Monday, January 21, 2008

Shojo Beat: This issue's theme: (Underage) Drunkenness!

You'll see what I mean. Damn kids.

Shojo Beat
February 2008



As you can see from the cover image of Japanese girl band Puffy (or Puffy AmiYumi in the U.S.), this is the music issue. Which means lots of articles about Japanese bands that I'll probably never listen to. So screw that stuff, let's talk about manga!

Monkey High
By Shouko Akira

This month's preview chapter is of a title I thought seemed interesting, if only for the title. Judging by this sample, it seems like it could be pretty enjoyable. Here's the setup (stop me if you've heard this one before): a girl transfers to a new school...surprise, surprise, am I right? Anyway, she's the daughter of a disgraced politician, and she used to go to a prestigious private academy, but after her dad's disgrace, she's forced to mingle among the masses at a public school. As a prim and proper young lady, she views the rowdy students here as monkeys, giving the series its title. But, hey, maybe they're not all bad! Like, for instance, a goofy short guy named Macharu might turn out to be an all right dude, and even a possible love interest.

This chapter sees her integrate herself among the other students, and the main conflict has to do with a hotshot boy who has his eyes on her, much to the chagrin of the other girls. There's also a school play to deal with, and other complications. Pretty standard shojo drama. Not really something I would go out of my way to read, but it's far from problematic. Check it out, if it sounds like your sort of thing.

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

I know I said I wasn't going to talk about this one any more, but it suddenly got...interesting is the word, I guess. It's still not good, but this chapter was crazy enough that I have to comment. The plot involves Akane and pals performing some sort of ritual with cherry blossoms that have absorbed evil from across the kingdom, turning them blood red. And if one of them falls too early, "disaster would befall the entire land." It's never explained what's supposed to happen though; maybe Akane, the "dragon priestess" is supposed to purify them. Anyway, the wacky stuff happens when Akram, the demon lord, shows up and tries to make the petals fall. Maybe? I really can't tell what's going on, but it involves Akane's friend Tenma fighting some demon cougars with his newly-awakened flame powers:



At least, I think that's flame. It might be clouds, for all I can tell. It never gets explained. And then a sorcerer on Akane's side freezes the petals in midair, so Akram magically changes them all to little devils:



What? Huh? Yes. Little devils. I can't follow the action, and this all gets resolved in some obtuse fashion, but weird, crazy details like that at least keep me from wanting to tear the pages out of the magazine. It's still an awful series, but hopefully it will be crazy-awful like this in the future, rather than boring-awful. Or maybe it could be replaced with something that's, you know, good?

Absolute Boyfriend
By Yuu Watase

Ah, the magazine finally admits that this series is ending! In fact, this is the penultimate chapter, in which Riiko and Night throw a going-away party for Soshi, who is moving to Spain. It's the first example of underage drinking in this issue:



This chapter is Riiko's chance to angst about Soshi leaving; she's still wishy-washy, even though she chose Night over him. Ugh. My prediction for the final chapter: Soshi decides to stay anyway, and Night becomes a threesome-bot. Everyone lives happily ever after! Then Godzilla stomps on them or something, and I get some catharsis.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

All right, we finally get some volleyball action in this chapter! The best parts of this series are the tense matches (and occasionally the romance), but we've been mired in self-doubt and other boring stuff for too long. This time around, Nobara and her sandy teammates challenge a couple pros visiting from the Brazilian national team. Hey, why not? It makes for a fun chapter, demonstrating some of Takanashi's strengths, like the physicality of her characters:



Or the pure emotions that sports can bring out:



Or even comedy, occasionally, like in this scene of the others reacting to the game:



Good stuff. It won't last long though; I predict more moping and angst in the chapters to come.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

This series is weird; it seems like the last few chapters have been action-packed, but they've mostly consisted of characters standing around threatening each other. It's been something like three chapters in a row in which Zero and his evil twin brother have held swords at each others throats and argued about their parents (or something; I have trouble remembering the details). We also get a weird/cool bit in this chapter when Kaname confronts evil vampiress Shizuka Hio, plunges his hand into her chest, and grips her heart in preparation to kill her:



Yikes! Then he spends the rest of the chapter discussing vampire politics with her and drinking her blood before finally doing the deed (killing her, I mean; I hope you weren't thinking of a different deed). It's pretty gory, for a teen-targeted series, which I guess makes up for the lack of action. We do get action every so often though, so it's not terrible. More drama to come, I guess, but I think I'm only interested in blood at this point.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Man, I keep trumpeting the greatness of this series, and it just keeps getting better! This month, we see the gang go on vacation to a hotel/spa. The usual hijinx ensue, including this month's second example of drinking (although these are college students, so it's not necessarily underage):



There's a hilarious bit in which Morita, through his screwing around, ruins a painting in the hotel room, so he improvises a replacement using only his finger and some soy sauce:



That's something I like about the series: even the comic-relief goofball character is well-developed; he has some real artistic talent but a total lack of focus.

In the second chapter this issue, the gang goes to the zoo, and we get more comedy, like Mayama making everybody sad by describing the life of the zoo's giraffe:



And there's also a nice bit in which Takemoto and Hagu contemplate the beauty of said giraffe.

But the best part of this chapter is a conversation between Mayama and Professor Hanamoto about Mayama's boss, Rika, whom he's in love with. She's an old friend of Hanamoto's, and we learn about their past. It's a sad story; she was married to a mutual friend, Harada, a fun, joyful guy that brought a lot of light into their life. But then he died in a car accident, and neither of them has recovered emotionally from the loss:



Tearjerking stuff, isn't it? I always said I was a big softie. But it's very true to life; how many of us have played that game, in which we wonder how things would be different if only a small detail had been changed? We've all felt that regret, just not necessarily amplified to this level. That's good drama, and that's what sets this series apart from the usual shojo angst-fests. This is some good comics.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

And finally, we get some more angst (and more drinking!). Last chapter, Ann decided to move to Tokyo with her father, and now she's moping her way through a long distance relationship with her boyfriend Daigo. But it's not all tears and longing; she was lucky enough to end up in the same class as some of her old friends, and they throw a birthday party for her. That's where the drinking comes in, along with a reunion with her country friend Fuji, who is still nursing a crush on her. He's also planning on meeting up with his real father, which is sure to cause some drama in the future. So, this chapter is mostly lighthearted, but it could get more interesting, especially with the increased emphasis on the Ann/Daigo/Fuji love triangle. But until then, we get some good comedy:



We'll see where it goes; judging by what's happened before now, I trust Ashihara to deliver some more good comics.
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And that's everything. Whew! Okay, enough for me, I think. Good night! Maybe more tomorrow!