Thursday, July 19, 2007

Shojo Beat: Goodbye, Nana! (Boo hoo hoo!)

Shojo Beat
August 2007



For me, the question going into this issue (and the next, I suppose) is whether I'll want to keep reading this magazine, now that my favorite series, Nana, has ceased serialization. Well, it seems I'll continue to be on board, and Nana's replacement, Honey and Clover, hasn't even started yet! This month, I'll talk about Sand Chronicles, Crimson Hero, Absolute Boyfriend, Nana, and a one-shot story by Arina Tanemura. Vampire Knight continues to do its thing without impressing me very much, and Baby & Me looks to be wrapping up its run of serialization with a story about the kids' evil great aunt trying to steal them from their father so they can inherit the family's dancing academy (there's also an amusing bit in which Takuya looks up the term "knocked up" in the dictionary). So anyway, on to the more detailed reviews!

Shojo Eve * Eve's Applework 24 Hours
By Arina Tanemura

Damn, that's a long title for a short story. By the way, the asterisk is supposed to be a star, in an instance of a symbol being inserted into a series' title. Maybe creator Arina Tanemura does this often; I know she has another series called Gentlemen's Alliance [cross symbol]. Anyway, this story is about a girl with the terrible, terrible affliction of being too cute. Oh, the horror! Guys ask her out all the time, which is annoying, and girls are all jealous and refuse to be her friend. Oh, and there's this:



She hates being called cute and has to fend off the constant advances of the most handsome boy in school, while pining after an average-looking boy (although they look almost identical to me). It's actually not that bad of a story, and I liked the twist that since she has an unfair reputation for stealing other girls' boyfriends, she can't ask out the boy she likes without hurting the girl he just started dating.

Unfortunately, as with other Tanemura works (Full Moon and Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, among others) I just can't get past the artwork. It's very nicely rendered, but she draws the characters with really gigantic eyes:



It's like the term "saucer-eyed" was invented for her artwork. I know manga characters typically have big eyes, but this is just ridiculous, and distracts me from whatever story is being told. So, I have to pass on her stuff, but I'm sure other (probably younger) people will like it (and do, judging by the popularity of the aforementioned series).
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Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

This is the series that replaced the abysmal Yumekira Dream Shoppe, and while I was glad to see that one go, I'm even happier to get a series as nicely drawn and intelligently written as this. It's about a twelve-year-old girl who moves from Tokyo to the countryside with her mother, following her parents divorce. It actually starts with a scene from the main character Ann's adult life, as she is packing up her belongings with her younger sister and comes across a memento of her childhood, prompting memories that form the story of the series. She and her mother went to live with her grandmother, and while she hates it at first, small-town life grows on her as she begins to make friends. There's some good comedy in scenes with a neighborhood boy named Daigo, like the one in which they work together to catch a rabbit, which she wants to keep as a pet and he intends to eat:



Later, they both find work helping out in the house of a rich family which includes two other kids around the same age. And we find out the reason for her parents' divorce (and a sure source of drama for the series): her mother's clinical depression. It's a jarring shift in tone halfway through the chapter when her mom collapses at work. For extra angst points, Ann is guilty because she urged her mom to work really hard and support the family. So it looks to be a mix of goofy comedy and serious, well-written drama, and I'm pretty excited to read further chapters.
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Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Apparently, the previous chapter marked the end of "part 1" of this series. Maybe there was a hiatus or something between parts when it was published in Japan, because this chapter serves as kind of an introduction to the series, recapping plots and reintroducing characters through captions:



We do get a new subplot, and perhaps a shift in focus toward the boys' team, as tension between the first-year and second-year players is causing problems. But that might only be a short subplot for the next few chapters. The real drama is seeing the renewed enthusiasm of the girls' team, as they set a goal of not losing any more games and making it to the Spring Tournament (the national high school volleyball competition). It continues to be a good series that I enjoy quite a bit, but there were a few difficult-to-read bits in this chapter, which is strange and out-of-character for this series. For instance, check out this page:



Is the word balloon with the single "Tomoyo" supposed to come before or after the other balloons in that row? Either way, it seems awkward and interrupts the flow of the page. I guess it's not that big of a deal, but, as I said, this series doesn't usually have problems like this. Oh well, I'll still be there to read the next chapter.
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Absolute Boyfriend
By Yuu Watase

Well, this is a pretty wacky chapter, with Mini-Night spending time with Riiko's classmate while Soshi and Riiko argue over whom Riiko is going to choose as her boyfriend. The love triangle thing is getting a bit tedious, but Watase is always ready to serve up some more goofy comedy:



There's also an elderly man who fills his yard with samurai/ninja-style booby traps. I thought that was pretty amusing. Anyway, we get a cliffhanger at then end of this chapter, because Night's body is supposedly irreparable. Will he remain as Mini-Night for the rest of the series? Who knows? I'm sure that whatever happens, it will be funny.
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Nana
By Ai Yazawa

And then we save the best for last, as Nana goes out in style. Man, I really love this series; it's full of such rich, well-developed characters and realistic (yet soapy) plots that keep me wanting more. I think I see the reason Viz is ceasing serialization on the series though (and giving future volumes a "Mature" rating):



That's right, more sex! And nudity! Actually, I'm a bit curious as to whether that scene was slightly censored (that is, were the nipples erased?) for the magazine. Huh. Anyway, a good portion of the chapter is spent with Hachi and Nobu having a post-coital conversation about their relationship (with a flashback to Nobu and Nana in high school!), and I love the bit where Hachi realizes that this relationship is reversed from a typical one for her, with Nobu being the clingy one.

We also get some more character-related discussion, in the form of Hachi's friends Junko and Kyosuke having a conversation about her with her ex-boyfriend Shoji. I was surprised to see Shoji again; I figured he would disappear from the series when he broke up with Hachi. It makes sense to have him appear again, since he was also friends with Hachi's friends; yet another example of Yazawa's good, realistic writing.

And then we have some more character development, as Nana reveals why she encouraged Hachi and Nobu to get together, in a follow-up to a revelation from a few chapters ago. Also, we learn some of Shin's backstory, with hints as to why he's so promiscuous with the ladies. Yazawa continues to build on the world she's created here, and I can see how the series could continue to last through many more volumes (it's still coming out in Japan). I want to keep reading, but it looks like I'm going to have to wait a while.

So this is the last chapter of serialization in the magazine, but the story continues with the next digest collection, volume 8, which comes out in January. They'll be coming out bimonthly after that, at least through September 2008. I'll be there to buy it as soon as I can; this is good comics.
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So that's it for the August issue. I'll be back next month to talk about the debut of Honey and Clover, which I'm pretty excited to read. As for what's coming next on the blog: probably more reviews. Stay tuned!