Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shojo Beat: Drama, action, and angst. And that's just in my response to Haruka

I'm a bit behind in getting to this month's issue, but I'm behind on everything, so don't feel bad, girly manga. See below for more, but don't forget about my contest! Gotta pimp the contest. Okay:

Shojo Beat
December 2007



Hey, that image doesn't look too bad, even though I ripped the cover. Whoops! This issue is a Christmas issue, but there's not much non-comics content that I feel is worth talking about, except maybe this ad for a computer game called Die Bunny which features art by Junko Mizuno:



This issue's preview is of a manga called High School Debut, by Kazuna Kawahara. It's about a girl who is a tomboy but also likes shojo manga, so she wants a boyfriend. Now that she's in high school, she tries to reinvent herself to become attractive, following advice in fashion magazines. But she sucks at it and never gets hit on. Boo hoo! But then she enlists the help of this guy who is apparently very fashion-conscious, because he "knows what guys look for in a girl". Maybe Japanese guys are more picky than Americans, because she's not exactly homely. It doesn't take much to get guys interested, especially teenage ones (I speak from experience, having been a teenage boy not so long ago...okay, it was a while ago, but I still remember some stuff, and raging hormones were definitely part of the experience). Anyway, he refuses, but she eventually pesters him into consenting, because she's so enthusiastic and pure of heart, or whatever the popular qualities are for manga protagonists. And I'm sure she will eventually fall in love with him and pester him into a codependent relationship, but that's all in future chapters. It's enjoyable enough, but nothing that I would go out of my way to read. I certainly enjoy some of these comics (I do have a subscription to the damn magazine), but this sort of thing is way too girly for me. I think I've reached my chick threshold here.

Okay, on to the regular series:

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

Oh boy, I can tell this one is going to be a chore to read each month. In this chapter, we find that our heroine, Akane, has fallen in love with the demon leader Akram, because he has a manly presence or something. She's only talked to him twice, but I guess you gotta follow your heart and go for the weird masked guy that everyone tells you is evil, even if you are stuck in the past and caught up in a magical conflict involving dragon jewels and whatnot. The rest of this chapter involves Akane having an out-of-body experience in which she follows a young sorcerer, watches some (human?) meat get fed to water nymphs, and gets involved in a conflict with demons or something. Really, I have no idea what the fuck is going on here, and I'm already getting sick of it after only three chapters. This might turn out to be the first series that I just decide to skip each month.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Ah, this is more like it. This month, Takemoto is still freaking out about doing Hagu's Rococo-style doll wardrobe:



And we finally get introduced to Mayama's ex-girlfriend, Ayumi, in a series of video game-style defeats of the guys:



There's plenty of funny business, but the best part of this series is its heart, with realistic characters in believable relationships. Even though we just met Ayumi, we can see how she and Mayama relate to each other, and why they treat each other the way they do.

We also get some nice moments with Hagu, as she frets about not being able to relate to other students. Umino uses some nice effects, like this scene in which Hagu is surrounded by people talking and hanging out, but ignoring her:



So it's a couple good chapters of an excellent series. It definitely gets my spirits up after suffering through the soul-crushing Haruka.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

More angst and training sequences. This series can be exciting and interesting, but it can also be pretty dull, like this chapter (outside of a flashback to Nobara's childhood, in which she cheers at a volleyball game on TV while getting spanked by her grandmother). Ryo's training just isn't getting through to Nobara for some reason, and she seems to be losing it with her near-fanatical devotion to being awesome at volleyball. I'm sure she'll learn a lesson about friends being important or having other goals or something, but right now she's busy moping around and not doing anything interesting. She needs to get back to her team, have some romantic tension with the boys, and play some games. The actual volleyball matches have generally been the best parts of the series, so they need to quit with these training shenanigans and focus on competition. In my opinion. Maybe something interesting will happen next month.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Man, this series really fades in and out of being interesting; last month I was getting bored, but this month I'm pretty entertained by the action. Maybe that's because something happens: Yuki and Zero fight Shizuka, the vampire that killed Zero's family and turned him. It's mostly characters talking at each other, but Hino makes it pretty exciting by varying the angles and having characters deliver their lines dramatically:



Then the action starts, with shooting and stabbing and blood drinking, and a big cliffhanger revelation that I won't spoil even though it's probably obvious. What will happen? Who knows, but I almost actually care. Huh.

Absolute Boyfriend
By Yuu Watase

And the plot drags on, with the evil corporation scheming to replace Night with an exact duplicate in order to shoehorn in some more quasi-attempted rape scenes. Wonderful. We do get an enjoyable fight scene between the two Nights:



And there's a possible resolution to the plot about the company trying to take Night back. So maybe Watase can finally end the damn series now, and have them live happily ever after. Please, just end it. I am curious about that ending though; apparently it was not well received. So let's just get to it already, and quit dragging this thing out.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Man, the hits just keep coming in this series. This chapter sees Ann's dad show up, three years after his ex-wife died. He wants her to move back to Tokyo with her, but she's actually happy with her friends in the country. She says some pretty harsh stuff to him, accusing her of abandoning her and her mom (which is pretty much the truth):



And, since terrible things have to happen in this series, her words seem to have a pretty bad effect. Man, the tragedy never stops around here. But it's effective; we grow to like these characters, and that's why we're upset when something bad happens.

Actually, Ann's life isn't non-stop tragedy. The series has covered three years of her life so far, in only five chapters. Ashihara is just focusing on the major events, which all happen to be horribly depressing. No, that's not quite true; the last two chapters before this one were actually pretty happy. But I guess high highs really make the low lows that much more effective.

And it is effective. I really like Ashihara's art style; in the page above, the expression on Ann's face after listening to her dad talk is priceless. She doesn't believe a word of it. And Ashihara is also really good at capturing some nice, simple, beautiful moments, like in this sequence with Ann and her boyfriend Daigo:





I really like this series; it's a pleasure to read each month. We'll see if I can get through the next chapter without soaking the pages in tears.
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And that's it for this month. I'm excited to see what's coming next (except in Haruka; that series can go screw), and that's a sign of a good magazine. Shojo Beat: getting me in touch with my inner thirteen-year-old on a monthly basis!