Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shojo Beat: Cooking is fun, but dying isn't

I'm finally getting to this, a week or so later than I planned to. Dammit. Now I've forgotten all that I was going to say. But that's cool, I can throw something together. Professionalism!

Shojo Beat
August 2008

This issue's theme is cooking, so there are several articles about preparing and/or eating Japanese foods, including instructions for making your own tofu. More interesting (to me) is a page listing some food-themed manga, including Iron Wok Jan, Project X: Nissin Cup Noodle, and Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture (which gives me hope that the latter will end up being translated, maybe when Kodansha starts their much-discussed U.S. publishing venture). And then there's the first preview chapter of the month:

Mixed Vegetables
By Ayumi Komura

If you go by the description given, this seems like a fairly typical shojo mismatched-romance story: Hanayu grew up in her family's pastry shop, but she wants to be a sushi chef. Her love interest is Hayato Hyuga, whose family owns a sushi restaurant, but he wants to cook pastries. Ha ha, hilarity ensues, right? But the result is slightly different, at least in this first chapter. Hanayu has decided she's going to marry Hayato so she can work in his family's restaurant, rather than out of any sort of attraction to him as a person. Maybe that sort of thing is more acceptable in Japan, where (from what I understand) arranged marriages are, if not common, at least more prevalent than in the United States. But I found it a bit off-puttingly mercenary. It makes for an interesting conflict though, since Hayato seems like he might have similar desires to hers, and they've started to develop an enjoyably combative relationship. Hanayu does seem to be a bit maddeningly wrong-headed about what will make Hayato interested in her:

Hanayu's relationship with her friend Ichii is also a good aspect of the comic, as are the little details, like the neat-looking dishes they prepare, or the flashback in which we learn how Hanayu developed her love of sushi. It's a nice, attractive platter, served up with some appealing artwork (see what I did there?). I could see giving it a try.

By Matsuri Hino

For the weirder style of shojo manga (what else would you expect from the creator of Vampire Knight?), the second preview chapter of the month is a pirate-themed series about a girl named Armeria who poses as a cabin boy in an attempt to find her lost love, who was kidnapped by seafaring scalawags. I suspect that the plot will contain a twist though, since we only get twelve pages of the story here, and too many elements seem "off" to simply be about what it seems to be about. For instance, we never see the face of the nobleman who gallantly treats her with the respect she never receives, being a commoner. But he has a strikingly similar hairstyle to the amusingly-named Captain Skulls who supposedly kidnapped him, so I expect a twist will be forthcoming, perhaps along with the discovery that Armeria is a girl, which seems to be about to happen in the artificially-imposed cliffhanger. I guess we'll have to see, if I ever read any more of the series. I don't know if I'll bother, since I'm not that big of a fan of Vampire Knight, but it could be enjoyable, especially since, hey, who doesn't like pirates?

Gaba Kawa
By Rie Takada

And so we reach the finale of the short series. As I mentioned last month, Rara had to choose between death (ceasing to exist, that is, since demons don't really go to an afterlife) or killing her beloved Retsu. But she can't bring herself to do it, because she looooves him too much. There are some hijinx about her friend/rival Bibi trying to do it for her, and it all leads up to a nicely emotional climax; not a bad ending. I would say it's a shame it wasn't able to go on longer; it seemed like Takada had a nice, fun series developing, and she ended up cutting it short before it was able to come into its own. That leads to at least one kind of jarring moment in this chapter, when Retsu confesses his love to Rara. Given more time, it might have seemed natural, but instead he goes from a bemused friend to a passionate lover. Of course, you could chalk it up to those reserved guys, who never want to share their feelings. What'll we ever do with them?

Anyway, it's a pretty good ending (even with an epilogue that I didn't really understand, but I get why it was included), and this little series has convinced me to try to check out something else by Takada, since she seems pretty competent at telling an engaging story and crafting comedic moments. And nice, romantic ones too:

Damn, I get girlier each month, don't I?

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Speaking of girliness, there's a moment in this chapter that had me laughing out loud at its feminine drama. The conflict this month comes from Kanako, the tall, somewhat goofy late addition to the volleyball team, and her rivalry with Nobara. In Nobara's absence, Kanako has been training really hard, and she is determined to be even better than the team's (and series') big star. But nobody is as good as Nobara, and try as she might, Kanako always seems to get upstaged. In a fit of anger, she quits the team, but when Nobara realizes how hard she's been working to improve, she tracks her down and tells her that she won't forgive her if she gives up, leading to this this moment of reconciliation:

That cracks me up. As Homer Simpson would say, it's funny because it's true. But it's also a good moment because it builds on all the past interactions between the characters, especially Nobara's realization that she wasn't considering the feelings of the other members of the team. It's some nicely-done character drama, with some great moments, like when Nobara realizes how hard Kanako has been working herself:

