe-inducing. I wanted to push Pascal to make choices, or better ones. His attempts at detection, at finding out who this woman is, often boil down to chance encounters.

Certain pages work as gag strips in themselves, especially the work ones. Pascal is feeling blocked from drawing, so he goes back to work as a construction welder, which doesn’t go well. Particularly odd yet eye-catching is one of his possessions that the ex-girlfriend sends over: a giant paper-mache head of himself. Sitting in the corner of his room (he’s staying with friends, a young family who provide a contrast to his single, unfocused life), it’s a mute reminder of his self-judgment.

Although small, the panels have great emotion. They read quickly, in case you’re just interested in what uncomfortable situation Pascal will get into next (much like Seinfeld), but their detail rewards inspection. His uncertainty about what to do — in his life, with his career, about the book thief — will resonate with many. I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, as I felt there was a lack of resolution, but perhaps that’s my expectations of fiction, where I want stronger endings than we get in life.

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Say I Love You Book 1

Say I Love You is a common type of shojo manga love story — loner high school girl is picked out and romanced by popular boy — that’s made special by art with josei touches.

Mei won me over the same way she did Yamato. She’s been neglected by those she thought friends and bullied by other girls in her class, so she becomes a loner, trusting no one. Finally, when harassed by Yamato’s friend, who’s pulling up her skirt on a staircase, she turns around and kicks Yamato in the face. It’s a gutsy move, and it confirms Yamato’s interest in her as someone different and unusual.

As with many other shojo, the art focuses on faces, the better to convey emotion. The characters, shown full figure, often without backgrounds, have the exaggerated limbs and angular body language I associate with fashion design. Mei’s eyes go beyond the usual big shiny pools; they’re dark pits of despair. Yamato, meanwhile, could be a male model. He’s pursued by random girls in the street, he’s so attractive. That contrast — someone who gets attention without working for it and someone who doesn’t want any attention because of the pain it’s brought her — makes for an intriguing relationship with plenty of dramatic potential.

Soon enough, Mei is fighting jealousy over Yamato’s easy connections with other girls, but at least she asks him about them instead of stewing to extend the volume count of the series. The supporting character of Asami is also interesting — she’s got large breasts, so the other girls call her “Melon Monster” and jealously make fun of her. (Thankfully, she isn’t drawn for fan service.) Mei stands up for her, explaining how complicated teen emotions can be.

Say I Love You Book 1 concludes with Mei and Yamato’s funny, mixed-up attempt at a first date. This is a strong introduction to a new series I’ll be following, since the romance feels authentic, and I’m rooting for the two of them. The book also includes an interview with author Kanae Hazuki, a short piece about her goals for the series, and a few translation notes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings

Out this coming Tuesday is an odd little animated movie, Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings. It opens with a cartoon Stan Lee (voiced by The Man himself) driving his convertible (one-handed!) down a windy mountain road at night as he tells us he’s known for the legendary superheroes he’s created.

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings

He’s been hired by Archie Comics to create new characters for them, but he’s not having much luck. He’s in the desert to clear his mind when a spaceship carrying seven aliens, each with a superpower, crashes in front of him. Five of them are prisoners of the other two. Stan takes them all to a friend’s beach house, where he hides them from the government in return for making a comic book about them and teaching them to be a superhero team.

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings

This leads to lots of fight scenes, and frankly, I lost track of who was battling whom and why. I think both the government (led by Mr. Cross, voiced by Jim Belushi, as head of a covert military division) and other aliens are after the group, because later, they save the world in some way. The animation is generic and the scenes familiar to anyone who likes superheroes or science fiction, but the voice cast is amazing for such a project. And Stan fans will love seeing so much of him!

  • Armie Hammer as Strong Arm, with super strength
  • Christian Slater as Lazer Lord, who shoots laser energy (my favorite, since he does a great voice job as an anti-team rogue)
  • Teri Hatcher as Silver Skylark, a winged woman
  • Mayim Bialik as Lady Lightning, with superspeed
  • Flea as Roller Man, who turns himself into a big ball (think Bouncing Boy)
  • Darren Criss as Micro, who shrinks
  • Sean Austin as Kid Kinergy, with telekinesis

Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings only runs a little over an hour. It aired on the Hub Network earlier this year and was intended to be the first in a trilogy of animated films, although I’m not sure the others are still in production. Only three issues of the print comic were published from March to July 2012; it was canceled in favor of TV potential (an effort that has reportedly been in progress now for ten years).

