Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shojo Beat: This issue's theme: breasts!

Shojo Beat
October 2007

As the title of the post suggests, I noticed the odd focus on breast size in two different series this month, which seemed strange. But then I remembered that these comics are aimed at teenage girls, and breasts are probably a big concern to them, so I suppose it's not that inappropriate. Also, we're a bit more prudish about those issues in America, but the lack of personal space in Japan means personal body issues are more apt to be discussed. And then there's the stereotype of breast-obsessed Japanese men, which I guess would lead to girls obsessing about them in order to attract the opposite sex. Anyway, I'll get to the specific scenes when I discuss the relevant series, but it was definitely something I noticed.

This issue has a Halloween theme, at least in the non-comics parts of the magazine. But those are the least interesting parts, so I won't talk about them too much except to note that the "Beat Girl" (I hate that name) mascot is drawn by Junko Mizuno this issue:

She contributes several illustrations, all in her signature combination of sexy and cute. I really need to read some of her comics sometime. We also get features on Japanese monster stories (with recommendations of spooky movies and manga), and a look at manga tie-ins like movies, anime series, and video games. That last one is most significant for a blurb about a Nana game for the DS (which Chris Butcher also saw during his trip to Japan (it's the last image in that post)) that I would totally buy if it gets imported, even though it's probably about girly stuff like shopping and fashion. I'm such a nerd.

Okay, on to the manga, starting with a preview chapter of an upcoming series:

By Maki Minami

This series seems cute enough, but I probably wouldn't read more than this preview. It's about a girl named Hikari who is the second-ranked student in the top class (which is called "Special A", hence the title) of her private school, and she's always been nipping at the heels of Kei, the number-one student. He drives her crazy because he get by with no effort due to his photographic memory, and she has to study constantly to keep up. I wonder if love will bloom between them as they compete? Stranger things have happened, I guess. There are also several other quirky members of the class, providing plenty of fodder for future stories. The highlight of this chapter (for me, anyway) was when Hikari and Kei teamed up to stop some students from the lower-ranked classes from stealing test answers to get ahead, leading to this (remember, read right-to-left):

I didn't expect martial arts in a story like this, but what the hey. Like I said, it's decent enough, with good art and everything, but not really they type of story that interests me enough to follow.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Against my better judgment, I'm getting drawn in to this melodramatic story of vampires mingling with humans. I'm sure I wouldn't spend extra money to buy collections of the series, but while it's serialized here I'll read it each month. This chapter sees Zero confronting the vampire who killed his family and infected him with vampirism; she has taken the form of a young girl and entered the Night Class. There's a decent action scene involving swords and guns, and more of Yuki offering her blood to Zero, with all the sexual symbolism that comes with the exchange:

This chapter sees the annoying attempt to insert a minor character as Yuki's best front among the human Day Class, but that seems strange, since she hasn't appeared until recently. You'd think such a good friend would have shown up sometime in the last fifteen chapters. There's also some comedy bits involving Yuki flunking a test due to being too tired from staying up all night in her Guardian duties. Boring. But the main plot is actually interesting me for once, and that's more than I can say for the first ten or so chapters of the series. So we'll see how it goes.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Ah, thank God. After the horribly tragic events of the previous chapter, I was afraid this series would give me a mental breakdown. Luckily, we seem to have segued into a more standard teen romance plot, with hints of future melodrama. This chapter jumps forward a year and a half, with Ann now fourteen years old and dealing with teenage issues. Her pal Daigo (who promised to never leave her) has grown into quite the studly athlete, so Ann now has competition for his attention. This leads to this month's first breast-related scene:

The plot of this chapter involves Ann, Daigo, and their friends Shika and Fuji going to summer camp and Ann feeling like she's losing Daigo. We also see that Fuji might have feelings for her, which will surely lead to more drama, since we get hints about his mother's unfaithfulness (I'm guessing he'll turn out to be Ann's half-brother or something). It's still quite good, with really nice art and well-drawn characters, and a mix of comedy and drama. It probably won't be so unbearably sad, but who knows, maybe Ashihara has a sadistic streak and will bring more tragedy upon her characters' heads. I can't wait to find out.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Ah, this series is turning out to be as excellent as I had hoped. We get more goofy comedy in the two chapters presented here, with Takemoto and Mayama trying to find out why Morita is appealing to girls when he's such a goof. But part (most?) of it is just him getting attention for being so weird:

Funny stuff. The next chapter sees an infamous housemate named Lohmeyer return to the guys' building, and everybody develops a man-crush on him because he brings good food:

Funny stuff. The series is still staying fairly light and humorous, but I know there's some drama in store. But I'll take either one when Umino's dishing it out.

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

Here's the new series debut of the issue, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Apparently, it's based on a video game, presumably an RPG. Akane, a modern-day schoolgirl, gets transported to the past to become the Priestess of the Dragon God and recover the four gods from the Demon Clan. There's something about eight jewels that she swallowed, each containing the essence of a Guardian, two of whom appear to be friends of Akane's that were brought to the past with her. I think. It's kind of hard to follow. There's an action scene in which Akane uses some mystical powers, but I had trouble telling what was supposed to be going on:

I suppose it could be argued that Akane also doesn't know what's going on there, so the reader shares her confusion, but I still didn't like it. I also had trouble distinguishing between all the characters that get introduced, and telling who was good and who was bad. I dunno, I guess this could turn out to be interesting, but it could also end up being a mishmash of characters acting out events from the video game. Judging by this first chapter, I suspect the latter, but hopefully it will get better.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

We're back to focusing solely on the girls' team in this chapter, with the team training for upcoming games and realizing that they're not up to Nobara's level. They're trying to make her work hard and do her best, but they can't seem to push her to reach her full potential. There's a good bit in which they measure her jump and find that she jumps as high as the boys:

I love Takanashi's depictions of athleticism; she is really good at capturing movements dramatically. Anyway, this realization that she isn't trying hard enough leads her to seek out the coach's advice, and she gets sent to train with some sort of rogue volleyball coach. I'm hoping this will lead to kung-fu-movie style training montages, with the wacky master making her jump up and spike squirrels out of trees or something. We'll see. Takanashi has been doing a pretty good job of amping up the drama and making the athletics exciting, and I have no reason to doubt that she'll keep telling good stories.

Absolute Boyfriend
By Yuu Watase

And here's the other breast-referencing series of the issue. This chapter sees Night escape from the company (somehow; I thought he was too damaged to move) and return to Riiko, so Gaku sends a female robot after him, in the form of a sexy nurse:

Oh brother. Hijinx ensue, with, as Homer Simpson would say, sexy results. This series is getting tiresome; it's supposed to end soon, and it will certainly be time for it to go. There are still some funny gags, like the board of directors composed of children, with the chairman being a baby (it sort of makes sense, given that Gaku's boss is a young boy). Watase seems to be conflicted here, unsure of whether to go with goofy comedy or drama. We're still getting scenes of Riiko angsting about choosing between Soshi and Night, even at this late stage. Yawn. If I was writing it, I would just keep going with the robot comedy, maybe throw in some robot dogs and butlers. Hell, maybe reveal that everybody is a robot. Just go nuts with it. But we'll probably get more indecision and drama about whether Night will be fixed, or whether the company will repossess him. Hopefully it will be over soon and I can move on to complaining about something else.

And that's all for this month. Next month: more of the same, probably. I predict more whining about Absolute Boyfriend, more grudging acceptance of Vampire Knight, and more gushing about Honey and Clover. Tune in in 30 days or so to see if I'm right!