I love the way that last panel amps up the level of detail, giving us a really clear view of the wear and tear on Kanako's equipment (and herself! Sorry, that's corny). Sometimes I get tired of this series, but chapters like this remind me why I like it so much. Next month, I hope we get to see some actual games.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Last month, I complained about the way Matsuri Hino backed away from actual character development, but she somehow managed to do it again this time around. In this chapter, Kaname and Yuki are canoodling in that especially sensual way that vampirism allows:

Kaname offers to bite Yuki and turn her into a vampire, so they can live together forever, and she accepts, but then Kaname changes his mind and says he was kidding. I realize Hino has to keep the Kaname/Yuki/Zero love triangle going, but did she really have to emphasize that she has no intention of resolving it two months in a row? Sure, maybe it will lead to some more drama, since a freshly-rejected Zero will be grumpy about Yuki wanting to become a member of the race he so hates (even if he is one), but it's one of those reinforcements of the status quo that seems egregiously tiresome, at least to somebody who prefers to see forward plot movement rather than endless angst.

The rest of the chapter has to do with the Night Class going home for winter break, and there's some rumblings about some sort of sinister figure pulling strings and manufacturing plots from behind the scenes (maybe Hino herself will make an appearance!), but it's not enough to relieve the annoyance of a chapter of treading water. Maybe next month we'll get an actual plot.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

I guess some caption-writing wires got crossed last month, because the chapter ending teaser text that I found so confusing gets repeated here, and it makes a hell of a lot more sense. But that's not really important; the actual plot of the chapter has to do with Ann's trip home for Christmas, and the big scandal that has erupted because Fuji ran away and disappeared after the events of last month. I expect he'll turn up at some point in the future, but it makes for some nice drama for the moment, and some good, true-to-life character moments:

That's a good scene, in which Daigo, concerned for his friend, expresses it in terms of annoyance, until he realizes that Ann is upset, and then makes moves to comfort her. It's simple and elegant, doing some good storytelling through facial expressions. And I also like the little curly hair that extends from Daigo's head in the top left panel to indicate his frazzled irritation.

The rest of the chapter has some nice moments between Ann and Daigo, and between Ann and Shika, including Ann figuring out what she and Daigo see in each other and Ann realizing that Shika likes Daigo. It's all good character stuff, but I wanted to spotlight this goofy bit:

That's a good translation of what was surely a pun-filled Japanese exchange. As it is, it fits the scene perfectly, and it's pretty damn funny, especially the last panel with its mutual ellipsis of lameness-contemplation. Let's keep the good times coming. And, since I've got my girliness on full display this month, let's look at one more image, simply because it's a good, sweet moment:

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Speaking of Japanese-language jokes, I but this month's chapter would be a lot funnier in that tongue. Japanese is so conducive to puns and wordplay, it's got to be hard to translate a lot of the jokes that are included in manga series, and scenes like this one:

I bet that reads a lot better in Japanese, because in English it just sounds inane. But it's not going to distract from a typically good chapter of the series, as Mayama and Hanamoto commiserate about working with Rika, the object of Mayama's affections. As we know, Rika is still mourning the loss of her husband in a car accident that left her badly injured, and a flashback about Mayama telling a stupid joke about being able to determine whether a dog is the reincarnation of a human leads to a really poignant moment in which we see how much she misses her husband:

Rika is only a peripheral character in the series, but Umino is still able to get some nice, affecting material out of her. Impressive.

The second chapter this month has more good moments, but they're mostly centered around Ayu's mooning over Mayama, a plot that is growing slightly tiresome. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel like reading about how much she loves him and wishes he would love her back, just a little, month in and month out. Luckily, there are plenty of other characters in the series, and lots of other stuff going on. And really, the main plot in this chapter is about Ayu and Hagu getting dressed up in yukatas (summery kimonos) for a festival, which leads to lots of complications when they can't find one that fits Hagu. Poor Hagu; I always feel sorry for her.

So, as I say every month, it's a great series. Goofy comedy, touching drama, the works. I would exhort everybody to read it if they haven't, but people are probably getting tired of that, so I won't (at least, not explicitly; wow, I'm so sneaky). Instead, I'll just say that next month's issue can't get here soon enough.

And that's it for this month. I had originally intended to go on a rant about the ineptitude of Haruka, but my fervor on that front has calmed in the week since I finished reading the issue, so I'll settle for continuing to try to ignore that series. Also, I should mention that next month sees the debut of a new series, Miki Aihara's Honey Hunt, about which I have no information except the description "celeb-obsessed". I did enjoy Aihara's Hot Gimmick, so I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of ridiculous soap-operatics she can spin with this new series. Like I said, bring on September!