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings

My favorite part of the show is when the military captures Stan Lee and the team has to come save him. The government has some kind of mind-scanning device, and the bad guys keep getting defeated by how far back Stan’s memory goes, and how it’s full of nothing but him making up comic characters.

Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings is available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (list price: $19.97) exclusively at Walmart on April 15 as well as a plain DVD ($14.93). Only the Blu-ray has these extras, though:

  • A 4-and-1/2 minute interview with Stan about the project.
  • Two minutes of “Stan’s Rants”, where he goes through the character list in terms of how they’d be as roommates. Since it’s Stan, the two women are described in terms of who they’re in love with or girlfriend to.
  • “Script to Screen” has three sequences: “Stan the Man”, “The Escape Plan”, and “The Final Showdown”. Each 1-and-1/2-minute section compares layout sketches, script, and final footage.
  • Three extended scenes lack sound effects, creating a somewhat surreal viewing experience.
  • A two-minute trailer (not the one seen below, but one that focuses on showing the character names).
  • Stan Lee trivia questions.
  • A gallery of production sketches of the characters and full-color background art.
  • Composer’s favorite music cues, which plays various bits of music from the movie.

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Clarence, Cartoon Network’s Newest Series, Debuts Tomorrow Night

I don’t get modern cartoons, I’m afraid. I was sent a screener for Clarence — a new Cartoon Network animated series that launches tomorrow, April 12, at 7 PM ET / 6 PM CT — and the whole time watching it, I didn’t see much that would bring me back.

Clarence

First, there are the designs. Clarence is a chubby kid whose cheeks are much bigger than the rest of his head, which makes his outline look weirdly obscene. His friend Jeff’s head is perfectly square, while most everyone else gets a circle head. Except for Sumo, the third kid in the banner there, who resembles a humanoid rat.

Clarence, his mom, Sumo, and Jeff eating fast food

Clarence, his mom, Sumo, and Jeff eating fast food

Then there’s the lack of female characters. We get to see Clarence’s mom (Katie Crown) in the first 15-minute episode, “Fun Dungeon Face Off”, since she’s the one that takes the three boys to the fast food restaurant where Clarence torments Jeff (Sean Giambrone). The second segment, “Pretty Great Day with a Girl”, has Amy (Elizabeth Hope) biking Clarence around town, which was an improvement. She’s not listed in the main cast, though, so I don’t know if we expect to see her again. All the other kids in that episode are boys.

Clarence and Amy

Clarence and Amy

(I’m sure that hanging out only with your own gender is typical for certain ages. My objection is that so many cartoons already exist with mostly-boy casts that I’m not very interested in watching yet another one. But that’s the demographic Cartoon Network is proud of attracting.)

The show is the first created by Skyler Page, a former storyboard artist for Adventure Time. He also voices Clarence, who’s described as

an optimistic, spirited, lovable boy who sees the best in all things and wants to try everything. Because everything is amazing! Celebrate the best of childhood: epic dirt fights, awkward crushes, trampoline combat, sleepover pranks, and secret tree forts all through the eyes of Clarence. Clarence’s novel perspective transforms nearly any situation, however mundane, into the best day ever. No matter what happens, good or bad, nothing brings Clarence down.

That’s a nice attitude, although it’s not necessarily one I would recognize in the first episode, which featured Clarence teasing Jeff for not being more like him. Perhaps that appears more later; there will be a total of 12 fifteen-minute segments. Regardless, the flat-looking animation, although a currently popular style, isn’t pleasant for me to watch. I suspect kids and parents who can relate to the kids’ behavior will like the show more.

You can watch the first episode, “Fun Dungeon Face Off”, here:

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Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood

I found this memoir, presented as a book for older children, disappointing, although older adult readers might get more out of it.

Each two-page spread consists of text memories accompanied by a watercolor illustration related to the incidents described. While the misty images might accurately represent the vagaries of memory, they weren’t specific enough for me to get a sense of the place and time from them. They’re stiff and remote, without conveying much emotion to this reader. I’m sure making this art meant a lot to the author, but that meaning isn’t carried through. Several of them, generic in approach, could have been set at any time or place, not specifically World War II China.

For that reason, I found the book better aimed at older readers, those who already have some idea of the time period portrayed. The writing is similarly light on emotion, although full of disturbing events when you stop to think about them. James’ father was British, living in China to run the family’s business. His grandparents, originally missionaries, founded an orphanage for girls who would be otherwise left to die; they became workers producing embroidered goods that the family sold.

No consideration or discussion is given to the geopolitics of Brits coming in and making money off the abandoned girls. A sentence early on talks about how these girls were more desirable as brides than others because they had a valuable skill and could speak English, which I read as an implied justification. James and his family led a privileged life, with servants and a social club, but I wondered how others saw them.

The one page that describes the author’s parents meeting and marrying is full of unexplained questions. His father went to Canada to be a musician, where he married a divorcee who already had two kids, at which point he went back to the family business. I wanted to know about the blended family and how they got along, but the other kids disappear from the book with a brief mention of being sent to study in Canada. I wondered if the father was disappointed by his change in future plans, or if the family accepted this older, divorced woman at a time when that was a scandalous status, but no information is provided there, either.

The main meat of the book begins a third of the way in, as the Japanese army takes over the Chinese town when James is four. The company continues operating with the permission of the occupiers. Four years later, James’ family finally attempts to leave, with the mother and son sailing from Shanghai to the United States before voyaging to Canada. The father joins the British Army. The author doesn’t go into detail, but it’s clear that the mother has a drinking problem, a desire for status she no longer has the money to support, and anxiety over her disarranged life. James goes to school for a while in India, before winding up again in Canada and finally, the US.

I found myself wishing for a differently focused story. The mother strikes me as a more interesting character than the author, but we don’t find out what happened to her or get much insight into her feelings or choices. The author has his struggles — he’s thought effeminate because he’s not good at sports and prefers art — but we don’t get much idea of his emotions either. It’s a surface presentation, with “and then we went here” substituting for insight. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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*Attachments — Recommended

All it took was reading one of Rainbow Rowell’s books, and I became a devoted fan. Attachments is her first (so far) adult novel, and it’s a fun, satisfying read.

Lincoln had his heart broken by his first, high school girlfriend. He’s now back living with his mother and working nights in IT security for a newspaper. The paper just put in internet connections, and since the higher-ups are nervous about employees wasting time surfing, everything is being monitored. (I should mention that the book is set in 1999, which gives it an entertaining layer of retro references and avoids the despair that would permeate any story of newsroom journalists today.)

That’s how Lincoln gets to know Beth and Jennifer without ever having met them. They talk about all kinds of “inappropriate” subjects, so their email conversations wind up in the web filter, where he has to review them. Beth is the paper’s movie reviewer, Jennifer a copy editor. Their exchanges give Attachments the frothy, forbidden feel of a modern epistolary novel. Isn’t reading someone else’s mail fun?

Jennifer’s happy with her husband but ambivalent about getting pregnant (although he wants them to). Beth has been living with wannabe rockstar Chris and dealing with his perpetual immaturity. They talk about periods and why Beth no longer goes to Chris’ shows and movies and Beth’s sister Kiley’s wedding planning and (my favorite) whether Superman would really work in a newsroom.

Then Lincoln realizes he really likes Beth, only he doesn’t know what she looks like or how to meet her. And worst of all, he has no way to explain how he got to know her without creeping her out. How this all plays out is entertaining, a real page-turner. I loved the way the technology underpins this modern romance, and how Rowell deals with the difficulty of making new friends as an adult. Her portrayals of family relationships are varied and realistic as well. Plus, I was reminded of the Y2K panic and how it felt to work that evening, just in case.

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The Here and Now

Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, tackles YA science fiction with The Here and Now, the story of time-traveling Prenna and her struggles to do what’s right for the world.

I was strongly reminded of Rogue Touch, last summer’s superhero novel tie-in, with the romance between Prenna, girl from the future, and modern-day Ethan as they try to save the future world.

The book is on the short side, under 200 pages, and a bit sketchy at times, with more suggested than portrayed. Prenna’s future, we’re told, is horrible, due to a lack of resources and a blood-borne plague, but we don’t really get pictures of what it was like to live there, day to day. That makes the plot, about whether changing the future is possible, a bit difficult to get our hands around, particularly in the latter third, when multiple alternate timelines are suggested.

However, many teen readers will relate to the idea of a restricted life. Prenna, as part of a group of travelers who came back in time to escape their dying world, lives under a series of rules that are strongly enforced by the adults around her. The most important to her is the one that states “We must never, under any circumstances, develop a physically or emotionally intimate relationship with any person outside the Community.” Of course, she’s going to fall in love, calling the assumptions of her existence so far into question, and threatening the conspiracy that aims to control her. He’s too perfect, but I liked the character of Ethan, the smart, sensitive, patient, caring boyfriend. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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